Category Archives: Movie and Book Reviews

Another review of “The Central Park Five”

Scott McConnell at The American Conservative reviews the Ken Burns documentary of the 1989 rape and assault of a Central Park jogger.  I wrote about the PBS documentary here.

The “Central Park Five” leaves one important question unanswered, says McConnell:

If Burns’s film has a failing, it is its failure to explore the real thoughts of the detectives, or subsequently, the two prosecutors, Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein, who put their game faces on and successfully prosecuted young people most in the city thought deserved to rot in jail. We now want to know whether the two suspected at the time their case was bogus. They must have, it seems to me. They had authority, and expertise, and they misused it. On the other hand, they had  ambitions, and a city which needed arrests and convictions. Some unseen voice—expressing the general will of crime-fearing New York—must have overridden their professional judgment.

Did these two prosecutors knowingly prosecute five innocent kids for purposes of expediency and career-building kudos?  I think the answer is very probably yes, but maybe not.  I have a saying:

There are no bad people, just people who have a great capacity to rationalize.

They could have convinced themselves that they were really doing the right thing.  In an interview in Think Progress, Ken and Sarah Burns speculate that Elizabeth Leder had “grave doubts” about the case, but has never openly discussed it.  Should Lederer and Fairstein have realized they were perverting justice?  Of course.   But I also think they, especially Fairstein, refuse to face that fact.  To believe they carried out their responsibilities in good faith requires a delusional perspective.  But, for them there is nothing to be gained by admitting that they, at worst, knowingly crucified innocent people or, at best, didn’t care.  They suffered no significant repercussions for their role in the perversion of justice during the Central Park Jogging case.  Their strategy is what the Central Park Five should have done from the beginning: deny, deny, deny.  Or, at least keep their mouths shut.

Assault with intent to destroy: The Central Park 5


I just finished watching a 2012 PBS/Ken Burns documentary called “The Central Park Five“.  The Central Park Five are five black teens who were arrested, convicted, and served prison time for the rape and beating of a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park on April 19th, 1989.  The single most striking aspect of the case, aside from the fact that the teens didn’t do it, is that they confessed to having done it and the confessions served as the sole basis for the convictions.

One thing the establishment media seems to steer away from is naming the people who are actually responsible for justice system failures.  After all, they were just trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability, right?  Below is a brief list of some of the characters in this story.  If you ask the cops and prosecutors, I’m sure not a one will take any responsibility for this miscarriage of justice.

Trisha Ellen Meili.  The victim.  Not only was she white, but she was a 28 year old Solomon Brothers investment banker and daughter of a Westinghouse executive.  She was one of 3254 rapes reported in New York City that year and one of 28 first degree rapes that week.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam.  The accused, aged 14-16.  They were also victims.  Victims of over-zealous investigators and prosecutors.

Matias Reyes.  The guy who really raped and beat the Central Park Jogger.  He was arrested for rape and murder less than 4 months later in August 1989.  The cops were already so focused on The Central Park Five, they never checked Reyes DNA to see if he did it even after being told that the DNA excluded the five kids they had locked up.

Ed Koch.  Mayor of New York City and vocal supporter of the prosecution of the Central Park Five.

Robert M. Morgenthau.  New York County District Attorney.

Linda Fairstein. head of the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.  Fairstein managed the prosecution of the Central Park Five.

Elizabeth Lederer.  Prosecutor in The Central Park Five case.

Benjamin Ward.  NYC Police Commissioner (until Oct 1989)

John Hartigan.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Michael Sheehan.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Robert Nugent.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

August Jonza.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Carlos Gonzalez.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Harry Hildebrandt.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Tom McKenna.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Police and prosecutors controlled the story from the beginning and the establishment press, with the ritualistic predictability they are known for, repeated everything they said as if it had been delivered directly from the lips of God.   While they protected the name of the victim, the mainstream media readily broadcast the names of the five juveniles accused of the crime.  The media fueled fervor became so intense that the public outcry became a referendum on the death penalty.

There was absolutely no physical evidence attaching The Five to the crime scene.  DNA evidence excluded them from the rape.  There were serious time line conflicts that placed the kids in a different area of the park at the time of the rape.  The only case against them was their confessions and the people who elicited those confessions sending those kids to prison, never got so much as a slap on the wrist.

Two days before this event, there was another assault in the park.  The woman escaped and reported to police that the perpetrator had a scar on his chin that had stitches.  A resourceful police officer went to all the local hospitals and came up with the name Matias Reyes as a possible suspect.  Had the NYPD followed up on that lead, if they had compared his DNA to the DNA collected from the Central Park Jogger, they would have found the real rapist, instead of pinning the crime on whomever was handy.  Reyes escaped justice long enough to rape and murder another woman, this one 24 years old and pregnant.

The bottom line is that investigators and prosecutors decided to pin this crime on five kids who knew nothing about the rape and, through intimidation, deceit, and coaching actually got them to confess to it in enough detail to sound convincing.  Only the most naive of idiots could believe that was an innocent mistake and only the most naive of idiots could possibly think that case was an anomaly rather than a result of ingrained police and prosecutorial culture that values convictions over justice.

Even after Reyes confessed and his DNA proved he was the rapist, Linda Fairstein opposed the recommendation to vacate the convictions of the Central Park Five.  New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, instituted an internal investigation back in 2003 clearing NYPD officers of any misconduct in the case (what a surprise!) and stands by the convictions saying that the Central Park Five assaulted Meili before Reyes  or simultaneously.  He is still NYC Police Commissioner today, helping to perpetuate that same level of ineptitude and delusion.  After all, if nothing is broken, there’s nothing to fix.

The PBS Central Park Five documentary is based on a book by Sarah Burns, daughter of Ken Burns.  Nepotism reigns supreme in the media business.  New York City officials have condemned the documentary as advocacy rather than journalism.  I won’t argue against that claim because it may be true.  Anyone who looks to a single source of information expecting to find truth is deluding themselves.  Truth usually comes only by examining many sources and adding a heavy dose of skepticism and commons sense.  I don’t think Burns is above bias.  He would be a real rarity if he were.  Objectivity doesn’t usually breed that kind of success.  Nevertheless, any confession by an adolescent elicited during the course of 14-30 hours of intense interrogation by people who routinely use deceit, threats, and intimidation, all without benefit of a lawyer or parent, can’t be considered reliable.  And, since this is all the prosecutors had on these kids, the convictions can only be seen as a travesty.

The movie is about two hours long and is available to buy, rent, or watch for fee on line.


I just finished watching the Oscar winning film Argo.  I gave it five out of five stars on Netflix because it was a great movie if you leave aside the fact that it, like most Hollywood films that are “based on a true story”, contained massive amounts of bullshit.

As Andrew O’Hehir wrote in Salon:

The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the “house guests” chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie, nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the tires of a Swissair jet.

That seems to constitute a pretty complete list of every suspenseful scene in the movie.  And, from Nima Shirazi in Policymic:

One of the actual diplomats, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA’s fake movie “cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant to the escape.” The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was actually mundane and uneventful.  “If asked, we were going to say we were leaving Iran to return when it was safer,” Lijek recalled, “But no one ever asked!…The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador’s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward.”

Furthermore, Jimmy Carter has even acknowledged that “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian [while] the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA…Ben Affleck’s character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half and the real hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

At the end of the movie, there’s a statement that says that Tony Mendez was chosen as one of the CIA’s top fifty most important operatives.  It didn’t say whether that list also included any of the CIA agents who helped engineer the coup that ousted Iran’s democratically elected prime minister and restored to power U.S. puppet, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a corrupt brutal tyrant ultimately culminating in an intense hatred by Iranians of the U.S. (especially the CIA).  Nope.  Nothing was said about those CIA operatives.  Nothing was said about how the CIA sent U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. (father of the well known Desert Storm commander) to train the Shah’s security forces that would become the dreaded Gestapo-like organization known as SAVAK.

I guess they just didn’t have enough space between the fabricated dramatic scenes to fit any of those details in there.

Slate has a great article written by Mark Lijek, one of the six rescued diplomats, about the real life events.

There are no bad people…

There are only people with a great capacity to rationalize.

Pat HedgesThis is certainly the case with the state and federal officials who joined together to crucify Charles C. Lynch, who meticulously followed state law and set up a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California in 2006.   And no one was more enthusiastic in that crusade to destroy Lynch  than San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges (pictured at left).

While Lynch had the blessing of the city and repeatedly solicited guidance from the DEA on the federal ramifications of operating a dispensary under California state law,  he was still targeted by Sheriff Hedges.  Lynch was never charged under state law and Morro Bay police did not participate in the 2007 raid that started the train of events that would ultimately leave Lynch bankrupt.  But, the DEA was a willing partner in the sheriff’s campaign of against Lynch.

lynching-charlie-lynch-coverI just finished watching “The Lynching of Charlie Lynch” available in disc or streaming video from Netflix.  This documentary tells the story of a man who is, by any common sense definition, the epitome of a responsible member of the community and the absolute antithesis of a criminal.  His only crime was that he chose to follow the wrong set of conflicting laws and not a single member of the entire federal justice system had the courage or integrity to stand up and say “stop” to this vindictive little shit of a sheriff and his equally self-important buddies in the DEA.  About the only bright spot in the case was that the Judge, with no help from the Obama Justice Department, doled out the lightest prison sentence he could justify under federal mandatory sentencing requirements.

What is most disturbing about the Lynch prosecution is how clearly it illustrates the point that the federal government is willing to act completely contrary to the welfare and wishes of the population in pursuit of its own self-serving interests.   The only beneficiaries of the crusade against Lynch were members of the machine of state and most of that gain simply served to enlarge their already swollen egos.

I recommend the movie because it angers us and helps remind us that there are a lot of real casualties in the war against the drug warriors.  It’s the Charlie Lynches of the world who do the most to convince the public that the drug war is destructive and ineffective.  But it’s also the Charlie Lynches of the world who make up the wake of death and destruction left in the path of organizations like the DEA.  When it’s finally all over and the drug war is just painful memory, I wonder if we’ll ever see a monument to the fallen heroes who had the balls to challenge the mindless government automatons whose job it is to destroy other people’s lives in exchange for a weekly paycheck.

Of course, I’m sure the folks at the DEA easily manage to rationalize what they do.  Destroying people to save them probably makes perfect sense to them.

Zero Dark Thirty’s fall from grace

When it first debuted, Zero Dark Thirty was praised as being the darling of the Oscars.  But, when it was finally seen as promoting a political agenda, a discredited political agenda at that, it went down in flames.  Glenn Greenwald discusses whether it’s really the role of film critics to judge a film on its politics rather than just its aesthetics.

In an era where virtually everything the government does is shielded from disclosure, democratic accountability, and even the rule of law, films such as Zero Dark Thirty that purport to tell political stories are inherently highly political, likely to have an enormous impact on how political events are perceived. When blatant falsehoods are presented as truth on critical questions – by a film that touts itself as a journalistic presentation of actual events – insisting on apolitical appreciation of this “art” is indeed a reckless abdication.

And if Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t enough, consider that other critics’ favorite, ArgoNima Shirazi sums it up very well.

Over the past 12 months, rarely a week – let alone month – went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched “Argo,” a decontextualized, ahistorical “true story” of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat.

Just as champions of Israel like to disregard history before 1948, Americans tend to conveniently disregard history before the Iranian hostage crisis.  In interviews, Afleck seems not to have a grasp of the importance of the CIA role in shaping Iranian hostility toward America.  He apparently thinks the embassy take-over was disconnected from past CIA involvement in Iran.

Wrong, Ben.  One reason was the fear of another CIA-engineered coup d’etat like the one perpetrated in 1953 from the very same Embassy. Another reason was the admission of the deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment and asylum rather than extradition to Iran to face charge and trial for his quarter century of crimes against the Iranian people, bankrolled and supported by the U.S. government.  One doesn’t have to agree with the reasons, of course, but they certainly existed.

I recommend reading in their entirety the articles of both Greenwald and Shirazi.  These few quotes don’t do justice to their thorough analysis of how far short these movies fell in terms of portraying reality and why that is important.

Nothing seems to be more difficult for the average American to grasp than the idea that America’s aggressive interference (both covert and overt) with the internal affairs of other sovereign nations creates powerful resentments that lead to deadly consequences.  Instead they insist on believing that we are “the good guys” and therefore, by definition, attacks on the U.S. are unwarranted and are perpetrated by “the bad guys”.


I just finished watching the 2012 movie called Compliance.  It’s based on an incident at a Kentucky fast food restaurant where the assistant store manager received a call from someone posing as a police officer.  The caller then talked the assistant manager into holding and strip searching another employee under the pretext under the pretext of a theft investigation.  By the time the incident ended hours later, the female employee had been, not only thoroughly humiliated, but  sexually assaulted by the assistant manager’s fiancé. Compliance_Movie_Poster

To me, the name of the movie as well as the story itself deliver a single message.  Our culture, education, and statist political environment impart an attitude of near total subservience to authority, especially police authority.  Most people just assume cops know what they’re doing, abide by the law, and are there to help us.  That’s why websites like The Agitator, PINAC, and Cop Block which expose the utter fallacy of such beliefs are so important.

The movie, Compliance, is remarkably true to the actual events in Kentucky, but as the movie points out, the Kentucky incident was the culmination of a series of more than seventy similar events across thirty states over more than a decade.   The man they finally charged for the crimes was employed by a private security firm, Corrections Corporation of America, but was an avid consumer of police magazines and had filled out applications for numerous law enforcement jobs.  While the incidents ceased after his arrest, Stewart was acquitted of the charges in 2006.

It’s a chilling movie and I found it uncomfortable to watch.  What disturbed me the most was wondering how I would respond if faced with a similar situation.  After the fact it’s easy to say I would have seen right through it or at least questioned it.  After years of reading The Agitator and becoming highly skeptical of law enforcement in general, I doubt that I would have fallen for it, but back when I was 30 or 40, I’m not so sure…