(ANOTHER) UPREDICTED 
ITALIAN EARTHQUAKE

The criminal case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is, for all intents and purposes over.

The political circus is just beginning.

April 6, 2009, 3:32 a.m.: The quaint Italian town of L’Aquila, just 114 miles from Perugia, was struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. 297 people died.

October 22, 2012: In an event which sent shock waves around the world, the earth moved in Italy yet again when six Italian seismologists were arrested and charged with manslaughter for not predicting the L’Aquila earthquake. Incredulous experts from around the world testified that earthquakes are scientifically unpredictable at this point in the history of mankind—a fact disputed nowhere on earth, except one Italian courtroom. The scientists were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison—each. The main damage in this quake was to six innocent seismologists and the justice system of Italy.
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The courts in L'aquila were devastated. In more ways than one.
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Certainly, Italian ‘justice’ has a history of preying on its own good people. The Italian Inquisitions of the 1500’s and 1600’s are infamous for the persecution of people propounding scientific truth. The legendary scientist and astronomer Galileo, for example, fell afoul of the inquisition for espousing certain theories of Copernicus; in particular, the theory that the earth rotated around the sun—which it did and still does. A lot of people are unaware that Galileo died under house arrest in Italy. 1,250 other people are alleged to have been executed for similar “heresy” during this time. One would hope that nearly 600 years later, Italian justice would have improved. One would be wrong.


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Tragically, on March 26, 2013, another feudal judicial decision was handed down when the Italian Court of Cassation, the Italian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to formally affirm the full appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, regardless of the fact that their innocence is almost as widely accepted and scientificlly proven as Copernicus’ theory.

Sadly, this is not an isolated anomaly. Italy is displaying with frightening regularity a type of vendetta-based ‘justice’ many are calling ‘medieval.’ In 1999, the very same Court of Cassation which failed to accept Knox and Sollecito’s proven innocence, ruled in a rape case that women wearing tight jeans cannot be raped. This was not the decision of a little back-water town judge remember, this was the Italian Supreme Court. The logic was based on the apparently inescapable conclusion that tight jeans could not be removed from a woman by an attacker. I suppose their conclusion is that man can predict earthquakes, but it is a physical impossibility for him to remove a woman’s jeans. The court ruled tight jeans could not be removed “…without the collaboration of the person wearing them.” I’m not making this up. 


However, just this last summer, the Court of Cassation outdid themselves; they ruled that it is a crime to tell someone “You don’t have the balls.” Seriously. That this case even got to the supreme court in Italy is mind-boggling and indicative of the juvenile/macho mentality of most of the judiciary there. Their decision is incomprehensible. The court found that the phrase inherently implied “…a lack of determination, competence and consistency – virtues which, rightly or wrongly, continue to be regarded as suggestive of the male gender.” This raises a question I’m sure it would take a legal scholar and a Ouija board to answer: Would it be a crime to tell a woman  “You don’t have the balls?” One could only assume it would depend on whether she was wearing tight jeans or not.

In the Knox/Sollecito case, a prosecutor (Giuliano Mignini) under indictment (ultimately convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison) created an incredibly complex, imagination-based case against two innocent kids in order to, according to many experts, shield himself from conviction or even further prosecution. During the Italian Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, the main charges besides heresy were sorcery, immorality and witchcraft. And Mignini’s allegations against Knox?  She was a “strega” (witch) and she engaged in “satanic sex rituals.” Sounds vaguely familiar, no? Also familiar is the fact that no evidence existed to support the claims of either the inquisition or Mignini. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mignini lied about evidence in public, violated any rule of evidence which did not support his case (in reality, nothing supported his case) and got a conviction he apparently hoped would raise no eyebrows. He was wrong.

When the case was appealed--almost automatic in Italy, where half of all cases are reversed on appeal--the first action of the appeals court was to order that Mignini’s “evidence” be reviewed by independent experts. Italy is not completely devoid of honorable justices; they are simply in the minority. The judge in this appeal had to be imported from northern Italy near Austria in the hopes that he would be free of bias. He was. He not only allowed modern science into the courtroom, he ordered it there.
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DNA which prosecutor Mignini had claimed implicated Knox and Sollecito was found to have never existed, was intentionally or incompetently attributed, or so badly read that Mignini’s ‘experts’ couldn’t even tell gender by reading DNA. The police forensic investigation in this case made the Keystone Kops look like CSI New York. In a stinging rebuke, the appellate judge and jury not only exonerated Knox and Sollecito, but declared that the evidence didn’t simply fail to prove their guilt, but that it actually proved their innocence. The two kids were released after four years of unjust imprisonment. And that is where it should have ended.

But in Italy, as opposed to most democracies, a prosecutor can appeal even a “not guilty” verdict. In Italy, a prosecutor can keep re-trying a case until he gets a conviction. This ‘2 out of 3’ jurisprudence results in a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” legal system, where even evidence as solid as a rock can be rendered moot by a single sheet of paper. Mignini appealed the ‘innocente’ verdict, and the Court of Cassation rendered a verdict as stunning in its ignorance as the failure to predict the earthquake decision.

At this moment, news outlets are providing incomplete or inaccurate information on the case. To set the record straight, I would like to point out certain facts which are true at this moment:

Amanda and Raffaele’s exonerations have not been vacated. By Italian law, they are still adjudicated innocent persons.

No retrial has yet been ordered.

Not until the Court of Cassation releases their “Motivations” document in approximately 70 days or so will any decision have the affect of law. Retrial is a possibility, of course, but so is limited re-examination of certain pieces of evidence not already reviewed by the independent authority. There is no indication that the court has in any way challenged the validity of the independent authority’s review of the main pieces of discredited ‘evidence’ which led to the exoneration in the first place.  

There is no indication that the court rejected any of the findings of the appellate court, their questions actually centering on why more of Mignini’s supposed “evidence” was not reviewed by independent sources. Still, the decision reminds me very much of the 1972 Olympic Basketball gold-medal game in which the Americans, leading the Russian team by 3 at the end of regulation, twice had the clock reset to 3 seconds by the Russian referees, until the Russians “won” on a miracle shot. 40 years later, nobody but the Russian team and referees believe that they won
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The Americans celebrate after they had won the game the second time. (They lost after the third time Russian referees inexplicably put time back on the clock.)
Absent more interference, however, any retrial would still favor Knox and Sollecito because:

A retrial would be removed from the feudal, Mignini-controlled town of Perugia, and placed in Florence. Perugia has the judicial integrity of 1963 Selma, Alabama. Knox and Sollecito's exonerations on appeal were only possible because a judge and jury were brought in from out of town due to the bias of the locals.
The city of Florence knows Mignini. They are the city that indicted him and convicted him of malfeasance, sentencing him to 16 months in prison.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, however, not a soul seriously believes that Amanda Knox will ever spend another day in an Italian prison. Double jeopardy, corrupt prosecutors, absence of witnesses or credible evidence, perjury by the police, and the requirement that Giuliano Mignini present his case in an American federal court (which actually requires evidence, truth, and fairness) make the prospect of extradition at the request of a kangaroo court the stuff of Mignini’s dreams.

 Pratillo Hellman, the judge in the Knox/Sollecito appeal stands by his and the jury's unanimous decision to exonerate Knox and Sollecito, saying that there was absolutely no evidence of the involvement of the two in the crime. He also stated that he expected that the court of cassation would overturn his verdict, due to its close ties with the prosecutor.

Ultimately, regardless of the results of this modern inquisition, Amanda will never serve another unfair day in an Italian prison. The case, therefore has significance only to certain people:

1.      Prosecutor Mignini, still trying valiantly to clear his name of malfeasance and false prosecution charges while waiting on his retrial decision.

2.      The sadly deceived family of the innocent victim who have put their faith in a crooked prosecutor and a carnivorous Italian lawyer desperate for a share of a settlement from the wealthy Sollecito family.

3.      The sadly imbalanced, anonymous, basement-dwelling anti-Knox bloggers in Great Britain and America who have drunk the Kool-Aid of the prosecutor to the dregs and are focused more on hate than justice. This case will, for several more years give imagined purpose to their otherwise sad existence.

4.      Raffaele Sollecito, who is at this writing still a citizen of Italy and vulnerable to the whims of a judiciary largely based on innuendo.

In case the reader perceives this article as an indictment of Italy or the Italian people, let me assure you that is not the case. Since the appalling ruling came down, I have received texts, phone calls, E-mails and social media communications from prominent, published Italian forensic scientists, professors, DNA specialists, criminal profilers and lawyers, decrying the decision and offering their pro-bono assistance to the Knox family. Indeed, after the exoneration of Knox in October, 2011, I spent two days with Amanda in Italy and witnessed an almost non-stop stream of Italian citizens apologizing (sometimes tearfully) for what happened to her. They hugged, they kissed and they smiled. They know what its like to live under that system. The Italian people deserve a better justice system. They deserve more Judge Hellmans.

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While Amanda is in no real danger of ever being forced to submit to the corrupt Italian justice system again, (it’s a different story for Italian citizen Raffaele Sollecito), she can’t just do what the 1972 Olympic Men’s basketball team did and simply boycott a corrupt proceeding. They refused their silver medals and did not attend the medal ceremony. 

Amanda can't do that. She has to spend money to defend her name. It’s just a shame that two innocent kids got robbed. Again. It took the Russian referees three tries to steal the honest victory from the Americans in Munich. It may take even longer for the Italians to steal Amanda and Raffaele’s “innocence.” That’s the sad part. Nobody but the Russians doubt that the Americans won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, and nobody but Italians, the ignorant and the malignant doubt that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.

Why then didn’t the Court of Cassation do the honorable and right thing and affirm the appellate decision? Why didn’t they act bravely and decisively? Why didn’t they exonerate two good kids in the face of overwhelming evidence of their innocence? Why didn’t they display the --in their own words--“determination, competence and consistency” which are suggestive of their own male gender? 

Are they corrupt? 

It seems to me that they just didn't have the balls.
 
 

NOT SO SECRET SERVICES

“What goes on in Cartagena stays in Cartagena.” At least that was the ops plan.

This week the Secret Service revoked the security clearances of the eleven agents involved in the Colombian prostitution scandal. Employment (and significantly, continued employment) as a Secret Service agent requires several things, and arguably the most important is a Top Secret clearance. When agents’ conduct falls short of expectations, even if their behavior is legal, clearances can and are revoked. Without a clearance, an agent is no longer employable.

Special Agents, whether FBI, Secret Service or any of the myriad of other federal law enforcement agencies, know going in that they will be held to higher standards than the average citizen. For example, they are prohibited from engaging in many legal activities, such as campaigning for a political candidate, taking a second job or writing books without authorization. They are on call 24/7/365, and know that certain behaviors which would be no more than personal speed-bumps in other people’s lives and careers would be career-enders in the Bureau. A DUI, a bankruptcy, marrying the “wrong” person or even a bad credit rating could jeopardize their clearances and therefore their jobs. I’ve seen an FBI agent fired for arguing loudly with his wife in public.

The truth of these special expectations is obvious when you realize that approximately 21 U.S. government personnel have been sent home from Colombia under investigation. 11 were Secret Service, and the rest were U.S. military. Have you seen many headlines on the military involvement? America has certain expectations of Secret Service agents.

Though the agents in Colombia were apparently not breaking any Colombian or American law, they embarrassed the United States. If you wonder if that’s true, check out what Al Jazeera is doing with the story. Every agent is aware that sex (and/or blackmail following sex) can and is used by foreign governments to elicit information from their targets. Whether it is legal prostitution or a girl (or guy) targeting an agent at a bar, blackmail is always a possibility, especially when the agent is married. Additionally, a common form of robbery in some parts of the world is picking up and drugging a “John” in order to rob him. Some men who pick up hookers wake up in the morning finding nothing left in their room but the underwear they never got a chance to take off.  Agents overseas who do not believe that they are being watched and evaluated for exploitation by intelligence agencies of even some “friendly” governments, are naïve.

Secret Service agents know as much or more than other agents about the potential implications of “risky” behavior because they’re in the business of personnel protection. These agents had no excuse. Likely, however, if only one agent had been involved, this would never have made the news. If the problem was discovered by the Secret Service, it never would have made the news. Instead, the State Department was involved when Colombian police complained to the Embassy. The size and scope of this particular incident was epic and the lack of discretion Biblical. A drunken party at the official hotel with a dozen hookers, loud enough to cause noise complaints? Then you argue with a hooker about price? I think clearances might be in jeopardy just for lack of judgment while displaying lack of judgment.

The Secret Service, like the FBI, has within its structure an organization known as the Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR. OPR, as the name might suggest, does not simply investigate agents engaging in illegal activities, but legal activities prohibited by their special employment. The Justice Department (parent organization of the FBI) and Homeland Security (parent organization of the Secret Service) have their own Offices of Professional Responsibility. Secret Service and the FBI have fought for years to maintain the autonomy of conducting their own internal investigations. They have done that by having tough, unforgiving OPR investigations and punishments.

However, in this case, it is clear that the public will not accept an internal investigation as legitimate. Homeland Security will indeed swoop in and conduct the investigation. Likely congress will also conduct hearings. It is crucial that the investigation be open and comprehensive. This behavior did not begin in Colombia. A complete investigation of the activities of Secret Service agents on foreign travel for years in the past will likely follow. Regardless of the outcome, the Secret Service will be less autonomous now than it was before the Colombia scandal.

The U.S. government has some soul-searching to do in this case, however. Throughout the history of the U.S. military, it has been a given that a significant number of soldiers, sailors and airmen, when on leave soon find two things very quickly; alcohol and prostitutes. This has never been a secret from the American public. Towns like Olongopo, just outside the sprawling U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay in the Philippines were at one time little more than support communities for the brothels on Magsaysay street. Navy Shore Patrol (police) patrolled Olongopo not to curtail prostitution, but simply to keep order.  Anywhere in the world where a U.S. military base sprang up, so did brothels. The military will have a hard time defining the location of the line crossed, given the tolerance it has displayed in the past.

It is a mistake to believe that non-military Americans are altogether different than military Americans. Agents involved in U.S. government business, whether State Department, Justice Department or Homeland Security are not taking advantage of lax local laws and women when overseas. It is also a mistake to believe that the U.S. government has until now done anything to discourage this behavior beyond hanging posters about sexually transmitted diseases. When I was first deployed on an overseas assignment with a group of agents, we were not warned to avoid prostitutes, but of the AIDS percentage among prostitutes in the area into which we were deploying. We were then briefed on precautions against STD’s. Don’t think that anybody in the U.S. government didn’t know that this type of behavior was going on.

The only time that this type of activity becomes an issue for the U.S. government is when the discretion is absent among the participants. As a supervisor of overseas personnel, I have had to travel thousands of miles to deal with an agent who transgressed FBI regulations without breaking a single local or U.S. law, but whose behavior created an incident.

Alcohol is cheap and prostitution legal in many South American cities, including the now infamous Cartagena, Colombia. I overflew Cartagena last week on my way back from a case in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Prostitution is also legal and plentiful in Santa Cruz, also. Brothels on the main streets combine with strip clubs where customers can bring girls home for a fee. Like Las Vegas, many Americans for one reason or another are tempted to engage in activities when away from home that they would never consider when near home. Perhaps a psychologist would be a better person to speculate on why that is. But the seeming lack of accountability, pennies-on-the-dollar prices, and incredible availability are factors. To many men, it’s like an outlet mall for sex. The type of person drawn to military and law enforcement special teams are frequently the types of people drawn to adventure of other types. Some of the participants in the party which got out of hand in the president’s hotel were allegedly members of the Secret Service’s Counter Assault Team (CAT). When on SWAT, I worked with CAT teams during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. They are no different than many other special teams “operators;” seeking action on and off duty, and easily bored.

I know people party and release tension when traveling on business. It is true that overseas deployments are some of the more stressful assignments. Like Hillary Clinton last week, I too have blown off some steam in overseas establishments which serve alcohol (but not women). There are limits, however to the license one may take. In the FBI you are never officially off-duty. One would have to assume that when the president is in-country, Secret Service agents must be ready to be on duty at any second. Judging from the cases they carried, they were armed. Could they have responded to a presidential threat? Would they have been functional or even sober? These are questions that must be answered.

Most troubling to me though is that this behavior was tolerated, enabled, condoned and/or facilitated by the supervisor(s) of the agents. Misbehavior on such a scale could not have occurred without supervisor knowledge. Or in this case, participation. When the boss is at the party, there’s reason to believe it’s sanctioned, or at least that the higher-ups are looking the other way. Or they were until the police and the Embassy got involved. I’m reminded of the scene in Casablanca when Vichy French Captain Louis Renault is told by the Gestapo to close down Rick’s Café Americain. As he is being handed his roulette winnings for the night he exclaims,

“I’m shocked! Shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!”

No, this was officially condoned behavior at least at some level and likely not an isolated incident. This activity received de facto authorization by at least the supervisor and likely his superior. The trick will be finding where the buck should truly stop.