Former CIA Case Officer John Kiriakou
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Those of us who follow developments in the federal judiciary are used to reading about stupid decisions that our federal judges make. In the recent past, for example, federal judges have found guilty a woman who was accused of whistling at a whale ("interfering with the feeding of a wild animal," the court said); found guilty a fisherman who threw a fish back in the ocean when he realized it was too small to keep (he was supposed to keep it in the boat until federal fisheries authorities could measure it on shore); and denied relief to CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, despite the fact that he was convicted solely through the use of metadata for allegedly passing classified information to a New York Times reporter.
But it's not just defendants who are routinely wronged in the courts. Plaintiffs, too, get the occasional screwing. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, recently upheld an award of $1 in a case where a jury found that a prison guard had used excessive force against a prisoner. Sammy Moore, a prisoner in an Illinois state prison, sued the state and prison guard Peter Liszewski after Liszewski struck him in the head twice with a walkie-talkie during a scuffle. The federal jury found that Liszewski had indeed used excessive force, that he had struck Moore twice, and that the assault was a violation of the law. The jury then awarded Moore $1 in damages.
The appellate judges made the requisite legal noises about the righteousness of finding for a defendant and then giving him only a buck. Here was the reasoning: "First, a lawsuit may be brought for determination of a right instead of monetary damages. Second, nominal damages may be awarded to ensure that attorney's fees and costs are paid to the prevailing party in the suit. And third, sometimes a court requires a plaintiff to be awarded 'actual damages' with nominal damages qualifying as actual, prior to allowing an award of punitive damages."
Speaking specifically about Moore, the judges wrote that, while the plaintiff believed that he was entitled to punitive damages for the beating he took, he could have just as easily, "fallen and hit his head on a table."
In the meantime, the judges awarded Moore's attorney the legal maximum for his work: $1.50, or 150 percent of Moore's total judgment. This was for five years -- five long years -- of legal work to take the case through the appeals process.
Of course, as always, there is a bigger issue here. The issue is that the court has determined that a prison guard can beat a prisoner with impunity. If you smash a prisoner in the head with a walkie-talkie, you may be found guilty, but you'll end up paying a dollar. That's a pretty great outcome if you're an abusive sadist overseeing people who aren't allowed to defend themselves against you.
I've written in the past about one of my own cellmates, James. James had severe mental illness and was denied his medication. Because the prison system treats mental illness as a behavioral problem, rather than a medical one, James was sent to solitary confinement when he lost his mind and could not care for himself. The guards in solitary beat him, of course. Then they stripped him naked and threw him in the winter cold for hours before he finally passed out. But even that was only after he begged and cried to be let back inside.
James was homeless before he got to prison. He couldn't afford an attorney, even one willing to work for $1.50 over the course of five years. But even if he had, thanks to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, he likely would not have received justice. And that's what this is all about. The court is simply denying justice.
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