The shocking shooting of Walter Scott by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager has, as the New York Times put it, “reignited the debate” over video cameras and policing. They write,
Nothing has done more to fuel the national debate over police tactics than the dramatic, sometimes grisly videos: A man gasping “I can’t breathe” through a police chokehold on Staten Island, a 12-year-old boy shot dead in a park in Cleveland. And now, perhaps the starkest video yet, showing a South Carolina police officer shooting a fleeing man in the back.
People lie. Corporations lie. Videos don’t lie. And Michael Slager isn’t the only one who found this out recently. We're talking to you, Chevron.
First some background. Chevron has been engaged in some despicable acts in northern Ecuador:
Chevron (formerly Texaco) deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and spilled roughly 17 million gallons of oil ("cost-cutting measures") in the rivers and streams of the once-pristine forest. The consequence: a severe public health crisis amongst the indigenous people and farmers of the region. Cancer, birth defects, disease, and poverty for those unlucky enough to live above an American oil company's underground rivers of liquid gold.
A human rights attorney who sued them, Steven Donziger, was then sued by Chevron for "racketeering". Wrote longtime rainforest activist Trudie Styler, who had the “the unfortunate opportunity” of watching (along with husband Sting) this RICO case proceed against her friend, Mr. Donziger:
Filed under the RICO statute -- designed originally to prosecute organized crime syndicates -- Chevron's racketeering lawsuit is the oil giant's alarming and cynical attempt to destroy a two decades-long effort to hold the company accountable. And tragically, they have succeeded.
Instead of owning up to its grave responsibility in Ecuador, Chevron instead has spent millions of dollars creating what appeared to me a modern Kafkaesque drama in the courtroom, where suddenly the victims of Chevron's contamination in Ecuador have become the accused, and the polluter has become the victim; an absurd theatre where justice has been turned on its head.
Incredibly, a New York judge “ruled in Chevron's favor, finding Donziger and his team guilty of attempting to extort money from the company and obstructing justice by ghostwriting the Ecuadoran court's judgment.” Perhaps justice is about to be turned right-side up again.
A whistleblower mailed to the environmental group, Amazon Watch, 47 DVDs of internal Chevron videos in April 2011, along with the note, “I hope this is useful for you in the trial against Texaco/Chevron! Signed, a friend from Chevron.” Amazon Watch showed a few of these DVD’s to VICE News and they are now up on YouTube. Writes VICE,
Amazon Watch and Donziger say the video shows footage from sites that were classified in an agreement between Chevron and the Ecuadoran government as completely remediated — that is, already cleaned up.
"The Chevron secret videos speak for themselves," Donziger said in an email to VICE News. "They clearly show Chevron technicians finding massive amounts of contamination at sites the company had previously claimed had been remediated…. Chevron should be ashamed of its behavior, which our team considers to be not only unethical, but criminal."…
Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program director for Amazon Watch, told VICE News that the footage "is smoking gun evidence of Chevron's corruption caught on tape."
What’s more, “During the discovery phase of the RICO suit [against Donziger], Chevron and its external legal counsel — the law firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher — sought to prevent publication of the videos.”
"These videos are Chevron's property, and are confidential documents and/or protected litigation work product," one of Chevron's lawyers wrote in a February 15, 2013 letter to Donziger's attorneys. "Chevron demands that you promptly return the improperly obtained videos and all copies of them by sending them to my attention at the above address."
Larry Veselka, an attorney for Donziger in the suit, replied that Chevron had long been aware that the defendants were in possession of the videos and had never asked for copies to be handed over.
"Nevertheless, because of your objection, however untimely… we will not post the videos to any publically accessible site tonight," he wrote.
Better late then never.