Eric Weaknecht: Renegade Sheriff

Berks County Sheriff Eric Weaknecht is running for re-election and that has a lot of Berks County law enforcement people very nervous.  He runs a renegade department which is out of control.  I have talked with five different sources over the course of this year, both within and outside the Department but all of whom either work or did work there under Weaknecht.  What I’ve learned are allegations which show a lack of respect for the law, for human decency and for ethical conduct.

First of all are allegations that the Sheriff allows his Deputies to purchase Sheriffs Sale homes before they are advertised to the public for disposition.   This isn’t fair to the public.  He also allows them to moonlight working part-time for local police departments.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I am told, has outlawed this because of potential conflicts of interest when the Deputies must escort prisoners to and from court after they were the arresting officer in their other job.

Speaking of handling prisoners the most disturbing allegations involve the torture of shackled prisoners.  Multiple sources have informed me of a video in the possession of a retired officer which shows a Hispanic prisoner in the Central Processing Unit being tasered.  The Deputies moved away from him just before one of them fired the potentially lethal weapon at the shackled, and calm, prisoner’s back.  The video purportedly shows them laughing at the inhumane torture.  I have not seen the video personally but if true it justifies a U.S. Department of Justice investigation which has been requested.

Guns are also missing from the Sheriff’s armory.  Sheriff Weaknecht, a favorite of the Berks County Patriots, is a gun fanatic like his predecessor.  When protection from abuse orders are issued by Judges any firearms owned by the subject of those orders are to be confiscated by the Sheriffs Department.  Allegations say that Weaknecht has returned those weapons to friends of his when they call and demand them back.  One of these days someone is going to be murdered with weapons Eric returned in violation of the law.  If you are a friend of Weaknecht the law doesn’t apply to you.

Seeing how a Berks County Deputy, Kyle Pagerly, was shot and killed earlier this year by someone prohibited from owning a gun you’d think he’d want to follow the law.  

The missing guns are the result of such confiscations.  Once a PFD is lifted the subject goes to the armory to claim their weapons (if Eric hasn’t personally done so right after the PFD was issued).  Allegations inside the Department say angry citizens demanding their missing guns get no explanation as to their whereabouts.  My sources say they should search the Sheriffs home for them.  He and his Chief Deputy have been accused of stealing choice guns for their personal collections.

All of these disturbing revelations show an out of control Sheriff.  They are all allegations but my multiple sources are all consistent with each other about them.  Five sources make a fairly credible story in my humble opinion.  I emailed Sheriff Weaknecht about these when I was working this story last spring and he has not responded.  Now it time for the information to get to the voters.  We’ll allow them to decide if Eric Weaknecht is fit to be Sheriff.  If not I imagine the FBI will.

9/11: A Retrospective

The tenth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks upon us is the proper time to take stock of the last decade and evaluate our responses, our victories and our failures.  They were mostly failures.  The only good thing which came out of that fateful day was the sense of unity and purpose which united all Americans in our shock and grief.  Unfortunately that was exploited for blatant political exploitation by the Bush Administration.

As we examine the criminal acts perpetrated by Osama Bin Laden’s crew the first question we must ask is why we responded militarily instead of legally.  These were criminal acts and not acts of war.  Only sovereign states can initiate acts of war and no sovereign state was directly invovled in 9/11.  Afghanistan’s role was minor actually and the devastation we’ve wrought in that nation for ten years is entirely out of proportion to their culpability.

When we look at how we should have acted the lesson of India and Mumbai is the proper course.  Rather than running off in heated fashion and dropping bombs they treated their 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter and brought the perpetrators to justice.  The appetite for violence and war in America and our culture drove us to violence.  We set off to destroy every country possible and mangled each effort.  We destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and made thousands of new enemies in the process.

We ruined our reputation as a freedom loving people spending $4 trillion on a failed invasion of Iraq where we slaughtered a million civilians and displaced another four million.  We invaded Afghanistan and created the world’s largest drug state enriching warlords and creating a government which may be the most corrupt in history.  We have fostered environments for raising anti-American extremists with every new drone attack and now have several hundred thousand Americans in a nation with less than 100 active Al Qaeda.

The way we went about our responses to 9/11 were stupid, counter effective and dangerous to our long term strategic national security.  We opened an off shore torture center in Cuba and rendered prisoners to the likes of Ghaddafi and Assad for torture.  Now we have the gall to condemn them for their brutality.  We sided with Somali warlords against their own people and now we have pirates hijacking our merchant ships.  We destroyed our own freedoms and liberties because we were told 9/11 happened because “they hated our freedoms.”  I suppose shredding the Bill of Rights is going to make us safer?

Now the President can order the assassination of an American citizen.  He/she can order the indefinite detention of a citizen without habeas corpus, a lawyer, a right to a fair trial or any trial at all.  The state can enter your home and search without any probable cause you committed a crime.  All of your communications are intercepted and searched for key words.  Your financial transactions are open for government examination and privacy is a thing of the past.  They can even attach a gps to your vehicle and track all of your whereabouts without a court order.   Welcome to post 9/11 America:  Big Brother Nation.

This was all done under the insult of having “a pre-9/11 mentality” if you opposed the ending of liberty.  “Patriots” dared even to wrap themselves around a flag (not the stars and stripes by the way) and claim to be defending those freedoms they just removed.  They stood on the constitution as their leaders trashed it.  Anyone who stood up and opposed these dictatorial new powers was branded a traitor by their corporate owned media which grandstanded all of the wars, all of the evils and all of the tyrannies newly inflicted post 9/11.

Osama Bin Laden’s strategy was to bankrupt America the way he drove the Soviet Union into the annals of history.  Thus far he has succeeded.  Instead of spending $4 trillion rebuilding our roads, bridges, airports, mass transit, water and sewer systems, broadband access, electrical grids and clean energy sources we pissed it down the black holes of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We enriched warlords instead and turned a blind eye as heroin production flooded our streets and poisoned our youth.

We turned thousands of young Americans into paraplegics, inflicted TBI and PTSD on them and now will be faced with caring them for them for the next fifty years instead of building our nation and expanding our horizons.  We supported corrupt governments which ave alienated their own populations against us, dropped bombs on countless civilians and killed women and children in the name of saving their souls.

Meanwhile our corporations reported record profits facilitating the war effort.  We privatized our military making war an international profit making enterprise for which no end is on sight.  We now depend on private contractors open to the highest bidder for our national security, corporations without loyalty to any state, any people, any cause other than profit.  No wonder we have endless war when there are endless profits to be earned?

These are the legacies of 9/11.  This is post 9/11 America.  It didn’t have to be.  We could have chosen the path India took and we could have lived up to our ideals and remained that shining light on the hill.  Instead we chose, and proudly did so, to extinguish everything for which we built, designed and sought for as a nation.  When those towers fell so did America.  Bin Laden won because he destroyed who we were and bankrupted us as a country.

The next ten years we face a decision:  do we pursue more of the same or do we finally stand back, examine what has failed and choose a smarter course of action?  Do we invest in our own country or continue pouring trillions into the fat bank accounts of warlords?  Do we continue supporting failed wars and failed puppets or do we choose instead to focus on our own failing state?  These are serious questions but no one seems to be asking them.

I remember being in Shanksville last year and talking with the families of those who perished on Flight 93.  They deserved better.

News & Notes May 18, 2011

Rick Santorum thinks John McCain doesn’t understand the value of torture.  It’s too bad McCain isn’t running this year because I’d love to watch the 2008 nominee turn to Santorum and say “I know torture, I’ve been tortured, you know nothing about torture or what it does.”  It would be a classic put down moment.  How stupid is Rick that he’d say something like that?  Did he forget McCain was tortured in North Vietnam?

Republicans succeeded in blocking passage yesterday of those oil industry welfare programs being halted.  President Obama targeted the $4 billion in taxpayer breaks given to giant energy corporations making billions while paying no taxes.  The GOP filibuster succeeded.  The tax breaks remain.

Today’s video is about protesters crashing the JP Morgan Chase shareholders meeting:

DEP actually fined Chesapeake Energy over $1 million for the Bradford County well explosion.  These “accidents” are the reason the Susquehanna River replaced the Delaware as the nation’s most endangered waterway.  In yet more Marcellus news DEP is citing Cabot for continuing problems in Dimock and Sen. Joe Scarnati is proposing that each well drilled be assessed a $10,000 impact fee.  Don’t confuse that with an extraction tax.

In litigation news an Appeals Court will not step in and void the settlement in the famous facebook case.  The Harvard twins who claim Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea settled for $20 million but aren’t happy.  I think I could be happy with $20 million.

In some election news yesterday Tom Caltagirone’s hand picked candidate for Mayor of Reading came in third in the Democratic primary.  This from the man going around telling people that he is the only Dem in the area who knows how to win elections?  His DJ candidate Judge Deb Lachina also lost.

Judge Michael Leonardziak never called me after I found two of his poll workers acting illegally at different polls yesterday.

Voters in Philadelphia actually cast ballots for a convicted criminal for Mayor.  In that crooked city it seems like poetic justice.  Michael Nutter still beat Milton Street however with 76% of the vote.   Not everyone there is insane.

In Northampton County a referendum on privatization of Gracedale, the county nursing home, was 3-1 in favor of keeping the facility public.

In Allegheny County Rich Fitzgrald beat Mark Flaherty for County Executive in the Dem primary and State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, the Auditor General’s niece, won the race for the County Controller slot on November’s ballot.

The Democratic race for Judge of Commonwealth Court is very close.  With most precincts now reporting Kathy Bookvar is slightly ahead 306,819 to 304,766 for Barbara Behrend Ernsberger.  This will likely go to a recount.

A gay activist threw glitter all over Newt yesterday.  Is he trying to make the man look good or something?  Sorry but that’s impossible.  I had Gingrich had his pants zipped this time.

Cheney’s Real Agenda

Dick Cheney has disappeared from our television screen since word leaked that photos exist of Americans torturing Iraqi prisoners using sexual assault and rape as instruments of control.  President Obama has reversed his position on openness and transparency and decreed the photographs remain unavailable to the public.  His rationale is that they would incite great violence in Iraq against the U.S.

Of course they would.  This is precisely why one of our arguments against torture and abuse of prisoners was morally wrong:  news of such inhumane treatment would incite anyone.  Anyone except Dick Cheney, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, or John Ashcroft that is.  The cabal of war criminals should be rightly frightened.  If a sole anti abortion protester can assassinate a doctor in a church what is to keep these mass murderers safe?

Dick Cheney attempted to blanket the airwaves in an assault on our sensibilities in an effort to revise his own personal history.  Torture was the cornerstone of his foreign policy apparatus.  It almost seemed to be his cause for being VP.  He is as closely associated with torture, rape and sexual assault now as he was with Halliburton.  It is his public persona and as a court in Spain begins investigating the abuse of prisoners by the Bush Administration Cheney has attempted to defend the indefensible.

How does he explain these new revelations?  How did raping men, women and children keep America safe?  Was the an episode of “24” where Jack Bauer did this?  I never watched the show so I don’t know.  That does seem to be where too many Americans warped their senses of decency and humanity however.

Since the world learned we did more than waterboard, in fact that we committed sexual crimes against Iraqis outrage against us has intensified.  Obama does not need to release the actual pictures because the damage is done.  The victims cannot be silenced as some of our detainees were when they were tortured to death under Cheney’s warped sense of duty.  His real agenda was to restore some of his tortured reputation.  That was torn asunder by these new revelations.  Perhaps that was the President’s real agenda in leaking the information.  It sure got Dick Cheney to shut up.  I’d love to ask him how raping these people gave us useful intelligence.

Richard B. Cheney is destined to be remembered in history as one of the great torturers of all time.  That is not good company.

The Dick Cheney Magical Mystery Media Tour

by Walter Brasch

           Dick Cheney has apparently been on a magical mystery media tour.

           He has sought out and been interviewed by more TV journalists and talk show hosts during the past month than during the eight years he was vice president.

           The topic is always the same. Torture was done during the Bush-Cheney Administration, and it was effective. Persons held at Guantanamo Bay are evil and should never be released. President Obama’s actions are a threat to national security. Cheney claims that because of the actions he and George W. Bush took after 9/11, there were no more attacks upon the United States.

           Here’s what he doesn’t say.

           Prior to 9/11 his administration rejected pleas by the FBI to increase funding and manpower for counter-terrorism. He doesn’t say that CIA intelligence reports told the President that al-Qaeda was planning a major attack, probably by air. He doesn’t tell us that following 9/11, the Administration carried out a systematic shredding of six Constitutional amendments in the mistaken belief that somehow snipping away at America’s fabric would protect us from further harm. He doesn’t tell us that although torture was used, contrary to every international law, it did not, according to senior officials at both the FBI and CIA, produce valuable intelligence. He doesn’t tell us that it was probably his paranoia and fears that pushed the nation’s military and intelligence communities to use torture.

           He doesn’t tell us that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction or ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11. He doesn’t say that by diverting America’s military forces from Afghanistan to Iraq, his Administration probably allowed Osama bin Laden and a significant part of al-Qaeda to remain at large for almost eight years, while more than 4,000 Americans were killed and another 30,000 wounded, many with injuries that will never heal.

           Here’s another thing that Dick Cheney doesn’t say. According to major independent research polls, only 20 to 22 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans. Does anyone wonder why four-fifths of Americans don’t want to be tainted by the actions done by the Bush-Cheney Administration and the direction the Republican Party has taken the past couple of years to eliminate any Republican who is not in lock-step with its extreme right-wing agenda?

           Dick Cheney can spin the truth all he wants. But the reality is that 9/11 occurred on his watch.

           [Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from amazon.com, bn.com, and other stores. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

 

Pelosi’s Tortured Response

How did the argument over torture evolve from what George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the CIA did to an attack on Nancy Pelosi?  Republicans have succeeded in making her the culprit for the war crimes done by the Bushies.  She hasn’t helped by lying about her role.  Let’s be clear:  anyone who participated, was aware of (and did nothing about), or sanctioned war crimes needs to be prosecuted.

I don’t know exactly what the House Speaker’s involvement was.  She has made so many statements it isn’t clear.  She was prohibited by law from saying anything publicly however.  Had Pelosi violated national security law by going public she would have been prosecuted.  The Bush Administration threatened to sue the New York Times over reports of war crimes and after watching what they did to Valerie Plame Wilson their cut throat tendencies to anyone who challenged their war crimes would have been dangerous.

Nancy Pelosi, if she knew, could have done nothing other than write a letter to Bush protesting these criminal acts.  Od course the Bush White House told her they had been deemed legal by the DOJ.  We know now those weren’t actual legal findings.  Pelosi isn’t a lawyer and could not have consulted on without violating the secrecy laws.  She should have documented her objections to torture in a letter to the President however.  The fact she has not produced such a letter implicates her.  

I am shocked at the statement put our by Leon Panetta.  He said the CIA did not mislead the Speaker.  “It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress.  Our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of [terrorism suspect] Abu Zubaida, describing the ‘enhanced techniques that had been employed.'”

He claimed the CIA doesn’t break the law.  The tortured human beings in violation of the law and international treaties but we’re supposed to believe they didn’t violate the laws about lying to Congress?  Can you say double speak three times quickly as Panetta just did?

The CIA has no credibility in this.  CIA employees and contractors willfully waterboarded Khalid Sheik Muhammad 183 times in one month.  That averages more than six times per day.  Abu Zubadah was tortured this way 83 times.  Whether Nancy Pelosi was fully and truthfully informed isn’t the issue.  The Bush Administration and the CIA committed war crimes.  That is the issue and it is they, not Pelosi, on whom the spotlight should be shining.  

The Torture Memo Debate

Republicans are seeing red over the possibility that Bush Administration officials could be prosecuted for torture.  It is clear from the memos recently released by the Obama White House that all th eprevious reports and beliefs were true.  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had an unquenchable thirst for torturing human beings following 9/11 and wanted to torture in the worst way.  The White House forced the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department to write the memos giving their people legal cover to do just that.  

The rule of law was destroyed, war crimes were commited, laws twisted and careers undermined so the CIA could satisfy this thirst for revenge.  Bush and Cheney became no better than Osama Bin Laden and these crimes were done in our name.  This created a huge wave of anger at America and fueled the recruitment of terrorists for anyone against us.

Now the GOP is up in arms at the release of the memos and the possibility of prosecutions.  The Party of personal a ccountability wants none.  It is OK if you are a Republican to investigate and prosecute a President for blow jobs but not for war crimes.  If we do not hold our own people accountable some other country will.  Spain is already indicting six former Bush officials for war crimes.  Any country which had citizens at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or in Afghanistan who was tortured under these Bush policies can indict and prosecute them.  Why are we deferring this to our enemies (in some cases)?

Judge Jay Bybee, one of the authors of the infamous legal documents was rewarded for his work in torturing people in violation of the law by being made a federal judge.  Now there is a movement underway to impeach Judge Bybee for his actions.  It is an outrage that someone who undermined the rule of law is sitting on the bench.  Someone who has no regard for international laws, treaties or U.S. law is overseeing an druling on cases pretending he has some understanding of the concept of the rule of law.  Judge Bybee needs to be indicted for war crimes along with everyone else involved.  The hotbed for this was the Vice President’s office and Dick Cheney needs to be hauled into court to answer for his crimes.

Accountability

I wrote an article with this title back in 2003 about how the nation was allowing George W. Bush and his appointees a free ride with no accountability for their actions.  Congress bent over and allowed Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby to screw them and the country.  Six years later Bush Administration officials remain unaccountable for their war crimes and debate actually exists about letting them off.

Why not just release that pirate too or mass murderers?  Why should we prosecute anyone for any crime if we let those who committed war crimes in our name off the hook?  War crimes, torture and murder are serious crimes and must be investigated and, if the evidence warrants, prosecuted.

I understand President Obama’s sentiment that this could be seen by some as further political polarization but if you or I kidnapped some and tortured them, killed a few, and admitted most of it was by mistake we’d be doing hard time on death row.  Why shouldn’t those who did this for George W. Bush?  There crimes are even worse because what they did emboldened our enemies, made recruitment by our enemies easier and will lead to many further terrorist attacks upon our people and the death of more innocent people.

Abu Ghraib and Gitmo became symbols of American imperialism, arrogance, hypocrisy and brutality.  Bush and Cheney made it easy for those who hate us to recruit many more people to hate us.  The entire world came to hate America for what we did.  It may take generations to heal these breaches, to make people forget we became as brutal and terrible as Al Qaeda.

There must be accountability.  Without being held to account for their crimes what deterrence is there for future leaders and officials to further weaken our security?  None.

Republicans once stood for something called personal responsibility.  This held that people are held to account for what they do, good or bad.  How soon now that they toss this central tenet of their ideology in the name of partisanship and the torture of human beings.  If conservatives truly believe in personal responsibility they will support the fair investigation of war crimes and prosecution of any officials as evidence requires.

This isn’t about partisanship it is about accountability.

Bush actually does the right thing telling China human rights violations are wrong…was it enough?

Bangkok, Thailand- Bush told China that America stands against the communist government’s repression of its own people. A strong message delivered to the Chinese government a day before the Olympic Games. However, his mere attendance of the Olympic Games in Beijing would allow the message against China’s flagrant abuse of its own people to fall short to his own self-interest of watching the Games. However, that wouldn’t be different from the last 8 years of Bush serving his own interest through establishing his horribly-failed policies and his diligence to have his buddy, John McCain, carry his torch of corporate tax cuts and war-mongering misjudgment into the future as Bush’s 3rd term.

Of course, Bush balanced his comment with praise for China’s new disaster capitalism, and their new ways of exploiting child labor to make products for our stores back in the States. He made the speech before starting his three-country trip and it focused on praising the economic ties between the U.S. and Asia. He pledges that the next U.S. president will inherit the alliance that is now stronger than ever. He forgot to mention that the next president will have to clean up his mess and if its McSame, the next one will continue his reign of hell against the world.

The president redirected himself from focusing on his speech to his sightseeing with the people of Myanmar, or Burma, who live under a military dictatorship. Also, he’s getting ready to enjoy the Beijing Olympics since he’s a sports fan.

Arrogance and Hubris Visit Capital Hill

The architect and author of the infamous torture policy practiced by the New American Century appeared before Congress yesterday and exhibited a show of arrogance and hubris rarely seen at this level.  Now, arrogance and hubris are common qualities in Washington, a town full of people full of themselves so this display was remarkable in its excess.

David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, and John Yoo, formerly a Justice Department lawyer and author of the memorandum exonerating Administration officials for their repeated and horrific violations of the law, evaded questions, lectured Members of Congress, and displayed a level of arrogance and hubris on a level which was quite disgusting.  Even for Washington standards.

John Yoo, acting in his official capacity at the DOJ, wrote controversial legal opinions which, by their nature, prevent the prosecution of many of those who tortured other human beings in our name.  The meno he wrote was the legal basis for the use of torture and defined torture (in violation of many laws and treaties) as only being:  treatment resulting in “death, organ failure or serious impairment of bodily functions.”  Anything else was fair game.  Because this definition came from his office anyone in the Bush Administration adhering to its opinion is legally exonerated.  The Department of Justice later rescinded the memo and policy.

The Bush Administration, especially through the advice and counsel of Addington and Cheney, pushed for such definitions so they could violate all which this nation stood for in their bloodlustful revenge for the 9/11 attacks.  Addington, a lawyer, was one of the primary supporters and advocates of the “unitary executive” philosophy which dictates that the President and all of his advisors are above the law during a time of war.  He crassfully pretended yesterday not to be familiar with the term.

The egos of these criminals is monumental.  The levels of arrogance they exhibit is a warning to us all that there are dangerous people in high positions destroying our country, our ideals, our system of checks and balances and our rule of law and we must work to change everything before it is too late.