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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Following a terrorism informant in real time

In this Sundance award-winning documentary, (T)error, filmmakers Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe follow a local professional informant as he collects information about his target for his FBI handlers.  The New York Times Magazine, which published "The Informant and the Filmmakers" today, describes the film as follows:

   "By some counts, nearly half of the 500-plus terrorism-related convictions in federal court since the Sept. 11 attacks have involved informants. Before ‘‘(T)error,’’ most of what was known of their work came from indictments and snippets of wiretapped dialogue, served up by prosecutors and neatly presented for the courtroom. Filmed without the F.B.I.’s cooperation and apparently without its knowledge, ‘‘(T)error’’ shows how an informant puts a case together from its raw ingredients."

The article relies on Trevor Aaronson's book "The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism," which criticizes the phenomenon of terrorism informants more broadly.   Interested readers should also take a look at Wadie Said's recent book "Crimes of Terror: The Legal and Political Implications of Federal Terrorism Prosecutions," which argues that the federal legal system has become distorted in response to terrorism prosecutions in general, and the use of informants in particular.  Click here for links to both books.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Washington Post zeroes in on jailhouse snitches in capital cases

The Washington Post just ran this story entitled "Va. murder trial may become part of national debate on jail informants."  The story exposes the use of four questionable jailhouse informants in a Virginia death penalty case, and connects those issues to the Orange County scandal, another high profile informant debacle in Washington D.C., and reform efforts around the county. From the story:

"When a Virginia man faces a possible death sentence in a murder trial later this year, his fate may rest on the testimony of four jailhouse informants, two of whom were initially found mentally incompetent to stand trial in their own cases. 

The case of Joaquin S. Rams could soon become part of a growing national backlash over the government’s use of testimony from “snitches” — inmates who offer information against other inmates in exchange for lighter sentences or other benefits — to obtain convictions, sparked by a significant number of wrongful convictions attributed to false informant testimony."