Official Misconduct in Indian Country:
The U.S. Department of Justice
In recent years, throughout the entire United States, miscarriages of justice have been uncovered at an alarming rate. Many wrongful convictions are the result of simple human error. However, many instances of official misconduct also have come to light with respect to wrongful convictions (exhibit 1, parts A & B).
Law enforcement personnel are most often the first to investigate crimes. Through the use of improper techniques, coercive tactics, poor investigation, & sometimes fabrication of evidence, police officers & federal agents can & do contribute to the incidence of wrongful conviction.
Forensic laboratories play an integral role in developing cases for prosecution & also have been shown to engage in misconduct. State laboratories across the nation have come under scrutiny for poor scientific techniques & handling of evidence, providing misleading data to juries or skewing data to support prosecution claims, or providing completely false testimony & fabricated evidence.
Overzealous & untruthful prosecutors also have caused wrongful convictions.
While the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is generally assumed to be the model for Americ criminal justice systems, the Department is not immune to such official misconduct. It has its own problems ? also at all levels.
Given the incidence & prevalence of such official misconduct, it can no longer be argued that these are isolated occurrences perpetrated by misguided individuals. Instead, in many instances, the clusters of occurrences indicate the presence of a systemic problem at the DOJ ? top-down & widespread.
In the case of the DOJ, the misconduct exhibited today often has its roots in attitudes that emerged between 1956 & the mid-1970s, when formal covert operations were used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Such operations were investigated by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, known as the "Church Committee" (named after its chairman Frank Church), during the post-Watergate period.
Beginning in January 1975, the Church Committee took public & private testimony from hundreds of people, collected huge volumes of files from the FBI & many other federal agencies, & issued 14 reports.
Since the passage of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act in 1992, over 50,000 pages of Church Committee records have been declassified & made available to the public. These files contain testimony & information on the FBI?s counter-intelligence programs & related topics.
As discovered by the Church Committee & reported in 1976, the goals of the COunter INTELligence PROgrams of the period from 1956 to the mid-1970s were to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" those persons or organizations that the FBI decided were "enemies of the State".
The COINTELPROs were designed to "disrupt" groups & "neutralize" individuals deemed to be threats to domestic security. The law ? in particular, the U.S. Constitution ? was simply ignored. There was a general attitude that intelligence needs were responsive to a higher law. "Whatever opinion one holds about the policies of the targeted groups, many of the tactics employed by the FBI were indisputably degrading to a free society."
Sometimes the harm caused by intelligence operations was readily apparent ? destruction of marriages, alienation from friends, or the loss of jobs. Sometimes the attitudes of the public & of government officials responsible for formulating policy & resolving vital issues were influenced by distorted intelligence. But the most basic harm was to the values of privacy & freedom which the Constitution seeks to protect & which intelligence activity infringed upon on a broad scale.
The most notable exclusion from the list of dissident groups targeted by the FBI & investigated by the Church Committee was the the American Indian Movement (AIM) ? an Indigenous rights group founded in 1968 & committed to uniting all Native Peoples in an effort to uplift their communities, promote cultural pride, & ensure tribal sovereignty. Nearly three decades later, the work first undertaken by the Church Committee can be complete only if a full investigation of the intelligence operation launched by the FBI against AIM is conducted, as the Committee had intended to do in 1975.
To make a start, a case study of the FBI?s activities vis-