U.S. Attorney for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, today has dropped all charges against Aaron Swartz, now that her office’s campaign of bullying, zealotry, and overreaching prosecution ended in Swartz’s committing suicide by hanging.
Is that harsh?
Aaron Swartz’s family released a statement that included this:
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.
Swartz, who was 26, (and, given our readership, it’s fair to note he was bisexual,) could easily be credited with the way a large portion of how the Internet and the Internet community operates today. Essentially a cofounder of the wildly popular social media sharing site Reddit, a co-author of RSS, a co-creator of Creative Commons, and founder of Demand Progress — which successfully rallied millions to fight SOPA and PIPA — Swartz was mercilessly prosecuted for his alleged actions which — were he guilty — had no real victims, were not done with intent to benefit financially, and whose main target requested the case be dropped.
“Swartz was indicted in 2011 on 13 counts, including wire fraud and computer fraud. Prosecutors alleged he illegally gained access to millions of academic articles through the academic database JSTOR. His trial was scheduled to begin in April,” the AP reports today:
Swartz’s family says his suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”
U.S. District Attorney, and her lead prosecutor, Stephen Heymann, deserve to lose their jobs and their licenses to practice law, in my opinion. Of course, that will never happen, but you can sign a White House petition to remove Ortiz from office to send a strong message to Ortiz and her bosses, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and you can remember her name — Carmen Ortiz — she is rumored to have her eye of the Massachusetts governor’s office.
That should never, ever happen.
Dan Kennedy, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism at Northeastern University, last night at the Huffington Post wrote:
Ortiz’s vindictiveness toward Swartz may have seemed shocking given that even the victim of Swartz’s alleged offense — the academic publisher JSTOR — did not wish to press charges. But it was no surprise to those of us who have been observing Ortiz’s official conduct as the top federal prosecutor in Boston.
Last July I singled out Ortiz as the lead villain in the 2012 Muzzle Awards, an annual feature I’ve been writing for the Phoenix newspapers of Boston, Providence and Portland since 1998. The reason: her prosecution of Tarek Mehanna, a Boston-area pharmacist who had acted as a propagandist for al-Qaeda.
Mehanna was sentenced to prison for 17 years — not because of what he did, but because of what he said, wrote and translated. Though Mehanna had once unsuccessfully sought training at a jihadi terrorist camp in Yemen, the government’s case was based almost entirely on activities that were, or should have been, protected by the First Amendment.
Make no mistake: Mehanna’s propaganda was “brutal, disgusting and unambiguously supportive of Islamic insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia,” as Yale political scientist Andrew March wrote in the New York Times. But as March, the ACLU and others pointed out in defense of Mehanna, the more loathsome the speech, the more it deserves protection under the Constitution.
In addition to the prosecution of Tarek Mehanna and the persecution of Aaron Swartz, there is the matter of Sal DiMasi, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House who is now serving time in federal prison on political corruption charges brought by Ortiz.
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