Archive for July 17th, 2006

Shortly before the Fourth of July, a woman inmate at the Missoula County jail was subdued with seven pepperball bullets and then tied to a chair for over forty minutes before being decontaminated. The material in the bullets is a weaker form of the pepper spray used to ward off grizzly bears – symptoms from contact with the powder include vomiting, burning skin, loss of breath, and mucus membranes “go into overdrive,” i.e., lots of snot.

A Missoula County detention officer, Mike Burch, thought the process went overboard. Way overboard. He gave a copy of the report to the Missoulian, fully aware that it belonged to Missoula County and that he faced disciplinary action for his whistle blowing, if not dismissal.

Two stories subsequently appeared in local papers. One written by Tristan Scott of the Missoulian, the second by Brad Tyer of the Missoula Independent. And that’s where my story starts.

First, let me say I admit I don’t know exactly what transpired at the jail, and how threatening the actions of the woman or proper the reactions of the officer. It’s easy to criticize officers for mistakes, but they often have to make decisions quickly and under extreme stress. What’s indisputable is that the woman inmate suffered only minor injuries – welts where the pepperballs struck her – and has since left the jail. Whether the action of the officers involved in the incident warrant dismissal or small punishments is not what I’m writing about.

I’m writing about the two accounts linked to, above, and how much they differ.

Read them both now.

You’ll notice Scott’s version leaves out some details – some important details – that Tyer reports. Here are the more important points Scott leaves out:

–The inmate does, in part comply with officers before being pepper-gunned, although she was essentially uncooperative.

–The inmate was hit with five pepperballs, four of which exploded, dousing her with “pepper powder,” after which the inmate was “temporarily disoriented” and sat down on her bunk.

–After refusing to lie down on the bunk, the officer shot two more pepperballs at the wall near her face.

–The inmate’s injuries were cleared by a nurse, after which the inmate was again tied to a restraint chair

–The inmate was told “if she could remain compliant for the next 10 minutes she would be…decontaminated…”

–The inmate was decontaminated 44 minutes later

–Burch came forward only after jail supervisors were told by administrators over the incident “to let it lie”

Here are other salient details gotten from whistle blower Burch that are missing from Scott’s report:

…[according to Burch] the report contains no justifiable defense for inundating an incarcerated woman with seven rounds of Capsicum powder at a range of three to five yards. To the extent that she could be considered a suicide risk, he says, the detention center has protocols in place for monitoring and/or restraining such inmates well shy of assault with Capsicum powder—protocols the incident report makes no mention of being enacted.

For another, Burch says, “She was in a cell; she really didn’t pose a credible threat to herself or the officers. Verbally is how it should have happened. Three officers enter, one takes the left arm, one takes the right arm, one takes her head, hook her up [to the restraint chair]. I would have had the nurse examine her. [Sorini] didn’t want to deal with her so he took the shortest route to resolving the situation, instead of the correct route. No ifs ands or butts.”

Furthermore, Scott misses Burch’s claim that leaving her in a restraint “violates detention policy, if not the victim’s civil rights,” and that Montana State Prison policy “is that decontamination be effected ‘as soon as practical.’”

(To me, tying someone to a chair with their skin and clothes doused in a substance that causes vomiting, difficulty breathing, burning skin, and free-flowing mucous for 45 minutes amounts to torture.)

Instead, Scott colors Burch with “the demeanor of a martyr,” describes pepperball gun as having “been lauded by law enforcement communities across the country,” fails to mention the woman’s restraint while contaminated with pepper powder for over forty minutes, quotes Sheriff McMeekin on the pepperballing officer — “[his] decisions were certainly within acceptable parameters” — and on Burch – a “malcontent.” (Just why Burch may be considered a malcontent appear only in Tyer’s report. Burch: “This hasn’t been an isolated incident…”)

The real story now isn’t whether an officer violated an inmate’s basic civil rights, it’s whether the Sheriff, in collusion with the Missoulian, is covering the story up.

Based on the egregious omissions from Scott’s story, it might appear so.

Good thing Scott’s email is on the report: I can ask him!

Update:  I just got off the phone with Tristan Scott, and after our conversation, I hereby strike the suspicion that Scott — or a Missoulian editor — were colluding with county authorities to cover up information. Instead, it seems that reportorial judgement, space constraints, and deadline pressure caused Scott to omit some key facts of the story.

There was a weird historical allegory in Denny Rehberg’s Gazette guest column on Friday, tying the so-called “war on terror” to World War 2:

In World War II, our country lost a generation of Americans because our leadership saw a threat and did not react quickly enough. How much shorter could the war have been? How many fewer lives would have been lost, if America had acted swiftly against the looming threats posed by Japan, Germany and Italy? Unfortunately, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor forced us to act. Today, we are in a similar situation in the war on terrorism. For decades, we ignored the growing and obvious threat presented by terrorism. Sept. 11, 2001, forced us to rethink this threat. To ensure that we do not lose another generation of young Americans, we must continue to fight terrorism wherever it resides and provide our soldiers the resources they need to get the job done and return home safely.

First the comparison between even the Iraq War and WW2 patently ridiculous. In the WW2, we fought a number of large conventional armies belonging established sovereign states. Those states were definite aggressors against our own territory and were a definite threat to our interests.

Currently we’re fighting a number of loose shadowy terrorist and nationalist groups in Iraq in a grueling – but not terribly large – guerrilla war.

Other things matter, too. In WW2 Congress unanimously declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy. No declaration of war kicked off Iraq; instead the administration wrangled an open-ended quasi-approval for military action after all diplomacy was exhausted, which was based on “faulty” intelligence. Also, during WWII the country was involved – there was a draft, rationing, the whole bit. Now? Some irritating news to wade through, increased gas prices, and a small number of dead soldiers mostly from poor and working-class families and rural areas.

Rehberg’s analogy is also patently ridiculous. The US would not have, could not have intervened before Pearl Harbor. The citizenry wasn’t into war. There wasn’t a question of making sh*t up and dragging the country into war against its will, even if the enemy was clear and present. That’s a recipe for disaster. Could you image defeating Hitler and Tojo with an indifferent American populace?

The deal is simple: the GOP wants you and me to believe that the present Iraq War is analogous to WWII because that was the “good” war. No one thinks fighting that war was a bad idea, and they want you to think that fighting their war is the same thing. It’s part of the conservative mindset on foreign policy, where everything is broken down into a simplistic “us vs. them” approach. Only no one asked us whether we want to go to war, no one proposed it for debate. We were hijacked, and some of us are still pretty p*ssed.

Only it gets worse, or threatens to. Now these goons want to drag us into Israel’s mess. Newt Gingrich:

Gingrich said in an interview Saturday that Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.[snip]

Gingrich said in the coming days he plans to speak out publicly and to the administration from his seat on the Defense Policy Board about the need to recognize that America is in World War III.

Got that? We need to be told we’re in “WWIII.” By the President.

Only thing is, it ain’t the President’s job to “tell us” what wars we’re in. The power of declaring war belongs to Congress. Period.

And just who would they declare war on, Newt?

See, the neocons are facing a choice. They can either face up to their colossal intellectual blunders about the Middle East and endure the humiliation that will accompany self-realization, or they can become more strident and claim we haven’t gone far enough to realize their American Empire fantasies.

We know where Gingrich and Bill Kristol stand: with their egos.

There’s a lot to catch up on – I’m running a few days behind the news. Specifically, I haven’t commented on the Montana House race’s dueling guest editorials in the Billings Gazette written by Democrat Monica Lindeen and Republican incumbent Denny Rehberg, in which each candidate listed issues they saw as important for this upcoming election.

Lindeen’s issues were the expected slate of Democratic stances: support the troops with full benefits, equipment, and an Iraq plan; invest in alternative energies; reduce the federal deficit; and preserve Montana’s public lands.

These are the issues important to Montana, and issues that the Democratic-controlled legislature have done well with during its tenure under Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer. These are promises, not political spin.

Then we look at Rehberg’s issues: invest in alternative energy; improve access to health care; protect children from drugs; win the “war on terror”; and provide quality education.

Um. With the exception of the “terror” thing, aren’t these the planks of the Democrats’ party platform? Was Ralph Nader right when he claimed there was no difference between the two parties? Is Denny Rehberg just a Democrat who has a skewed view of American history and current events (more on that later)?

Hardly. When Rehberg claims he “helped craft and pass a comprehensive national energy policy,” he’s probably referring to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, in which Congress – and Denny Rehberg – gave the big oil companies a bunch of tax breaks and subsidies. So much for alternative energy.

While Rehberg claims the Small Business Health Fairness Act would allow for more coverage and cheaper health care, it appears we have the House version of Sen. Mike Enzi’s (WY) insurance bill, which would actually free insurance companies from state regulation, dropping people off insurance rolls, and increasing coverage costs for most small businesses. In other words, this dog puts $$ into the pockets of big-business insurance companies.

No comment on the meth issue. Not exactly controversial. But it is worthwhile to point out that Rehberg seems to be grabbing a little credit for the state’s meth program, which is independently funded.

And education? He is rated 25% by the National Education Association on education issues. (That’s a failing grade for the educationally impaired.) Apparently Rehberg’s efforts have been saved for trying to inject Christian prayer into schools.

Rehberg says he’s for all these things, but his actions show otherwise. (Matthew 7:20, “Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Amen.) The question is, of course, why do Republicans feel the need to run as Democrats during the election? Rehberg isn’t the only one. Burns is doing it, too. Pogie:

It seems that Senator Burns is having a real dilemma in this campaign. He seems so ashamed of his real record that he feels the need to manufacture one. This latest identity, as a defender of the environment, shares one thing with the Republicans’ energy policy and that old high school plan: they all rely on a lot of bullsh*t.

Come on, be honest! Tell us what you really believe in! I want to know how Rehberg can claim giving subsidies to big oil helps alternative energy, or how freeing insurance from regulations helps lower costs. Because right now, Rehberg’s stances can be interpreted one of two ways:

–He believes giving subsidies or breaks to corporate America will somehow lead to solutions, but he doesn’t trust us to understand his thinking.

–He’s a corrupt, well-fed Congressman more interested in his next donation or golf trip than in the livelihood and interests of his constituency.

Which is it?


Jeff at Speedkill parses the GOP e-brief and the difference between Burns’ and Baucus’ funding.

Pogie parses another GOP e-brief, this one Burns’ stance on renewable energy.

Why Bush’s signing statements are bad for democracy.

Why aren’t there any good conservative documenataries?

Vote now! For Hoosegow Honey of 2006!

The war

Israel’s latest war is too much of a clusterf*ck for me to comment much on. I’ll just say it seems a little strange that Israel has taken out one government (Palestine) and appears to be set on destroying Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure over three kidnapped soldiers. Either there’s a deeper motive at work – or the Israelis have endured too much terror over the years and are lashing out, perhaps against their own best interests. Whatever. We’ll probably never know.

Anyway, here are other observations by smarter people than me:

Obsidian Wings has a nice summary of the war and her feelings on it…

Billmon is a little more critical of Israel: “…the operation has failed…,” “…off balance…,” “…Israel [is] lash[ing] out…in ways the rest of the world…views as increasingly cruel and vindictive…”

The Slog’s Josh Feit believes Israel has every right to react against Hezbollah and wonders why there’s even a debate. (Plus some good ground rules for debating the issue.)

The WaPo’s Mallaby thinks Israel is making a mistake in its aggressive response: “…everybody understands that failed states are good for terrorism.”

TAPPED’s Matthew Yglesias, Garance Franke-Ruta, and Ezra Klein discuss the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Meanwhile, where’s the United States in all of this? “…the administration right now looks weak, confused, and vaguely pathetic…” Had enough?

Bill Kristol and his PNAC goons are in heat over Israel’s actions. Juan Williams to Kristol: “Well, it just seems to me that you want…you just want war, war, war, and you want us in more war.” Someone should get Kristol a box of toy soldiers so he’ll leave the rest of us alone.

Right winger Michael J. Totten posts a message from a Lebanese friend who’s leaving because Israel has made his country “unlivable.” Nasty flame war follows in the comments. Totten reiterates his unwavering support for Israel while recognizing the mess it made.

Matt Singer comments on a local blogger’s hysterical attack on the entire Kos community for a diarist’s admittedly anti-semetic post.

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