Given the roll call of high and mighty involved, Michael Brenner inspects the many dead ends investigators are likely to hit.
Jeffrey Epstein is dead. An alleged suicide who was found strangled in his prison cell Saturday morning at the federal Metropolitan Correction Center in NYC. He made an apparent previous attempt on July 23 – after which he was placed under suicide watch and received daily psychiatric examinations for six days. On July 29 he was returned to his original cell with the suicide watch removed, but scheduled to be checked by guards every 30 minutes. They did not do so the night of his death. There is a suggestion that they were working an unnaturally long overtime shift.
That’s all we know for sure. Let’s put ourselves in the position of those famed fictional detectives and consider their methods for dealing with hundreds of such cases. What lessons have Jules Maigret, Cain, Inspector Salvo Montelbano, et al, taught us?
First, we should attempt to ascertain with as much exactitude as the evidence permits what happened. Epstein choked to death – by what means? A belt? The legs of his trousers? By his own hands? If the first, why wasn’t the elementary rule of removing every possible instrument of self-destruction from the cell observed – especially whatever it was he used in the first attempt? Where did he hang himself from – an overhanging pipe or other protuberance? If so, why was he placed in a cell so designed?
How long had Epstein been dead when the body was discovered? Do we know with certainty the cause of death, i.e. could he have been killed by poison, for example, before the hanging? How long would it normally take for one to die from a self-administered hanging of this sort? How does that relate to the sequence of look-ins by guards? Are there any other observable marks on the cadaver?
Numerous. All those associated with Epstein before his 2006 conviction, during his virtual imprisonment, and subsequently by whomever might appear in his little black book, or remembered by pilots or other staff (e.g. one pilot testified that former President Bill Clinton was on 10-to-20 “Lolita Express” flights; the doorman at Epstein’s Manhattan apartment saw President Donald Trump join the party on several occasions). We are talking about a large slice of the American elite – political, economic, legal, entertainment. More than a cross-section, it is a veritable roll-call of the high and mighty. In addition, there is Prince Andrew and an array of Gulf sheiks. They all had compelling reason to want to keep Epstein’s mouth shut. So, too, those who arranged his unprecedented, highly dubious plea bargain in 2006.
That may include the FBI and/or CIA which had a strong situationally defined interest in getting their hooks into Epstein who was in a position to blackmail all of the above. So, too Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. Let’s note that Ghislaine Maxwell (Epstein’s No. 2 and sometime “partner”) is the daughter of the British publisher Robert Maxwell who is now known to have run an extensive intelligence network for Mossad among the London elite for which he was honored by President Shimon Peres and six former intelligence chiefs when buried in Jerusalem after a mysterious death off his private yacht in 1991.
Cooperation from any of this list of suspects is unlikely.
Appropriate methods vary by person and circumstance. Here are a few standard techniques to get tongues wagging.
No. 1. Build an irrefutable case against one of the suspects and then use that as leverage to induce a denunciation of others – particularly the most exposed and vulnerable. This is an old standard that retains its effectiveness. Blackmail holds its value. Some of the young women who served as sex slaves for our lords and masters should be able to identify the most recognizable figures. Doubtless, though, most have either been bought off (as Trump did Stormy Daniels and others), will be bribed, or blackmailed by virtue of their reluctance to put at risk their present lives. And they will need guarantees of protection. From whom? – accidents happen.
No. 2. Physical coercion. Fortunately or not, this method is ruled out because of the case’s high visibility. Moreover, CIA Director Gina Haspel is currently unavailable as she is fighting tooth-and-nail to stay in the good graces of her boss. In addition, the Thai government reportedly has withdrawn its grant of access to the local “black sites” out of fear that the country’s highly lucrative sex tourism trade could be harmed by further exposure of the unsavory goings-on beyond the world of massage parlors.
No. 3. Psychology. There are a variety of approaches that evidently are more effective for eliciting vital information than physical coercion. Only morons like those in the CIA believe that you can beat the truth out of resistant suspects – of course, for them the real satisfaction came in the torture rather than in the solicitation of vital information. Revenge is what the War on Terror has been all about. There is also the risk that they will fabricate information in order to stop the pain and/or because they have paid to do so.
Those more subtle methods may run into other obstacles.
For one thing, the high and the mighty have developed over their years in power both a sense of impunity/immunity and a pathological conviction that they can do no wrong – whatever the action involved. Defense mechanisms are elaborate and well- practiced. They are habitual liars; many are clinical narcissists who may be unable to differentiate truth from falsehoods altogether, e.g. Trump. Second, appeals to honor, morality or sense of embarrassment may also be fruitless because these people tend to be shameless. Can anyone recall the last time that a prominent public figure in the United States has demonstrated genuine remorse?
If there were some intervention by another party that facilitated or encouraged Epstein’s death – an admittedly overriding IF – then the best way of determining who it was is to concentrate on the narrow end of the funnel. IF someone arranged for a lifting of the suicide watch with an ulterior motive in mind, or instructed guards to space out widely their look-ins at Epstein’s cell, or “forgot” to remove the drawstring from his pajamas – that conjectured person (or his intermediary) could be identified by whomever implemented the instructions/suggestions. Said person(s) could be more easily intimidated, blackmailed or induced to spill the beans than any of the big shots.
The behavior of the psychiatrists who gave permission to lift the suicide watch is also suspect. Their action is being described as unheard-of by renowned psychiatrists. One distinguished professor has told me in confidence that they will be in deep professional trouble for their warped judgment alone – whatever other circumstances obtain. All of their communications with outside parties should be examined. Any signs of evasion should evoke intense grilling – psychiatrists are easier to break than al-Qaeda fanatics, Mafia hitmen or narcissistic politicos.
We are assured that the investigation will cover the whole gamut of Epstein’s illicit actions, including the 2006 cover-up, which will be pursued. At the moment, most powers-that-be seem to agree on that. Doubtless, will see a long editorial from that holier-than-thou/pillar of the republic, The New York Times board, calling for a full and thorough inquiry as to what happened. They will cite the public interest in reaffirming the impartiality of our hallowed judiciary – including looking back at 2006. They will make no mention of the awkward fact that they themselves paid the matter little heed for 13 years. Understandable – numerous persons cited are folks they run into at Upper East side cocktail parties and the Hamptons.
Prediction: The Department of Justice, led by Trump’s lackey Attorney General William Barr, will insist on controlling all aspects of the investigation. If they can turn up a few snippets regarding the Clintons, they will leak them. Then, the entire affair will slip from public view. We have become expert at losing the past in the mists of the present – like the fog rolling through the Golden Gate — that erase all images on a regular 24-hour cycle.
So, a year of two from now, there will be a low-key announcement that the investigation has found nothing that calls into question the conclusion that Epstein indeed committed suicide – alone and of his own volition. His earlier alleged crimes will be said to be excluded by the statute of limitations or the absence of credible evidence due in part to the deaths of certain principals. One negligent guard will be singled out for dereliction of duty; a letter of reprimand will be placed in his personnel file and he will be punished by a denial of coffee breaks for a full two weeks. Maybe, just maybe, the American Psychiatric Association will devise some new guidelines re. Suicide Watches in prison – without specifically mentioning this incident.
Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [email protected]
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