Saturday, May 29, 2004

Early news feed

More released from Abu Ghraib

The US released another 600 prisoners from the now-notorious Abu Ghraib prison on Friday.

The U.S. military has released more than 2,000 prisoners in the past month and plans to free another 800 by June 30, when occupation officials are scheduled to turn over limited authority to an interim Iraqi government.

Col. Karl Goetzke, the Army staff judge advocate who oversees the detainee release board for Abu Ghraib, said a team of senior officers has reviewed case files of more than 7,500 detainees. Those not deemed to pose a security threat, he said, would be freed.

Question for the Colonel: If they're 'deemed not a security threat', why are they still there to be released?"

The released prisoners said conditions inside the prison improved dramatically after the abuse scandal broke. Ali said his relatives brought him a local newspaper during a visit and showed him the pictures of the soldiers humiliating the detainees. "Their treatment changed after the pictures were shown on TV and newspapers," he said.
Please recall that the US found out about the abuses in late 2003 and it was reported in the media as early as January of this year. Only when the pictures were leaked did anything (repeat anything) change.

... in case you were ever wondering about the value of a free press.

More at link.

Those infallible forensics

The WashPost has an OpEd about the Achilles Heel of Fingerprints by a law professor at UVA.

Three highly skilled FBI fingerprint experts declared this year that Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield's fingerprint matched a partial print found on a bag in Madrid that contained explosive detonators. U.S. officials called it "absolutely incontrovertible" and a "bingo match." Mayfield was promptly taken into custody as a material witness. Last week the FBI admitted that it goofed; the print actually belongs to Ouhnane Daoud, an Algerian.

Fingerprint evidence has long been considered an infallible form of proof, powerful enough to support a criminal conviction even without any other evidence. But when three top experts manage to blow such an important identification, our longstanding faith in fingerprints must be questioned. Nor is this the only such mistake to come to light in recent months. In January a Massachusetts conviction was overturned when the fingerprint identification, the cornerstone of the case, was shown to be erroneous.


Fingerprinting, unlike DNA evidence, currently lacks any valid statistical foundation. This is gravely troubling. Even if we assume the unproven hypothesis that each fingerprint is unique when examined at a certain level of detail, the important question is how often two people might have fingerprints sufficiently similar that a competent examiner could believe they came from the same person. This problem is accentuated when analyzing a partial print, as those recovered from crime scenes frequently are. How often might one part of someone's fingerprint strongly resemble part of someone else's print? No good data on this question exist.

The Mayfield misidentification also reveals the danger that extraneous knowledge might influence experts' evaluations. If any of those FBI fingerprint examiners who confidently declared the match already knew that Mayfield was himself a convert to Islam who had once represented a convicted Taliban sympathizer in a child custody dispute, this knowledge may have subconsciously primed them to "see" the match. Fingerprint identification as it is now practiced is not like a double-blind scientific study. Examiners, typically law-enforcement employees, are frequently privy to outside knowledge about a case, which creates a genuine risk that their examination will inadvertently be contaminated. There is simply no excuse for failing to develop internal procedures to protect examiners from extraneous knowledge.

I draw your attention to "this knowledge may have subconsciously primed them to "see" the match." Sounds kind of like how sure we were that Saddam was behind 9/11?

A triumph of taste over ratings

Finally, this:

Fox television said Thursday it has canceled plans to air a two-hour special titled "Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay," in which two straight men compete for $50,000 by trying to pass themselves off as homosexuals.

A network spokeswoman said the reality show, which had been slated to air June 7, was pulled off the schedule "for creative reasons" after Fox executives previewed the program.

The real reason, of course, is that Fox Execs realized that they had no way of 'testing' the straight guys for straightness that was not open to spoofing, outside of on-camera sex with a female, and while this would no doubt have won them shares in their timeslot, they would have run afoul of John 'no-boobies-please-we're-american' Ashcroft.


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