Will dragging the name of U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz through the shit bring back Internet martyr Aaron Swartz? No, but it’ll serve more justice than the poor guy ever got at the hands of this sadistic inquisitor. Ortiz is a bitter reminder that sometimes the good guys lose and the war must go on.
Carmen “Killer” Ortiz hit the national radar early this year when Swartz—an Internet activist and technological whiz kid who, at the age of 26, had already pioneered cutting-edge social-networking systems—hanged himself after landing in Ortiz’s clutches.
What did he do that merited a soul-crushing federal indictment? Expose national security secrets? Hack into the nuclear codes? No, he downloaded content from JSTOR, a database of scholarly articles openly accessible to universities all over the country. And what did he plan to do with it? Plagiarize it? Sell it for illegal profit? No, he was going to distribute it free of charge, believing that everyone should have free access to educational content.
JSTOR must have pressed for Swartz to be sent up the river, right? Wrong. JSTOR got all its content back and refused to press charges! If anything called for the proverbial slap on the wrist, this was it.
But Ortiz, always on the lookout to score cheap political brownie points, knew low-hanging fruit when she saw it. She sent her ass-sucking henchman, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann—a G-man with a notorious hard-on for hackers—after Swartz. Heymann’s prosecution had already driven another young hacker, Jonathan James, to suicide after naming him in an identity theft and hacking case.
Ortiz’s office slapped Swartz with four felony counts that could have put him behind bars for 35 years and financially crippled him with $1 million in fines. But she was just getting warmed up. Even though Ortiz knew that Swartz suffered from severe depression, her office upped the felony count to 13. That meant a possible 50 years. Basically, a life sentence for the victimless, nonviolent crime of downloading some fucking college papers!
That’s what’s called prosecutorial abuse. Read that carefully, Ortiz. Our lawyers already have. So if you want to come after us, fuck you!
Now let’s consider this carefully for a moment. A brilliant, ambitious young mind with all the potential of a fledgling Bill Gates, working at the forefront of a field in which our country desperately needs to excel to remain a world leader in innovation, is snuffed out by an aging, dogmatic and vindictive dinosaur who has never so much as innovated a new way to wipe her ass.
“Objection!” Ortiz would no doubt screech at this point. Like most overzealous benchwarmers, she drapes her absolutist, all-or-nothing interpretation of the law in bloated sanctimony. When justified objections started flying as she carefully wove Swartz’s judicial noose, she bellowed, “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar.” That’s the same kind of shit medieval magistrates spewed before torturing people to death for stealing a loaf of bread. These days we have something called judicial discretion that is supposed to keep the legal process from turning into an inhuman nightmare.
Flaunting the basic precept that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, Ortiz’s office has a history of shifting the burden of proof onto its targets. Under Ortiz’s watch, DEA agents allegedly combed through crime reports to find juicy real estate that could be seized under a statute that allows for forced forfeiture of assets with suspected links to crime. In one case, the Feds grabbed a shabby little Massachusetts motel because of some minor drug offenses even though the owners were never accused of wrongdoing. Here too, Ortiz’s goons went after easy pickins: small fries that couldn’t mount a costly defense. The magistrate judge reviewing the case ended up laughing it out of court. As Swartz’s loved ones can attest, most of Ortiz’s victims haven’t been that lucky.
Eager to add an anti-terrorist stripe to her robes, Ortiz once hunted down a pharmacist who posted stupid pro-al-Qaeda YouTube videos for “conspiring to kill Americans overseas.” No actual link to any planned attack was ever proven, and the defendant claimed he was being persecuted for not being an FBI informant. But Ortiz knew that few people would give a shit if the guy rotted in jail, so that’s where he landed. Meanwhile, she got to strut around like the baddest bitch in Boston.
If there’s one good thing to come out of the Aaron Swartz tragedy, it’s that Carmen Ortiz’s path to a coveted seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is now so strewn with bodies, it’s a longshot she’ll ever get there. No President is going to relish the crapfest of an Ortiz confirmation that would be sure to get shitcanned anyway.
As it is, Ortiz will be lucky if she keeps her current gig. Aaron Swartz was a hero to many fighting for Internet freedom. Even in death, he has some high-powered allies who are now turning their sights on Ortiz. As for the Obama Administration that originally applauded her as Massachusetts’s first Latina U.S. Attorney, she’ll be lucky if anyone takes her calls.
Here’s a nasty footnote to the Swartz chapter: Ortiz’s husband, Tom Dolan, saw fit to lash out at the grieving parents by tweeting that they purposefully ignored his wife’s rejected plea offer. What’s wrong, Tom? Home life a little tense these days married to America’s hated Lady Injustice?
The best way to remember Aaron Swartz is, of course, to go online and read all about him. Once you do, you’ll understand why his death is such a big loss. Check out his story at his own activist site DemandProgress.org. It’s free for all to read.