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U.S. Attys Rip Off Taxpayers With Expensive Hotel Rooms

Christopher Christie/campaign photo

UPDATE: The LA Times reports that another former U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien of Los Angeles wrote a check Tuesday reimbursing the government for more than $900 in overages for hotels.  Former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh was also identified in the media as one of the five  violators cited in the Inspector General report.

WASHINGTON — The words “offensive” and “disgusting” and “criminal” best describe the findings of a Justice Department Inspector General report this week which found that five U.S. Attorneys stuck taxpayers with hefty hotel bills.

In other words, they went far beyond the allotted allowance for rooms.

And the worst offender, the report said, was the New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie — who is now the state’s governor — who has crusaded against corruption. This sounds rather corrupt to me.

He was U.S. Attorney from 2002 to 2008.

“After reviewing the travel documents and interviewing the U.S. Attorney’s secretary, we found insufficient justification for exceeding the government rate with respect to 14 of the 15 trips,” the report said of Christie.

“These 14 vouchers exceeded the government rate by $19 to $242 per night, for a total of $2,176 (excluding taxes for domestic travel). U.S. Attorney C’s lodging costs exceeded the government rate by more than $100 per night on 9 of the 14 vouchers.”

The report said Christie — considered a rising star in the Republican party – stayed at the Nine Zero Hotel in Boston for $449 per night and the $475-per-night Four Seasons Hotel in Washington at a cost of more than double the government rate for those cities.

Guess what. Go to Orbitz right now. Punch in hotels for  Boston and Washington.

The St. Gregory Luxury Hotel at 20th and M Streets NW in D.C. — a pretty darn nice neighborhood and a four-star hotel — is going this week for $211 a night. And guess what, it’s right near a Four Seasons Hotel where Christie spent $475 a night. And the five-star Langham hotel in Boston is going for $257 a night — far less than the $449 a night he spent at the Nine Zero Hotel.

Christie’s press secretary did not return a call when I called for comment. Not surprising.  There’s no justification for ripping off the taxpayers.

What Christie and the other four U.S. Attorneys need to do is take out a check book and reimburse the taxpayers. They also need to remember, while they’re presidential appointees, they are not the PRESIDENT. They can stay at an Embassy Suites or a Hilton.

It’s all about doing the right thing.

al Qaeda’s Gift to the U.S.: Incompetence

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda and its associates may not be known as benevolent organizations, but they do give gifts.

The failed “Underwear Bomber”. The failed “Times Square Bomber”. The failed “Shoe Bomber”. And now the failed attempt to deliver explosives on  planes. All gifts.

The U.S. should be grateful for these opportunities in which no one gets hurt, but we learn about the shortcomings in our system.  (Unfortunately, we now learn this latest bid was one of the more competent efforts that failed).

Too bad there’s not a better way to figure it out the flaws. And we can’t forever count on the al Qaeda B Team carrying out these incompetent missions.

So, let’s learn from the incidence, but let’s get more aggressive about  examining our transportation systems.  Obviously, there are plenty holes to plug.

Let’s not wait for al Qaeda to get lucky

President Obama’s Comments Unfortunately May Reflect Attitude Toward DEA

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — President Obama is a busy guy with a lot of worries. So he might be excused when he commits a little Washington faux pas as he did last week during a town hall meeting with young people.

While discussing  “federal drug enforcement”, he mentioned the Justice Department and FBI, but not the  DEA,the lead agency in the war on drugs.

“We have to figure out who is it we’re going after because we’ve got limited resources,” he said. “So decisions that are made by the Justice Department or FBI about prosecuting drug kingpins versus somebody with some small amount, those decisions are made based on how can we best enforce the laws that are on the books.”

In many ways, it was not a big deal. But the comment rubbed some folks at DEA the wrong way. Plus, agents felt it was reflective of the administration’s overall attitude toward the DEA.

“I don’t think he’s given any thought to the DEA,” one agent told me. “We’ve become an afterthought, the stepchild when it comes to the FBI and Justice Department.”

So frankly, you can’t be totally dismissive of those sentiments.

For one, Michele Leonhart, the acting head of the agency, was nominated by the president in February, but has yet to be confirmed. To boot, she’s been acting head of the agency since 2007.  The absence of a confirmation is unsettling for some in the agency.

With Mexico raging out of control, and  the cartels tentacles reaching far into the U.S., the DEA may not be   the agency the administration wants to short change — and that also means when it comes to giving a shoutout publicly about federal drug law enforcement.

Steroids Had Plenty of Victims

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

“Say it ain’t so, Rocket.”

(“Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Reported words of a young fan to Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox gambling scandal.)

Roger Clemens may have lied under oath in front of a Congressional committee regarding the use of steroids during his baseball career, but so what? Couldn’t our prosecutorial resources be used for more important things?

In the late 1980s and early 90s, as an FBI agent (now retired), who helped shepherd the largest steroid investigation in history, similar questions were posed to me. Why should we pursue the illegal distribution of steroids?

In 1989, University of Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, shared a big concern.

They believed steroid use was becoming pervasive in college football. Their concern was not only that some players and teams were getting a competitive advantage but that high school players were beginning to think that steroid use was a necessary and accepted practice in getting to the next level.

Bo and Mike knew that steroids were an effective performance-enhancing drug, but could also cause very serious health problems. Not the least of these is severe depression. I learned of numerous cases of young, aspiring athletes who committed suicide after using steroids. (One of those suicides was the son of an FBI agent I knew.) I also thought of my own daughter and son, who, at the time, were beginning to participate in sports. Would they be faced with the choice of having to use steroids in order to reach their athletic goals?

Many believe steroid use is a victim-less crime. It’s not. Using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) affect the very integrity of the sport in which they are used. I see three sets of victims. The first is the players who choose to remain clean but must compete against the “enhanced” players. The other victims are aspiring athletes who use PEDs to continue pursuing their sport, or become disillusioned and quit. The third victim is the fan – more on that just ahead.

When we began our steroid investigation, dubbed Operation Equine, our goal was to pursue the steroid dealers, not the users. We reasoned prosecutors would have little interest in going after users whether they be gym rats or professional athletes. However, in retrospect, perhaps the only way to snag the media’s attention would have been to arrest celebrity athletes. We were also stunned when Major League Baseball stifled a yawn when presented with facts about all their “juiced” players.

Our investigative team was faced with a quandary when one of the dealers we arrested told us he had been supplying Jose Canseco and other members of the then Oakland A’s. (Later we learned one of those A’s was Mark McGwire.) No doubt, these are headline-generating names. For the reasons outlined above, we chose to pursue this dealer’s suppliers, not the star players/users.

It was way back in 1994 that information about the players’ use of steroids was given to the office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. It was ignored for nearly a decade. Yes, nothing happened for nearly 10 years until Canseco himself became the messenger. (Ironically, the U.S. Attorney’s office in northern California didn’t deem steroid dealing a crime worthy of prosecution at the time. What might have happened had they prosecuted the Oakland A’s dealer there, the future home of BALCO?)

If Roger Clemens did use steroids, the ramifications were far greater than just a high profile athlete using a substance to enhance his performance. The past and future are forever altered. Here’s where the Fan as a Victim enters the picture. In baseball, perhaps more than in any other sport, you not only compete with your contemporaries but against players from the past through statistics. These statistical achievements have long been considered sacrosanct, the lifeblood of every baseball fanatic.

These numbers transcend generations of players and fans. Thus, the use of PEDs not only potentially alters the final score, but has, to some extent, destroyed the integrity of those precious stats. Maybe more importantly, when star athletes turn to PEDs, they inadvertently encourage the same behavior by young aspiring athletes who seek to emulate their heroes.

People may argue about whether Congress should be involved in these issues, but persons testifying in front of Congressional committees under oath must tell the truth. Or invoke the protection of the 5th Amendment. To do otherwise renders the whole process a farce.

Ironically, if Clemens had used steroids during his career and admitted it, he most likely wouldn’t have been prosecuted. However, he now faces a serious charge of perjury, and perhaps worse – a tarnished career that no stellar statistic can ever repair.

It goes beyond just saying it ain’t so.

Cheating Scandal Shows Human Side of FBI

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — The FBI may be the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency — with a worldwide reputation — but in the end it’s made up of humans. And yes, humans do screw up.

Over the years, we saw a drunk agent shoot up a freezer at a Las Vegas hotel. We had an FBI agent arrested for shoplifting in suburban Washington. We had an off-duty agent in Texas shoot dead a neighbor’s Chihuahua. It happens. We don’t expect perfection. Individuals screw up.

But the latest scandal — cheating on an open book exam — is far more embarrassing than some individual screw up, than some agent gone rogue.  The bureau had training sessions on guidelines for conducting surveillances on Americans, and wanted to make sure everyone understood. So it gave open book exams on computers. Some took 20 minutes to finish the exam.  Those were the cheaters. Some agents who legitimately took the test took three or four hours.

There was widespread cheating, according to an Inspector General report. Some took the exam together, which was forbidden.  Many got hold of the answers. Cheat sheets circulated.

What ever the case, the big question is: How did this become so epidemic? Did the big guys at headquarters fall asleep at the switch or rely on managers who were part of the problem?  Or did they simply set up a test in which even some of the most honest folks felt it was ok to cheat on?

At the Washington Field Office, some of the top managers were part of the problem.  The head of the office, Joe Persichini Jr. and two of his special agents in charge got caught cheating.  Not a good sign of leadership. Persichini quit late last year before any discipline was meted out.  The other two are appealing their punishment — a 20 day unpaid suspension along with demotions.

The test has become a joke. And unfortunately, the laugh is on an agency that takes itself pretty darn seriously — as it should.

The bureau needs to be smarter next time around.

Ex-U.S. Atty. James K. Robinson Was “One of the Finest Lawyers of His Generation”

James K. Robinson

James K. Robinson

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Every young lawyer remembers the guy who gave him his first real job. For me and some others, it was a mark of distinction that that guy was Jim Robinson.

His death last Friday from cancer evokes a painful loss but also many happy memories about a man who was one of the finest lawyers of his generation.

Although Jim’s long and successful career as a litigator, public servant, author and teacher included many of the highest achievements available in the legal profession, it was for many of us his term as a 34-year-old U.S. Attorney in Detroit which we remember most fondly.

During his three-year term from 1977 to 1980, he set a framework for the modern federal prosecutor’s office and inspired dozens of young lawyers along the way.

Jim re-organized and modernized the U.S. Attorney’s Office in ways that are still followed today in this and other districts around the country.

He convinced the Justice Department to let him hire several dozen new lawyers and support staff, and he filled the positions with a diverse group, including women, African Americans and former defense counsel, three groups which had been greatly under-represented.

He re-structured the office into Divisions and Units, re-formulated a press policy, established a pre-trial diversion program, and emphasized the need for continuing legal education.

He started a Federal-State Law Enforcement Committee, which still meets regularly thirty years later, to discuss common strategies and crime problems.

He re-defined the office’s prosecution policy and shifted from a volume approach to a selective policy of investing more resources in more culpable and insulated targets.

Jim also put more emphasis on civil enforcement, especially natural resources, tort defense, civil rights and combating fraud in federal programs. It was a sea change for the better.

Jim emphasized integrity at every functioning level. I remember a short interchange at one of those “Monday lunch” sessions he initiated, and it has stuck these thirty years.

Some of the Assistants were complaining about an instruction some of the district judges were then giving to trial jurors that they need not be concerned in reaching their verdict about whether the government wins or loses the case since the government always wins as long as justice is done.

Jim settled the matter, “Hey that is what we do, or try our best to do, what is right in every decision in every case, whatever our personal preferences. It’s not a contest and winning isn’t the objective.”

As a boss, Jim was a master of the personal touch not only because it was good management, but more because that was the kind of person he was. When a trial or appeal went well, you could expect him to stick his head in your door with some thumbs-up words of encouragement or to leave an “attaboy” note on your desk. I still have a couple of them.

When a forgivable error was made, Jim considered it a lesson learned, and I heard him quote more than once the words of W. Somerset Maugham, “Only a mediocre person is always at his best.”

I have found it useful after my kids’ sporting events. A loss after a hard fought effort by a disconsolate Assistant sometimes brought out Jim’s quotation of John Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt about the credit belonging to the person in the arena, marred by dust and sweat and blood, who if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly not sitting with those cold and timid souls on the sidelines.

Boredom and cynicism had no place when Jim was around. Instead there was laughter, hard work and long hours. Work was meant to be fun, but no one ever said it was meant to be easy.

Above all there was an unspoken sense of job satisfaction, patriotism, and fulfillment in public service. Important principles, people’s lives and freedoms, and crucial decisions were on the daily agenda. But that didn’t prevent a practical joke on a colleague, and Jim was sometimes a facilitator.

After his tour as U.S. Attorney, Jim went on as a nationally known litigator and a sought after lecturer for advocacy programs.

He supervised the Justice Department’s Criminal Division under President Clinton in 1998. He was a law school Dean and professor, President of the Michigan Bar, drafter of the Michigan Rules of Evidence and prolific author of books and articles. The list of his positive contributions to the rule of law in Michigan and the country goes on and on.

But it is not this towering man of national achievement and recognition I remember most fondly.

It was a teacher who spent a couple hours explaining and working through some knotty hearsay exceptions with a panicking young prosecutor the night before a trial was to begin.

It was a charismatic young U. S. Attorney who managed with his sleeves rolled up, walking around implementing new plans and ideas, spreading confidence and energy to all of his colleagues.

Kidnapping For Ransom: Bad Business Model

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was February, 1980 in Detroit.

I was assigned to the FBI surveillance squad (with apologies to Jack Webb and his introductions to “Dragnet”). It was very cold in the back of the van. We hadn’t yet installed a heater that would work when the van wasn’t running.

I had been driven to a spot where I could observe the ransom drop site from the small one-way window in the back of panel van. The driver had parked the van and left. He was picked up a few blocks away by one of the other surveillance cars. If anyone was watching, they would think the van was empty.

Kidnappings. It was one of many I would work in my career as an FBI agent. As I would witness, time and again, it was a lousy way for criminals to make money. Particularly as technology improved, it became clear: The business model simply didn’t work. And I thought it was worth recounting why.

In this 1980 case, my job was to watch the ransom package, which had been placed between the rear wall of a party store and a dumpster. The package contained $50,000. The “party store” (that’s what they call convenience stores in Detroit) was at the corner of Fenkell and Robeson on Detroit’s northwest side.

I had two HTs (hand held radios) with me in the van. One was tuned to the surveillance frequency. The other was tuned to the frequency of a transmitter in the ransom package. The transmitter broadcast a rhythmic tone that would speed up if the package was moved- pretty primitive by today’s technology.

The whole thing had started when Jacqueline Hempstead, the manager of a Detroit bank branch, learned that her son, Hessley, age 8, had been kidnapped on his way to school. She was called by the kidnappers and received instructions and a ransom demand. Mrs. Hempstead contacted her bank’s security officer, who alerted the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and the FBI.

It was decided that Mrs. Hempstead would follow the kidnappers’ instructions and comply with the ransom demand. A package with $50,000 and the aforementioned transmitter was prepared.

The FBI had been positioned in a parameter around the drop site. I had been driven to a spot near the drop site before the delivery. There I could observe the delivery and provide protection to Mrs. Hempstead if necessary.

Mrs. Hempstead delivered the package without any problems. We had agents in the vicinity of the drop, but not close enough to observe the package or spook someone wanting to make a pick-up.

After I had been watching for several hours, I heard an ominous sound, a garbage truck approaching. The truck got positioned and lifted the dumpster next to the ransom package. For a moment I thought what a novel way to retrieve a ransom. But when the dumpster was replaced, it was set on the top of the package. The transmitter screeched then seemed to moan before dying completely. The package was torn open with the stacks of bills clearly visible.

I kept my vigil, but we were concerned that a passerby might see the cash. After about an hour with no apparent effort by the kidnappers to collect the ransom, we had Mrs. Hempstead retrieve the package.

In the meantime, young Hessley, who had been left unsupervised by the kidnappers at a house on Detroit’s eastside, was able to break free and call his home. Agents that were posted at the Hempstead home told him to get out of the house and go to a neighbor’s house.

He went to the neighbors and then called again. He was picked up by FBI agents and returned home. The kidnappers were identified initially from their connection to the house where Hessley was held. They were successfully prosecuted. The kidnapping was short-circuited, but the victim was returned safe and law enforcement responded quickly and performed well.

In 1975, my first year assigned to Detroit Division (Michigan), there were four kidnappings in Michigan, three of which were classic kidnappings for ransom. The other was Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder.

It was an exciting first year on the job for me, but this was probably an inordinate number of ransom kidnappings for anywhere, including Detroit.

Before I arrived, in much earlier times, it seemed as if criminals had had far better luck with kidnapping. In Bryan Burroughs’ book, Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34, Burroughs writes that for some of the notorious gangs of the era, kidnapping was the crime of choice. John Dillinger’s gang specialized in bank robbery, but the Barker/Karpis gang preferred kidnapping.

It was the gangs’ success in their respective specialty crimes that resulted in making them Federal Crimes, and gave birth to the FBI. (Machine Gun Kelly, a member of the Barker gang, is credited with coining the “G-man” moniker for FBI agents when he was arrested by the FBI.) The FBI learned from those early experiences.

michigan map

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth (part of the business model). Consequently, the victim will be or is often related, in some way, to a high-profile person that can be expected to have the wherewithal and desire to pay a ransom.

The Federal statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh law”, which arose from the highly publicized kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son by Bruno Richard Hauptmann and the proliferation of high profile kidnappings elsewhere in the U.S. The Lindberghs were wealthy, but Charles may have been the most famous and beloved person in America at the time.

The Lindbergh baby was found dead after a ransom was paid. It was several years before the case was solved. The Federal kidnapping statute relies on a presumption that any kidnapping involves interstate commerce. It is a rebuttable presumption, but allows the FBI to investigate a kidnapping without having to first establish some interstate aspect.

One such case came with the kidnapping in Michigan on Nov. 10, 1975. A young man, Timothy Stempel, 13, was kidnapped in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb north of Detroit.

Timothy’s father was Robert Stempel, a high ranking executive with General Motors (later Robert Stempel would become CEO of GM). Mr. Stempel received a series of phone calls at his home from the kidnappers, and he was told they wanted $150,000 for Timothy’s return. Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and FBI.

Timothy had been kidnapped by two men, Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a good money making project would be to kidnap a rich kid and hold him for ransom.

The Stempel family/free press

The Stempel family/free press

They had no specific victim in mind when they drove to the high-income neighborhood of Bloomfield Township. They passed on a few potential victims for various reasons; playing too close to a house, too young.

Then they spotted Timothy. He was skateboarding. Williams asked Timothy for directions to a person’s house. Timothy said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told Timothy to get in the car. Timothy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson blindfolded Timothy and placed him in the backseat of the car.

They drove to Wilson’s apartment on the south side of Ann Arbor and transferred Timothy to the trunk of the car where he would remain for the next 50 some hours. Williams then called Robert Stempel and told him they had his son, and he would call back with instructions. Lastly Williams told Stempel: Don’t tell the police.

The police and FBI committed hundreds of officers and agents to the investigation. It was designated a “special” by FBI headquarters; all hands on deck. But it had to be done in such a way as to not alert the kidnappers that police were involved. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation is the safe return of the victim.

Robert Stempel received subsequent telephone calls on Nov. 11 and again on the next day. Ultimately, he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster, a working class suburb west of Detroit. He was to leave the money there, and he would be contacted about his son’s release.

The evening of the “drop,” it was pouring rain. Efforts were made to surveil the ransom package, but because of the location and the weather, it was impossible without taking the chance of alerting the kidnappers.

The package was retrieved, but whoever made the pick-up was not seen. (Night vision equipment would have been helpful, but was not yet available.)

Within a few hours, Timothy was released by the kidnappers not far from the drop site. Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, “neighborhood” investigations were conducted that included a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had seen any relevant activity. At an apparel store, within a block of the roller rink drop site, an agent found that two men had spent several hundred dollars in cash for clothes.

The serial numbers on the cash matched the numbers recorded from some of the ransom money, and the men who bought the clothes were identified. This is similar to how Bruno Richard Hauptmann was initially identified as the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. He had spent some of the ransom money, a gold certificate, at a gas station. The station attendant made a note of Hauptmann’s car license number. One of the reasons we now canvass neighborhoods.

The sartorial aspiring men were interviewed, and they told how they had agreed to drive two men to the roller rink on the night of Nov. 12 to retrieve a package containing money. The men assumed it was drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

The men identified Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor, but didn’t know his address or the other man’s name.

The investigation determined that Wilson lived in an apartment on Ann Arbor’s south side with a relative. A surveillance was set up at the apartment complex, and the car used in the kidnapping was found at the complex.

Timothy Stempel, while locked in the trunk of the car, had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk- pretty ingenious.

I was assigned to the surveillance. After a few hours, one of the other agents, Stan Lapekas, suggested we take a look in a dumpster at the apartment complex for possible evidence. The dumpster was inside a wood fence enclosure in the parking lot, and we couldn’t be seen from the outside.

After we had been in the enclosure for only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked right next to the enclosure gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the subject, Darryl Wilson. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and  placed him in the backseat of our car, with us sitting very close on either side of him.

We acted as if we already knew everything, but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After giving him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams. We hadn’t had Williams’ name until Wilson told us. Wilson also told us where Williams lived. I got several other agents and drove to Williams’ home and arrested him.

Williams also confessed. He told us he had threatened Timothy Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept Timothy in the trunk of a car for over two days. He also said he had made the phone calls to Timothy’s dad from a pay phone in Inkster. (With the existing technology, we hadn’t been able to trace the calls.)

The subsequent search of Wilson’s apartment resulted in the recovery of $137,000 of the ransom money.

The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping for it to be charged federally so it was prosecuted in State Court. The venue was Oakland County as Bloomfield Twp., where the kidnapping occurred. The high profile Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson, who would later run for Governor, was the prosecutor. (He is presently the Oakland County Executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved from Oakland to Leland County, in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea. Patterson put Timothy Stempel on the stand and introduced the trunk lid. He then had me testify out of order to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions.

On the beginning of the 2nd day of trial, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas with no plea bargain.

There were several other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30+ years there, but I’m not aware of any that were successful.

All the kidnappers were identified and prosecuted. In two instances although a ransom was demanded and paid, the victims were murdered. In both those cases, the kidnappers never had any intention of releasing the victims alive.

The business model for kidnapping for ransom is flawed. It is a very high-risk crime.

In some parts of the world kidnappings are done with the collusion of the police or at least their indifference, thus, lowering the risk factor. The victim has to fit a profile, and it is very difficult to successfully collect a ransom- probably more so today than in the technology challenged period of the early years of my career.

Although the potential profit would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting and keeping it are extremely low.

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem to be rare elsewhere in the country. I doubt that kidnapping for ransom is extinct in the US, but it would seem to be on the endangered list.

Justice Dept. Attorney Co-Authors Must-Read Book on Abu Ghraib

“The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed—American Soldiers on Trial” by Christopher Graveline and Michael Clemens. The book is available at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and Borders books.

abu ghraib book

By Ross Parker

An acquaintance from another country recently posed a question to me: How is it that such an idealistic country as America, whose people are willing to sacrifice so much, is so mistrusted and vilified around the world? We contribute nearly a trillion dollars a year, more than ten times the amount of any other country, as well as the lives of thousands of our best and brightest to attempt to keep world peace. But in the international press and the streets of the Middle East we are, increasingly, the Great Satan.

Historians for my children’s children may be able to explain this complex irony. Hopefully, one of the texts they will study is The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed by Christopher Graveline and Michael Clemens. The book presents a day-by-day factual account of one of the scandals of the Iraq War, one which scarred the image of America in a part of the world where we can ill afford such ignominy.

Graveline, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit, who was a JAG prosecutor, and Clemens, a federal agent in Milwaukee, who was an Army investigator, were intimately involved in the eleven successful prosecutions of the military personnel who abused Iraqi detainees at the Baghdad prison in November and December of 2003. The authors present the facts with such detail and objectivity that readers can come to their own conclusions about the questions of cause, blame and responsibility.

In addition to using impeccable scholarship, the book explores the human dimensions of the tragedy and presents the reader with a fascinating and dramatic description of the people and scenes involved.

The heat, dust and danger of Baghdad, as well as the drama of the courtroom, are alive in its pages to keep the reader as engrossed as any good summer beach-read. Beyond the enjoyment of the read, the book presents a study of the rule of law and the rules of war, for generals and taxpayers, Presidents and policymakers, about the complexities of investing young American lives in trouble spots around the world. Its drama and message will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.

Christopher Graveline/potomac books

Christopher Graveline/potomac books

Although the authors refrain from imposing their personal opinions, the work provides important lessons for future statesmen on subjects such as interrogation policy, training and supervision of young soldiers, and the need for clear guidelines.

As seems to be so frequently the case, an event of such transformative historical significance influencing relations between countries and affecting lives put on the line has largely been based on misinformation and misinterpretation. Thanks to media accounts and political debates, like most Americans I thought the Abu Ghraib abuses were connected with White House and Pentagon policy on loosening the limits or coercion and torture in the treatment of enemy combatants.

As the book documents, however, the scandal at Abu Ghraib primarily involved the twisted entertainment of a handful of soldiers at the expense of common Iraqi criminal inmates who were never interrogated and had no intelligence value whatsoever.

The seven victims had been involved in a food riot at a nearby prison camp and had the misfortune of being detained on a night in which some bored and stressed out GIs decided to create some perverted amusement. The iconic images of naked Iraqi prisoners forced into cheerleader pyramids, required to masturbate for the cruel enjoyment of the guards and terrorized by dogs and other sadistic stratagems— are unfortunately engraved on American and world consciousness.

The fact that the incident directly involved only a few does not minimize the culpability of those who were convicted or the negligence of the chain of command. Although the use of abusive interrogation techniques deserves full public scrutiny, the issue which is defined by Secrets is the failure of the command officers to provide the support and guidance to the women and men on the ground so that they could emotionally survive this terrible war.

What the authors of the book demonstrate is that the incident at Abu Ghraib and its aftermath stand as a microcosm, a prism, for examining everything that is right and wrong about the whole Iraq war. At its worst, the incident embodies mistakes by political and military decision makers in the conduct of the war as a whole—the inadequacy of resources and manpower, the defective planning and training for the effect that incessant danger and hostility will have on the ground level soldiers.

At its best, the scandal aftermath and its investigation are representative of the virtues of the American troops—the overwhelming majority who conscientiously do their duty under traumatic circumstances and just want to return home. Among them are heroes who exerted incredible effort and dedication to search for American justice amidst a confusing rubble of facts and allegations. Finally the study highlights the sacrifice, personal, career and, sometimes, in lives lost, made by American soldiers in this war.

Put in the hero category, the prosecutors and law enforcement investigators, including the authors, who left hearth and home to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week under the glare of the international press and a polarized nation in search of a just and honorable resolution. It was, as one of the Pentagon generals warned them, “a fuckin’ no-fail mission.” They did what prosecutors and agents do every day, they followed where the evidence led them in search of the right result, and let the chips fall where they may.

The Secrets of Abu Ghraib deserves to be in that library of non-fiction war books which are passed on to the next generation. It is compelling, insightful, and as entertaining as it is edifying.