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tv   Democracy Now  WHUT  February 20, 2013 6:00pm-7:00pm EST

6:00 pm 02/20/13 02/20/13 [captioning made possible by democracy now!] >> from pacifica, this is "democracy now!" >> it was a people look into a top secret world, but just enough to cripple the nation's attention and pose disturbing questions. what was the identity of a mysterious prisoner and one of the toughest trails and why the secrecy behind his incarceration? he diesoner x, and i
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inside news really maximum- security prison. for over two years, is composed a strict gag order on his 2010 death, but now the secret is leaking out. it will speak with the association for civil rights in israel. then we look at the controversial side of the drug war, the informants. >> it can be such a dangerous proposition. we have seen terrible tragedies in this area. young people killed the, the contact with the criminal- justice system in ways they not have otherwise done had they not a pressure by the government to become informants. it is a concern for many families around the country. >> in 2007, rachel hoffman was arrested for drug possession. to avoid prison, she became a police confidential informant. she was murdered in a botched undercover operation. we will speak with her mother margie weiss.
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>> making the world a safer and better place so this never happens to any more of our children. as long as i am alive, i will keep her spirit alive. >> we will also speak with new yorker reporter sarah stillman who just won a polk award for her keys, "beef throwaways -- "the throwaways." all of that and more coming up. this is "democracy now!,", the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman. the united nations continues to warn of a growing humanitarian crisis as a result of syria's unrelenting civil war. on tuesday, emergency relief coordinator valerie amos said much of the rebel-held north remains cut off from darlene needed aid. >> the situation in syria is getting worse. the violence is causing a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people. we are negotiating with armed
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groups on the ground to reach more people in need. we are not reaching enough of those who require our help. >> the world health organization is now reporting a typhoid outbreak in the rebel-held area in northeastern province. they say some 2500 people have caught typhoid because they've been forced to drink from a contaminated section of the euphrates river. in some of the latest violence, at least 31 civilians were killed tuesday in a syrian regime bombing of the city of aleppo. 14 children were reportedly among the dead. in israel and occupied territories, protests are continuing in support of hunger striking palestinian prisoners in israeli jails. on tuesday, hundreds of palestinian detainees refused meals in solidarity with four hunger striking prisoners. hundreds of people meanwhile gathered across the occupied west bank and gaza strip drawn fire from israeli troops of tear gas and rubber coated bullets. the prisoners include samer issawi, who has been on hunger
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strike for more than 200 days, drinking only water. on tuesday, an easterly court ordered samer issawi to remain behind bars indefinitely. his lawyer announced the decision. >> the decision is to reject to release samer immediately and keep them behind bars until maybe two weeks time. >> samer issawi and another prisoner were initially released under the 2011 deal that freed israeli soldier gurley shalit only to be rearrested and return to an israeli prison last year. israel has refused to disclose the reasons for their real arrest and they could each face at least 20 more years behind bars. millions of workers have walked off the job in greece today in a one-day strike against fiscal austerity. it was the latest in a series of actions against the wage cuts and tax hikes imposed as a condition of greece's international bailout.
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tens of thousands of people marched on the greek parliament in athens and the largest anti austerity protest so far this year. president obama held a public event with a group of firefighters and police officers tuesday to pressure republicans on the upcoming round of automatic budget cuts under the sequester. obama wants republicans to end tax breaks mostly for the wealthy to avoid the $85 billion in spending cuts set to take effect march 1st under a previous budget deal. in his remarks, obama said the cuts will cause major economic damage. >> these cuts are not smart. they are not fair. there will hurt our economy and add hundreds of thousands of americans to the unemployment rolls. now republicans face a simple choice. are they willing to compromise to protect a vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or with a rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax
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loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest americans and biggest corporations? >> an analysis from the economic group macro economic advisers warned on tuesday the sequester will slow economic growth by more than half a percentage point and result in the loss of 700,000 jobs. the supreme court has agreed to take up what is been described as the most pivotal campaign finance case since the landmark citizens united decision of 2012 -- 10. on tuesday, the court i hearagro the challenge of a republican activist who wants to lift the cap on individual donations to candidates, political parties, and political action committees. the activist has joined with republican national committee to contest the combined donation cap of $123,000 for campaigns during each election cycle. north carolina has enacted the new law imposing major cuts to aid for the unemployed. jobless benefits will be cut by
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nearly one-third and recipients will have less time to collect them. in addition to gutting state benefits, the bill also rejects millions of dollars in additional federal aid. it north carolina currently has the nation's fifth highest official unemployment rate at 9.2%. the measure takes effect july 1. in a statement, the north carolina justice center denounced republican governor pat mcqueary's and state lawmakers saying -- a death row prisoner in georgia has been granted a last-minute stay of execution. warren hill was set to be put to death for the murder of a fellow prisoner while serving a life sentence for fatally shooting his girlfriend. but federal -- but a federal appeals court granted a last- minute reprieve citing expert opinion hill is mentally disabled. all three doctors who originally said hill failed to meet the
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legal definition of mentally retarded have since reversed their opinion. hill would have been the first prisoner executed in georgia since troy anthony davis in 2011. it marks only a temporary delay, and georgia can still appeal for the execution to proceed. a federal commission has found his education policies are burdening students from low- income families. in a report, the equity and excellence commission concluded "no other developed nation has inequities nearly as deep or systemic, no other developed nation has so thoroughly stacked the odds against so many of its children." the panel calls for greater investment in public education, better training of teachers, equality in allocating funds, and a new push for denver's schools. the commission was greeted by department of education but its findings or reject the by prison education reform effort saying the focus on charter schools and standardized testing has been "poorly targeted."
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four people are dead after a shooting spree on tuesday in the california area of orange county. over the course of an hour, an unemployed part-time student shot and killed a woman in her home and two commuters at random before taking his own life. environmental activists shut down a wastewater site in ohio tuesday to protest against hydraulic fracturing known as fracking. one demonstrator climbed a 30- foot pole at the greenhunter water storage facility, stopping trucks from dumping fracking wastewater. the site's operators want to increase its capacity for dumping and transporting fracking waste. 10 people were arrested in tuesday's demonstration. a palestinian filmmaker and his family were detained at los angeles international airport tuesday after arriving to attend this weekend's academy awards. the filmmaker, emad burnat, is nominated in the best documentary category for "five broken cameras," which documents
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the growth of the resistance movement to the israeli separation wall and the west bank village of bil'in. in a series of twitter messages, the filmmaker michael moore said immigration officers told emad burnat he would not be allowed to enter the country even after he showed them his oscar invite. emad burnat and his family were eventually released after michael moore phoned academy attorneys. michael moore quoted emad burnat as saying -- to see our interview with emad burnat, go to those are some of the headlines. this is "democracy now!,", the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with nermeen shaikh. >> welcome to all our listeners and viewers from around the country and around the world. we begin today's show looking at a scandal gripping israel and australia centered on a man once known simply as prisoner x. he was found dead in a maximum-
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security prison in israel in 2010. israeli official said he committed suicide. a gag order was placed on the israeli media barring reporters from revealing any information about the prisoner. his identity remained unknown -- until last week when the australian broadcasting corporation ran an exposé about the case on their program "foreign correspondent." the episode began like this. >> it was a peephole look into a top secret world, just enough to grip the nation's attention and pose disturbing questions. what was the identity of a mysterious prisoner in one of israel's toughest jails and why the secrecy behind his extraordinary incarceration? when the media began to ask questions, the state's mobilized to push through one of the harshest and most punitive suppression orders conceivable.
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the only piece of information to emerge since is this man, housed in a high-tech suicide- proof prison within a prison, somehow managed to kill himself. there are many inside and outside israel who remain deeply concerned about the case of prisoner x. >> the old saying, sunlight is the best disinfectant. if there is no sunlight, we don't know what happens and very dirty things could have gone on. >> tonight, a special "foreign correspondent" investigation to unmask prisoner x. it is a story that cannot be told here in israel because the government has threatened to jail anyone who writes about it or talks about it. the courts effectively have shut down any discussion of this case because they argue this is a case of national security. for the first time we reveal
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compelling evidence that israel 's infamous prisoner x was a man from suburban and mel bourne. >> the australian broadcasting corporation on to identify prisoner x as ben zygier, an austrian-israeli citizen who was allegedly a member of mossad. while israel has lifted the gag order, much still remains unknown about the case. there are reports that ben zygier was one of three australians who changed the name several times and took out new australian passports for travel in the middle east and europe for their work with mossad. a kuwaiti newspaper linked ben zygier to the assassination of hamas official mahmoud al- mabhouh who was drugged and suffocated in his hotel room in dubai months before prisoner x was arrested. on sunday, israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu made his first public comments about prisoner x.
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>> we're not like other countries. we are an exemplary democracy and regard the right to defend individual rights no less than any other country. we're also more threatened, more challenged, and therefore, we have to enter the security branches. i ask everyone to let the security services continue to work quietly so we can continue to live in safety and tranquility in the state of israel. >> we're joined by two guests, dan yakir is chief legal counsel for the association for civil rights in israel. his organization has led the effort in israel to uncover information about prisoner x. the israeli supreme court has just today lifted a gag order on the group's role in the case. and we're joined by antony loewenstein, joining us from sydney, australia via videostream, an independent journalist and author, co- founder of independent australian jewish voices. let's begin with you. if you could start off by just lying out what this case is all
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about, who this man was. >> in short, this man's identity was not known until last week. we knew the case a few years ago when it was reported the man had committed suicide in the israeli jail and nothing else. last week on television the story was broken. what has essentially come out in the last week has been a litany of information which really goes to the heart of what regularly happens between australia and israel. on the one hand, what happened to ben zygier is unique. not that many austrian-israelis died in prison, that is true. but the facilitation by the establishment in the australian intelligence services of young jews here israel to live -- [indiscernible]
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it does not get talked about. the press does not examine it that often, but it is not unusual. because the heart in some ways what it is all about, which is to facilitate and blindly support israeli security. >> we're going to cut you off for one minute because dan yakir has just joined us. because the israeli supreme court decision has just come down, we don't want to listen. he is the chief legal counsel for the association for civil rights in israel. dan, can you speak to us about what the supreme court has just decided and what information you are going to be releasing now? >> only in regard to the proceedings, we initiated than two years ago, and heard for the first time about prisoner x in
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june 2010, six months before his death. we addressed the attorney general raising our concern about the prisoner being totally isolated and held with complete secrecy. a few days after we heard about his death in mid december, we filed a motion with the district court to lift the gag order, or at least limit its sweeping scope to allow publication about the charges brought against him, especially the concern about how he was found dead in the most protected cell of the prison services. after the district court dismissed our motion, we filed an appeal with the supreme court's.
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the supreme court heard the appeal february 2 years ago. but the judges were also -- most of the judges on the supreme court are with the security services for an hour-and-a-half. after that, they were convinced the complete secrecy was justified. >> if you could step back and go back and tell us how you learned about this case. you knew about this man, ben zygier, in jail before he died, before he talked about how you knew about it, what alarms you started to raise, and then what happened after you learned he had "committed suicide." >> in may 2010, there was a
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short-lived report on israeli news site regarding a prisoner x in complete isolation -- held in complete isolation and even the prison guards did not know his identity and prohibited from talking to him. after a few hours, the report vanished. it raised our concerns regarding the rights of the prisoner in the conditions -- but also the complete secrecy around the affair. we tried to gather information about it, but could not. that is why we address the attorney general for the first
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time. six months later sweet guy information -- we got information from a source connected to the media of him being found dead in his cell, then we filed the motion with the courts. >> dan yakir, can you talk about what president there is, if any, for a gag order that was exceptionally broad, as we understand it? has there been a precedence for this in israel before with any prisoner? >> there were a few cases within the last couple of years. we either filed motions with the court were approached the attorney general, but they were for much more limited period of time. there was an afghan soldier
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charged and convicted of copping hundreds of classified documents. in the past, there were a few exceptional cases where prisoners were held under false and dignitand dignity. -- identidty. there was a biologist convicted of espionage, spent most of his years in prison under false identity and his trial was with complete secrecy. >> we want to play a brief clip of the australian broadcasting company.
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in this, a former australian intelligence agent, warren reed, expresses skepticism about claims that ben zygier committed suicide. ways we are watts oflots of can pick up the person in the cell is sweating, the heartbeat, all sorts of things. modern technology. almost totally precludes any possibility of someone like him, sanitized in that way, who would hang themselves. i find it almost impossible to believe. >> warren reed also indicated the nature of his of christmas suggested the case was very sensitive. >> the degree of centralization of this gentleman where he was put in prison which was constructed only as one cell, sealing him away in all human terms, even within the prison,
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from his society, from family, that suggests it has to be something very touchy and immediate. otherwise, they would not go to those links. >> that is footage courtesy of abc-tv austria's "foreign correspondent" program. if you could comment on the allegations that this man that ben zygier was involved with the assassination of mahmoud al- mabhouh, the hamas official who was killed in dubai in a hotel room that we all came to see on closed circuit television? >> i have no information in regard to the charges. >> repeat that? >> i have no information in regard to the charges brought against him. >> but in terms of what warren
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reed was saying, the austrian agent, to do with suicide? >> yesterday magistrate court allowed to publish part of the decision of the judge that investigated the circumstances of his death. according to the finding of the judge, it was a suicide because according to the tapes from the cameras, no one entered the cell. another important finding of the investigation by the judge was the prison guards should be charged negligently causing his death, and we are awaiting the
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decision of the state attorney in regard of charges that will be brought against senior officials of the prison services. >> in a moment we're going to go back to antony loewenstein who is in australia, but the response, dan yakir, in israel. how much support are you getting for exposing what has taken place? what you are revealing? >> i hope this whole affair will be a watershed. i think most of the public, unfortunately, rely on the security services and whatever they deem to be secret should be a secret. i think the tragedy of this whole affair -- i hope it will
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serve as a watershed of raising positive suspicion against the security services it with a conscious or unconscious interest to cover up the happenings during operation. >> how does this compare to treatment of palestinian prisoners? >> usually, a palestinian prisoners are in isolation [indiscernible] a prisoner allegedly kidnapped by the mossad from the train and charges were brought against him of being involved in the
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rapid firing israel. the mere fact he was arrested was under a gag order after we filed a motion this was lifted, but it was also conducted behind closed doors. >> thank you for being with us, dan yakir, chief legal counsel for the association for civil rights in israel. we turn back to antony loewenstein, the independent journalist and author following the story of prisoner x. the response in australia, as you listen to dan yakir speaking from israel? >> the response by the community has been virtual silence. when the story broke last week, the jewish society, virtually every jewish lobby group has said nothing until yesterday. there was a statement released
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by the leading jewish organization of australia which had a very benign statement saying that we are encouraged by the fact israel and australia will undergo an investigation, which i suspect will be a bit of a whitewash. the australian government is embarrassed. the details are murky. one thing that has not been mentioned, during the dubai situation, australian passports were forged for that mission amongst other countries as well the austrian government publicly was upset about this as other governments were as well. but in private, i have heard from many sources, the reality was, this sort of thing is known to happen. many governments do it including the australian government, my own government. officially, the australian and israels would like it to disappear. one thing that has become clear in the last week, and reflected in the fact i think the
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australian jewish establishment sees its role as endorsing and enforcing what israel does whether it is occupation or strikes on iran -- into this narrative which these young jews the go to young jewish schools in australia, that if -- the details are unique but the facilitation for ben zygier to undergo these situations is not unusual, just as i get talked about in the press. >> what is the significance of this case for australia as this news has come out? >> one thing that it has done, and has been discussed in the media and the press in many public forums has been a lot of australians are uncomfortable with the fact the australian citizen can go to israel, join
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me [indiscernible] undergo training and potentially work for mossad and commit acts which break international law under any terms, whether it is to buy or other strikes against iranian nuclear sites -- many people feel uncomfortable about this. one thing we see in australia and the u.s. and many country is when israel starts were whether it is against lapan on or gauze or wherever, ec and member of people go to fight with those -- with the israeli military. i think that makes a lot of austrians uncomfortable, rightly so in my view, and i think there needs to be a real question, not talk to us a much publicly in the jewish community, but certainly privately and in the wider press that why didn't the
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austrian government feel comfortable facilitating young jews to move to israel and potentially commit acts of regularly in certain cases terrorism or at least breaches of international law in that or 11 on word to buy -- >> isn't the australian intelligence investigating what was that's ben zygier came back to australia and changed his name and his passport several different times? >> possibly, yes. but one thing that is involved in the story is the austrian services knew what ben zygier was doing. what is unclear is exactly why the israelis arrested ben zygier and put him in high security. it was a because he was leaking information? was he about to break a story to the press? we do not know this. these are allegations that are being talked about here by number of groups.
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but just like ind the u.s. they're incredibly opaque. there's not really any kind of legislative transparency in which the intelligence services here operates. we would like to think there's some kind of investigation released publicly. but sadly, israel and osher with like a tremendous and, very closed. >> thank you, antony loewenstein, for joining us, co- founder of independent australian jewish voices. he has been closely following the prisoner x story brick we will be back in a moment. ♪ [music break]
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>> this is "democracy now!,", the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with nermeen shaikh. >> we turn now to a remarkable
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investigation into law enforcement's unregulated use of young confidential informants in drug cases. on monday, new yorker staff writer sarah stillman won a george polk award for her eight- month investigation on the topic. her article is called "the throwaways." is spurred calls for reform in several states. in your article, she describes how police broker deals with young, untrained informants to perform high-risk operations with few the go protections in exchange for leniency. the results can be fatal. one such informant, detroit teenager shelly hilliard, was murdered after being caught by police with less than an ounce of marijuana and agreeing to set up her drug dealer in order to avoid prosecution. this is her mother lyniece nelson. >> they just threw her away. they did not even care.
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she was like, mama, i am scared. what do i do? i knew they did not care about her. she should have went to jail for that an ounce. they made her do that and the laughter in the room. >> that was lyniece nelson, the mother of a teenage informant who was murdered when trying to set up her drug dealer in order to avoid prosecution for less than an ounce of marijuana possession. by some estimates, up to 80% of all drug cases in america involve such informants. >> journalist sarah stillman writes about another confidential informant, rachel hoffman, 23-year-old florida state student who had just earned admissions to a master's program in mental-health counseling when cops found drugs in her apartment. to get off the hook, she agreed to assist them in a major undercover deal involving meeting two convicted felons alone in her car by 2.5 ounces
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of cocaine, 1500 ecstasy pills, and a semi-automatic handgun. within days, rachel hoffman's body was found shot five times in the chest and head with a gun that the police had sent her to buy. >> we're joined right now by rachel's mother, joining us from the tampa studios wedu. if you could tell us, margie weiss, what happened to your daughter. go back to 27 -- 2007. >> 2008 is when she was murdered. in 2007, just before she graduated fsu she also had a major and criminal justice as well as psychology. they stopped her because she had been driving 8 miles over the speed limit. she went to florida state university, fsu.
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they arrested her because they found 25 grams of pont, which is less than an ounce. the law is if you have over 20 grams, i believe it is a felony. she went into drug court. she was to graduate in april. april 2008. when she graduated and was ready to come home in august, her lawyer told her were told us, called us two days before she was supposed to move, and said she had to stay in tallahassee to be able to get her record expunged, which is what we wanted because she was going to go on for her master's degree in counseling and work toward becoming a psychologist and work with kids. that never got to happen because they raided her
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apartment and apparently she was getting pot for her and her friends. they found 5 ounces, which was less than what this cup would hold. her father and i were unaware of any of this going on. when they raided her apartment, the officer said, "we can make this go away if you work for us." she said, "ok." she did not want to shame her family. i went to digressing give you my opinion about it. but after that, she called me and i just had come back from passover. she was supposed to come with me but she was at a home in a funeral and filled a urine test.
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it was a month before she had her apartment raided. i think it was to scare her so later down the road before her probation was complete, they could do something like this. i don't know. i became suspicious after she was murdered. tell us what happened -- >> she said, "mom, i'm thinking of doing something dangerous." i paused and said, "rachel, did you just hear what you said? what are you talking about? what is it you're talking about? if you know ahead of time you're going to do something dangerous, that is enough evidence to tell you not to do it." she goes, "you know how i make criminal-justice major? i thought it would be cool to write a book about working under
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cover and exposing what it is all about." i said, "that is the craziest thing i've ever heard you tell me. don't do it." she said, "mom, don't worry, i will be fine." i said, tic-tac-toe do it." i did not know the words informant or snitch until least two years after that. she said, "i will call you on monday. we're going to do it on monday and i will tell you what is going on the whole way through." apparently, that was the first time and the only time they used her before she was murdered. when she called me, the policeman was there in the car. his name was poo behr. she was talking to him and acting like it was just an adventure. and that he had her back and would keep her safe and then it was all over. i was certain since she tell me
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about it and he knew that i knew, that really was all over. so when they called me a month later at 3:00 in the morning and said my daughter was missing, i thought, maybe she had a festival for was with a friend because i had been called by her father at thanksgiving time into is that a festival and i found her through her friends. i started calling her friends. i said, "do i need to come to tallahassee they said, "no, not at this time." i went into shock. i was in shock for probably the next two years freed. at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, an officer called me and said, "you can come up now." i did not get out of the house
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until 11:00. what was weird, the year before my father died and they called me and i was out of the house and 15 minutes. i think that is why i was in shock. my husband was ready to follow me out there and i said, "no, she is one to be ok." i talked to her father, her best friend, searching for her. i drove up and when i got near where they found her body in a ditch in perry, which is another county out of tallahassee, the victim's advocate was talking to me and "they might find rachel's body, you know, with her missing." i said, "are you saying that is
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a possibility or probability?" anyone would be yes and one would be no. i had to hang up the phone and just screamed as loud and as long as i could. i was hoarse from it. i drove up to -- i called my husband and said, "come." he and the rabbi hurried up. her father was a half hour behind me. i got to the police department in tallahassee and the victim's advocate was there and she saw me in. there were four or five police officers escorting me into the narcotics division. i thought that was odd because she was a missing person. we sat down and they asked me if i wanted to wait for her father shot before i spoke with them i
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said, "yes." because he is more clear about following the conversation and i did not want to say anything that i did not have a witness to. anyway, i was just numb. i was in shock. they said, "well, she is missing." they did not tell us anything about what had happened, that they had used her as an informant or how she died. i found out about the guns shot once six weeks later -- gunshot wounds six weeks later on her death certificate. i did not know when, where, or how many. i found out two years later. >> i want to turn to -- >> he felt he was innocent because it was her stepbrother and law they found blood on his
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pants. >> i want to turn to tampa police officer david mccranie here is how he described what went wrong in your daughter's case. >> she was told to stay in a certain location. we have a place that would keep her safe at that location. she then decided to leave and meet them on her own. the investigator of the case or in charge communicated on the phone and told her not to leave and pleaded with her not to leave, not to meet them. our stance is, your safety in the safety of the public is far more important. we can always make another drug sweep. we pleaded with her not to leave. she was able to leave before we could stop her and decided to meet them on her own. >> i want to turn out to sarah stillman, a staff writer for the new yorker magazine. she just won a george polk award for magazine reporting for
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herpes "the throwaways" that came from an eight-month investigation into how law enforcement uses young confidential informants. talk about how rachel's story, as her mom margie weiss describes it, fits into this bigger picture and what you learned happened with rachel, what was the encounter that led to her death? what part of what stood out about rachel's case, here she was this young woman found with some hot, i believe a small handful of ecstasy pills, and sent all tally to buy 1500 ecstasy pills, a stash of cocaine and handgun from convicted felons. in the midst of the sting, the police lost track of her, as often happens in these situations, shares told to go to a second location. when she did that, ultimately, one of the men found the surveillance wires the police had hidden in her purse and shot her.
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>> in her purse? >> yes. some would argue it was against the conventional protocols for it the fed -- safest place to put the wires for the >> how different is rachel hoffman from the typical confidential informant you profile in your piece? >> demographically should not be the most representative in so far as many of the people who find themselves in these vulnerable situations do not necessarily have a college education or the parents who are looking out for them who afterwards stand up and speak out as margie and herb hoffman have done to fight for reform to say, we have heard so many stories from people around the country who have faced similar things without protection.
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sometimes teenagers, sometimes as an as 15 years old, going out there into these very dangerous to rations and alternately rachel's parents have fought for legislation to try to change this in florida and hopefully at some point, around the country. >> we're going to take a break and come back to this conversation, joined by a professor of is written a book on the subject and staying with sarah stillman as we hear the story not only of rachel hoffman, but of other young people who become informants and what happens to them. who is responsible for them? who is responsible for their lives? this is "democracy now!,", the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman. back in a moment. ♪ [music break]
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>> this is "democracy now!,", the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with nermeen shaikh. our guest is sarah stillman,
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staff writer for the new yorker magazine. it was just announced shias won a george polk award for this article called "the throwaways," and eight-month investigation into law enforcement's unregulated use of young confidential informants in drug cases. it has led to calls for reform in four states. sarah stillman, how did you discover this story? >> i came upon this issue a number of years ago. i have been looking into a case of murder in florida and when i found this young woman's family who have been killed, she told me that -- they told me she had been working as an informant for the police and getting threats on her life and ultimately, she wound up dead in the late with no accountability. i began looking at this issue of what protections exist for informants and found out about rachel's case and rachel's law. i started finding other cases in
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other states with all kinds of people of varying levels of education and geographies who had their lives put at risk in this way. >> we're also joined by alexandra natapoff, a professor of law and loyola law school and author of the book, "snitching: criminal informants and the erosion of american justice." she runs a snitching blog as well. before we go to her, sarah, tell us about a few more of these cases you profile in your piece "the throwaways." you mentioned shelly hilliard who was a young woman in detroit, a transgendered teenager found smoking a little bit of pot on a motel balcony. she is basically told by the police that if she did not call her dealer immediately and have him come back to the scene and bring her more drugs, should be
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incarcerated -- should be incarcerated. she agreed to do this, called the dealer back and he came and was arrested and ultimately it is alleged that police revealed her identity to the dealer, who was then let out i believe the next day and came back and smothered her death with another man and dismembered and set her on fire. it was a very brutal and traumatic death. it was a very common theme i found with the risks involved in these cases were often higher than the charges these people were facing. there was also the case of a young man in washington state and jeremy. he was found selling eight methadone pills to appeal it turns out was working as a
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confidential informant also. he signed a contract under pressure to become an informant. he agreed to do four things to get him freed of the charges. not only did he do those forced things, he did another after that and another and another. ultimately, he did 14 stings and still not let off. at one point, he got a heroin trafficker behind bars. the guy got out and threatened his life. jeremy wanted the police for protection and received 9 and was found murdered. -- jeremy went to the police for protection and received 9 and was found murdered. >> i want to bring alexandra natapoff into the conversation. you have written extensively on this issue. can you talk about the increasing use of young confidential informants in
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american law enforcement, especially when it comes to the war on drugs? >> it turns out he's a criminal -- the use of criminal informants is a massive part of a way that we run our justice system that the public almost never gets to see. that is one reason why this article by sarah stillman is so important. it draws the curtain back on a particularly shocking aspect of this larger phenomenon, which is that we permit vulnerable people, even children, people with substance abuse problems or mental health issues, people who don't know their rights, to be pressured by police and prosecutors into becoming informants in ways that are terribly risky to their health and well-being. this is part of a larger phenomenon we accord vast discretion to police and prosecutors to create, use, pressure as well as reward
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criminal informants in order to gather information and make cases in ways that are almost entirely unregulated, secretive , and unaccountable. >> can you talk about some of the states that have passed legislation to protect informants and what kind of legislation is said to be introduced this month in washington state? >> there are many states that have looked at different aspects of informant regulation. the increased focus on the wrist to young and juvenile informants in particular has sparked a great interest around the country. the legislation being introduced in washington state at the moment, among other things, would prohibit the use of informants and the age of 16. at this time, only california has a law that prohibits the use of juveniles under the age of 14. in other states, we permit police and prosecutors to make a
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decision about whether children should be used as informants and whether they should be exposed to the kinds of risks that sarah stillman's documents in her new yorker article from states around the country also considered other kinds of legislation not only to protect informants as does rachel's lot in florida as a result from the efforts of margie weiss and her family, but also to improve the transparency and accountability that attaches to police and prosecutorial use of informants. right now is largely unregulated and secretive world in which these deals are made at great risk often to the informants themselves and to other members of the community when these deals are made. >> i want to turn to brian sallee, president of b.b.s. narcotics enforcement training and consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug bust procedures. he said --
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your response to that, professor? >> the lot is extremely cavalier about the well-being of informants. the essentially american law treats informants assuming the risk of anything that might happen to them in the course of this deal. again, sarah stillman has uncovered how shocking and inappropriate that can be, particularly four vulnerable people brought into the criminal system. the law provides very few protections for people who take this risk and provides vast resources to the government's by which to pressure individuals into taking such risks. it is not only risks to personal
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health and well-being that the law permits, for example, the law permits the government to pressure individuals, women in particular come into having sex with targets in order to bring people into the criminal justice system so the government can file charges against them for prostitution and other related charges. in other words, the law says that almost anyone -- anything is negotiable, nothing is off the table. parents can become informants and take risks in order to work off the charges of their children, girlfriends to become informants to work of the charges of their boyfriends. children can be turned into informants to work off the most minor of charges. in effect, we have left this arena entirely unregulated and it is time to bring it to light. >> alexandra natapoff, thank you for being with us, professor of law, author of, "snitching: criminal informants and the erosion of american justice."
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she testified before the house judiciary committee on law enforcement and confidential informant practices. thank you, sarah stillman, a congratulations on your george polk award.