Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier begs the Massachusetts governor and judge to release her from state custody and to return her to her family
When is a “cyber attack” on a children’s hospital a good and necessary thing? How about when it isn’t what’s normally referred to by the politically charged term “cyber attack” at all? When it leaves the critical components typically expected priority targets of such a frightful offensive— medical devices, electrical systems, telephone lines, etc. untouched and instead exacts a financial toll in order to protect a young girl from potentially deadly malpractice, negligence, and cruelty. How about when the hacker isn’t the bad guy one expects, and not one patient was intended nor suffered any harm? Does all this sounds like it qualifies as a “cyber attack on a children’s hospital,” or does it sound like something else?
It’s easy and convenient for a hospital facing online actions over its maiming of a child to distract from its culpability by taking advantage of public deep seated fears and labeling itself the victim of a “cyber attack.” It’s also dishonest and inflationary. This disingenuous tactic exploits the understandable tendency for people who hear “cyber attack” and “hospital” in the same sentence to immediately assume the worst. Ironically, it takes advantage of society’s collective decency to mask the truly obscene and is disrespectful to the victims of actual hospital attacks, like those against Doctors Without Borders not too long ago, in which children did actually die. It’s also easy, dishonest, and disrespectful for a notorious federal prosecutor who failed to lift a finger when a young girl’s life was at stake, to follow suit and attempt to indemnify her political allies from the financial impact of her deplorable actions.
The hospital in question is Boston Children’s. The infamous prosecutor is Carmen Ortiz, and the girl who lost all feeling below her hips and whose name Ortiz doesn’t dare utter, is Justina Pelletier. A longer more detailed first-person account is available in a previous HuffPost exclusive, and in-depth human rights analysis of Justina’s suffering has been submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice as well as the United Nations. And following her despicable treatment of prominent internet activist and pioneer Aaron Swartz, culminating in his 2013 suicide, Carmen Ortiz’s disgraceful conduct has been memorialized forever by no less than 60,000 concerned citizens.
Justina’s mistreatment at Boston Children’s and the simultaneous marked decline in her health began with an unlicensed resident, seven months out of medical training, and a non-MD psychologist challenged her mitochondrial disease diagnosis and therapies. These practitioners, who had only just met Justina and her family, preferred a mental health theory under which her symptoms were psychosomatic and had no physical causes. In contrast, Justina’s mitochondrial disease, or “mito” diagnosis had been carefully arrived at by a leading medical expert following relevant biopsies. For over a year, this renowned professional had been successfully treating both Justina and her older sister for this usually genetic condition known to run in families.
When the new and comparatively inexperienced staff asked Justina’s parents for approval to stop various essential mito therapies, they fearfully refused and tried to bring her to her normal specialist at a competing hospital across the city. However, Boston Children’s wouldn’t take no for an answer and reported Justina’s family to state authorities for “medical child abuse,” starting a controversial legal process some of the hospital staff refer to as a “parentectomy.” They told the commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is accustomed to deferring to word renowned Boston Children’s Hospital on medical matters, that Justina’s mito treatments were unnecessary, invasive, harmful, and therefore abusive. Even though they spoke to her diagnosing physician across town, Boston Children’s doctors were quoted on a sworn affidavit saying they, “do not know where the parents picked up [mito] diagnosis…” They also expressed concerns about Justina’s feeding tube and cecostomy button, but almost immediately after the courts stripped her parents of custody based on this misleading information, the hospital determined both to be medically necessary.
From there, Justina’s painkillers, heart medications, even prescriptions for her brain and multi-vitamins were stopped, she was left in agony, locked in an allegedly abusive psych ward, and only allowed brief, supervised, and censored contact with her family. Without her vital therapies, her condition declined over the next sixteen months; her gums receded, her hair fell out, her legs swelled, and she lost all feeling below her hips. As the normal judicial and political processes failed to protect her, many people began to fear for her life. Now more than two years later, she is still in a wheelchair, and her family has filed a lengthy civil suit for malpractice, gross negligence, and civil rights violations.
Returning to the so-called “cyber attack” though, here is what actually happened, directly from the mouth of the alleged coordinator of the “massive” hack as well as the sworn testimony of FBI special agent Jeffrey Williams, and Chief of the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office Cybercrime division, Adam J. Bookbinder, who succeeded Steve Heyman following the Aaron Swartz case.
Alleged Anonymous hacker/activist, or “hacktivist,” Martin “Marty” Gottesfeld learned of Justina’s situation online. At first, he was unaware of the deeper human rights issues, and viewed the situation as it was widely reported at the time, as a medical/custody dispute. He trusted his local courts and hospitals to resolve the situation, but as months passed, and word of Justina’s suffering spread, he grew increasingly concerned. He read a scathing letter written by a former federal prosecutor and then-longest tenured board member of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children saying the hospital’s psych ward “appears virtually synonymous with abuse for many children.” Weary of federal prosecutors though, it was a similar letter, written by a former Boston Children’s Hospital psychiatric nurse, stating, “It would be far more accurate to call the ‘treatment’ forced upon Justina by its more proper term, ‘torture,’” that finally, along with other information, exceeded the threshold of evidence he felt necessary for intervention.
“It would be far more accurate to call the ‘treatment’ forced on Justina by its more proper term, ‘torture.’”—Katie Higgins, RN
At first, Gottesfeld was hopeful public pressure and the specter of Anonymous action would lead to an expedited resolution. Without bothering to hide his identity, he uploaded a video to YouTube demanding the hospital return Justina to her family and terminate the now controversial doctor who filed a complaint against her parents. “We demand that you terminate Alice W. Newton from her employment or you too shall feel the full unbridled wrath of Anonymous.”
The text accompanying the video contains the home address and phone number of the juvenile court judge overseeing Justina’s case and urged viewers to mail letters to his house and call him at home. It admonished him, “To Judge Joseph F. Johnston, you think you can abduct children away from their families because you are a judge? Wrong. Anonymous and the American people are here to remind you who’s really in charge of this country.”
It implored the public to, “Stand up for a child in her darkest hour,” as it displayed before and after photos of Justina, as well as a picture of her sister desperately hugging her crying mother as Justina was separated following the hearing. It declared that “Anonymous will punish all those responsible and will not relent till Justina is free.” Ominously it warned Boston Children’s, “Test us and you shall fail.” However, contrary to the Boston FBI’s later claim its sworn paperwork, it did not call for attacks against the hospitals network. Directly after the video was played into evidence in open court, Special Agent Jeffrey Williams admitted during cross examination, “from my recollection [the video] did not specifically call for [an attack.]”
“Stand up for a child in her darkest hour.” — OpFreeJustina video
The apparent involvement of Anonymous increased the visibility of the case as Gottesfeld had hoped. The judge received letters and calls, many of them threatening, from across the country. National Anonymous accounts tweeted at the hospital, rattling the group’s internationally feared saber. After he saw a national Anon account tweet the picture below at Boston Children’s, Gottesfeld uttered one of the many permutations of the group’s motto to himself, “We are Anonymous. We give a voice to the voiceless.”
“We give a voice to the voiceless.” —Martin Gottesfeld quoting the hacktivist collective Anonymous
Still, the idea of action against a children’s hospital was controversial inside Anonymous and many members were more trusting of Justina’s new doctors and the state of Massachusetts than her previously unknown family. Fueling the controversy, Anonymous had clashed with some of the groups supporting the Pelletiers, like the Church of Scientology, whose anti-psychiatry Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights was already speaking out. Additionally, while there are politically conservative Anons, many members were dubious of the religious and right wing associations and outlets that helped break the story, such as The Christian Defense Coalition, Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze,” and Liberty Counsel. Gottesfeld says from prison, “Justina’s safety and well-being were paramount to everyone, and while I was cognizant of the challenges posed by the simultaneous involvement of these otherwise dispirit groups, I hoped we would all stay focused on her and her family. Human rights work often makes for strange bedfellows.”
Gottesfeld also hoped that Anonymous would help round out support for Pelletier across the political aisle. He writes in one of his books, “In Boston, the simple reality is that Michael Moore receives far more support than Rush Limbaugh.” As days passed though, the most influential Anonymous accounts, concerned with the optics of “OpJustina,” withdrew their support and even became openly critical of actions against Boston Children’s. He didn’t know it, but there would soon be an internally high-profile controversy regarding control of those accounts within Anonymous, and a subsequent change in leadership. At the time though, OpJustina had to make do without the group’s most powerful press and technical connections.
BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES
Largely on his own, Gottesfeld started organizing a grand gesture. He knew that a large fundraising effort for the hospital was a few weeks away and that most donations would occur online. “All of the judicial, political, and medical oversight processes that could and should have saved Justina were failing. She was suffering unconscionable human rights violations, and I didn’t know how long she would survive,” Gottesfeld said from prison. “It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the only thing that motivates large, unfeeling bureaucracies is money. I didn’t care about ‘the optics,’ I cared about Justina. Many Anonymous actions are commonly misunderstood and misreported. If OpJustina turned out to be another one, then so be it. I wasn’t going to just let her suffer and die.”
“I wasn’t going to just let her suffer and die.” —Martin Gottesfeld
Complicating matters, Boston Children’s keeps its donation page, main website, and other technical infrastructure all on the same network. “This all eggs in one basket approach is a really bad idea and they should know better,” Gottesfeld says. “However I also knew from my career experience that an internet outage would not harm patients. Would you bring your child to a hospital where the internet going down would affect their safety?”
He points out that federal law and accreditation standards require hospitals to be able to function during online outages, and emphasizes, “I think when most people hear of a ‘cyber attack’ on a hospital they picture a situation much different than then internet going down for a few hours, which obviously can and does happen occasionally anyway.”
On the afternoon of the donation drive, a “massive” flood of traffic came down the hospital’s internet lines, overwhelming them for hours. The hospital claims hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Gottesfeld points to estimates that Boston Children’s grossed in excess of one million dollars for its controversial care of Pelletier and claims “They still made hundreds of thousands for nearly killing Justina.” On the witness stand the FBI acknowledged that the telephone system was unaffected, doctors and patients can call each other, and no medical records were hacked or destroyed. The prosecutors stipulated, “This was not a cyber 9/11,” and there have been no allegations any patients were harmed.
“The hospital lost some of its profits. Justina lost the use of her legs,” Gottesfeld said from prison. “Under international convention, not even war, the threat of war, or the preservation of human life, can justify the torture she endured at Boston Children’s. Ortiz knows this.”
“The hospital lost some of its profits, Justina lost the use of her legs.” —Martin Gottesfeld
The Boston FBI proudly stated they immediately began investigating the Internet outage after it happened. On cross examination Special Agent Williams confirmed they bureau was aware of allegations Justina had been abused at Boston Children’s, but there had been no FBI investigation of those allegations.
“It’s really sad that the Boston FBI and Carmen Ortiz’s office couldn’t care less about Justina’s suffering, but will spend millions investigating an internet outage. They have their agenda, and it certainly isn’t justice for kids like Justina.” Gottesfeld said from the prison where he’s been held since March. He is currently on the second month of a hunger strike demanding a presidential pledge for actions to protect institutionalized children like Justina and to curtail political prosecutions in Boston. He has lost over 30 pounds.
Justina’s eventual release is attributed to a variety of mounting pressures. There were large protests at the Massachusetts State House as well as elsewhere, #FreeJustina repeatedly trended on Twitter, national media outlets ran successive stories, and eventually legislators at both the state and federal levels, as well as top Commonwealth public health officials got involved. OpJustina was covered by a variety of media outlets that hadn’t previously appeared interested in the story. “It reminded Boston Children’s in a very public way that they aren’t invincible or infallible. I’m told by a reliable inside source that the fundraising incident caused a considerable shakeup at the hospital, and these practitioners, who had a long history of questionable so-called ‘parentectomies’ were reigned in as a result of what happened,” Gottesfeld claims.
Gottesfeld supporters operate www.FreeMartyG.com, and also a Facebook page, and Twitter account.
Martin Gottesfeld contributed to this article during his hunger strike. Dana Gottesfeld is his wife.
From Prison With Love, Why I Became An Activist Hacker | The Huffington Post
From Prison With Love, Why I Became An Activist Hacker
To start, let me apologize, first-person short form really isn’t my thing. I’m an engineer, and I usually prefer the cold, impersonal, objective third person factual statement. However, others have suggested a piece like this to follow up on my previous writing. This really shouldn’t be about me, but telling this story may be a good way to spread some obscure but vital facts.
In late 2013, at the behest of my girlfriend, who is now my darling wife, I investigated a therapeutic boarding school that her brother had been attending. She had visited him there that summer and was, to put it mildly, concerned about some of the things he told her. According to him, the staff were violent, and had hurt many kids. He also said the showers were always cold and the food was terrible.
Then there was “devo,” a very strict form of detention where kids were forced to sit with their backs straight, their feet within the boundaries of the desk, and either look straight ahead, or read mind-numbing propaganda. She was told that any deviation from these rule, even talking or laughing, led to hours and hours of additional “devo” time being vetted out. The school, she was told, assigned large quantities of “devo” for nearly any and all reasons. Her brother reported that one of his friends was assigned 1,000 hours for a single offense.
Being a therapeutic boarding school, all of the students were there for treatment. Some had ADD or ADHD, others depression, and they had kids on the autism spectrum as well. I found the use of “devo” on these kids repugnant and contrary to every scientific, evidence-based treatment standard I had ever known.
She tried repeatedly to talk to her brother on the phone, but the school wouldn’t allow it. I found that particularly concerning.
Shortly into my investigation, things went from bad to worse. I found stories posted by alumni who referred to themselves as “survivors.” They spoke of cruel beatings and prolonged solitary confinement. The school wasn’t the only one if its kind either, it was just a small part of a “troubled teen industry.”
According to the American Bar Association in 2007:
Despite egregious abuses, these facilities continue to grow in number and size. The industry is booming and reportedly worth over a billion dollars. A parent may pay between $3,000-$5,000 per month to send their child or youth into a private unregulated residential treatment facility and not be able to monitor his or her progress because of rules limiting family contact. The industry prospers on promises to modify troublesome behavior and to make “bad” kids good. Its financial sustainability is ensure by frequent deceptive advertising on the internet that market facilities as offering an array of mental health and of educational services that are often not available or provided by unqualified staff.
In 2013, his public school district paid $7,500/month to have girlfriend’s little brother subjected to this “treatment.” Kids on the autism spectrum (and I have dear friends on the spectrum) were bringing in $8,900/month to the “school.” It seemed to me that real treatment was expensive, whereas “devo” and solitary confinement were cheap. I was disgusted and felt an immediate need to act.
“I was beaten here. I have never feared anything more in my life.”– A public comment on a petition to shut the school down
My girlfriend and I campaigned tirelessly for three months to get her brother home. We spread a petition, launched a website, and with the help of Anonymous, trended the cause to shut that abhorrent place down on Twitter.
We filed complaints with every local, state, and federal authority we could. We dressed up and went to the FBI in person. No one would help. The institutional accreditor simply didn’t care. Her parents felt we were disrespecting their authority and exaggerating the risks. They stopped taking her calls. In the end, we had to have an attorney draft a custody suit and disown them to get him home ASAP.
During that fight, we met many survivors. Their personal stories shocked our sensibility and touched our hearts. Their bravery, sharing their trauma, which was very difficult for them, in order to help a kid they did not know, but who was exactly where they had been, was inspiring. We heard of one youth who had been held in solitary confinement at the school for so long, he chewed the skin off of his big toe in order to force them to bring him off campus, to the hospital.
“LRA is an awful place… I’ll do whatever I can to save [him] from the bs and mental and physical torment that he’s in for.” ― A public comment on a petition to shut the school downOnce her brother was free, I couldn’t just turn my back and return to life as normal. This industry has operated nearly unchecked for decades. There are over 1,000 allegations of abuse/neglect every year, and no agency knows nor attempts to track the number of deaths. Despite numerous exposés and repeated attempts to pass legislation to enhance oversight, the kids continue to suffer and die. The FBI does not apply existing federal law to protect these children. In early 2014, an organization my wife and I co-founded was part of a semi-official effort to pass the “Keeping Students Safe Act.” It failed.
“This program and place is a horrible excuse to destroy any chance of working on whatever you need to. I saw kids getting abused, injected, and neglected at this horrible place. [W]orst year of my life.” ― A public comment on a petition to shut the school down
Then came the case of Justina Pelletier. Once again, a child was being denied the actual treatment they desperately needed. Once again, her contact with her family was being, monitored, and censored. Once again, a youth was being secluded, and once again, her life was in danger. However, this time a major hospital in my state was responsible.
Like us, her parents had called all the local/state authorities and gone to the FBI, and like us, none of those organizations would protect their family member. Time was running out.
After all the stories I had heard, and consulting for organizations of all sizes for over a decade, I knew the power of a punch to the pocketbook, and would not simply look away. So, I acted, in the way I was best qualified. I hope that you would have to.
There are hundreds of thousands of kids, like Justina, who need our help, and many if not most have no other advocates.
Martin Gottesfeld wrote this article from his prison hunger strike. He is demanding that the presidential candidates pledge to both work with legislators and direct law enforcement action to protect institutionalized youth. The last time he ate was on October 3rd. He is down 15.5 lbs. This article was posted by his wife on his behalf. A petition has been set up. Supporters have also launched www.FreeMartyG.com as well as a Facebook page, and Twitter account by the name @
In the spring of 2014, the hacker collective Anonymous took credit for hitting a number of health care and treatment facilities in the Boston area in defense of a patient there named Justina Pelletier. For background on her controversial case, which became the focus of national attention, read here or here.
The attacks became somewhat less anonymous when a man named Martin Gottesfeld was arrested in connection with them in February of this year, after his sailboat ran into difficulty off the coast of Cuba. A Disney cruise ship picked up Gottesfeld and his wife, and Gottesfeld was arrested when the ship docked in Miami. He has been in detention ever since. An indictment is expected any day.
For the first time, Gottesfeld is coming forward to explain why he did what he did, in an exclusive statement provided to The Huffington Post. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office is pursuing the case, said she had no updates on the case. Boston Children’s Hospital and Wayside, two of Gottesfeld’s targets, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here is his statement, published in full:
Why I Knocked Boston Children’s Hospital Off The Internet
The answer is simpler than you might think: The defense of an innocent, learning disabled, 15-year-old girl. In the criminal complaint, she’s called “Patient A,” but to me, she has a name, Justina Pelletier. Boston Children’s Hospital disagreed with her diagnosis. They said her symptoms were psychological. They made misleading statements on an affidavit, went to court, and had Justina’s parents stripped of custody.
They stopped her painkillers, leaving her in agony. They stopped her heart medication, leaving her tachycardic. They said she was a danger to herself, and locked her in a psych ward. They said her family was part of the problem, so they limited, monitored, and censored her contact with them.
Justina resorted to sneaking notes, hidden in origami, to tell her family what she wasn’t allowed to say around eavesdroppers. Hospital staff pushed her to do things she was physically incapable of, due to the physical condition they refused to acknowledge she has. They laughed at her as she struggled futilely. They left her on a toilet for hours when she couldn’t void her bowels. They left her secluded in a bare room, or alone in the hallway, sometimes for days when she couldn’t wheel herself elsewhere.
When they did move her, they ripped her toe nails, dragging her feet on the floor. They bruised her. Her legs swelled, her gums receded, and her hair fell out. This went on for 11 months at BCH.
Her parents went to the media, and a gag order was issued specifically prohibiting them from speaking to journalists. When she finally left the hospital (in large part thanks to the negative publicity,) she still wasn’t allowed home and her ordeal wasn’t over. BCH was still in charge and her suffering continued, though the most culpable had successfully manipulated the spotlight onto others.
At her new treatment center, aptly named “Wayside,” Justina was verbally assaulted while nude in the shower. She continued to be denied her medications and treated according to the BCH plan.
Her father broke the gag order, publicly stating her life was in danger. The story made big news, but there was no indication when Justina would be returned to her family and receive the long delayed treatment she desperately needed. A former BCH nurse called what Justina was enduring its proper term: torture. According to international humanitarian law, she was right.
I had heard many, too many, such horror stories of institutionalized children who were killed or took their own lives in the so-called “troubled teen industry.” I never imagined a renowned hospital would be capable of such brutality and no amount of other good work could justify torturing Justina. She wasn’t alone either. BCH calls what it did to her a “parentectomy,” and there had been others over at least the past 20 years.
I knew that BCH’s big donation day was coming up, and that most donors give online. I felt that to have sufficient influence to save Justina from grievous bodily harm and possible death, as well as dissuade BCH from continuing its well established pattern of such harmful “parentectomies,” I’d have to hit BCH where they appear to care the most, the pocket book and reputation. All other efforts to protect Justina weren’t succeeding and time was of the essence. Almost unbelievably, they kept their donation page on the same public network as the rest of their stuff. Rookie mistake. To take it down, I’d have to knock the whole hospital off the Internet.
I also knew from my career experience as a biotech professional that no patients should be harmed if Boston Children’s was knocked offline. There’s no such thing as an outage-proof network, so hospitals have to be able to function without the Internet. It’s required by federal law, and for accreditation. The only effects would be financial and on BCH’s reputation.
The network was strong, well funded, but especially vulnerable to a specific attack. Apparently BCH was unwilling to architect around the problem. I see such laziness often in my work, and it leaves our nation vulnerable.
I had spent my career building cyber-defenses. For the first time, I was on the offensive. I coded around the clock for two weeks to perfect the attack. Small test runs were made. BCH bragged to the media that they were withstanding the onslaught and hadn’t been taken down. They had no idea what was to come.
I finished the code just in time. It ran. BCH’s donation page went down. As they were down, I was nervous. I left it running for a few hours.
Then, with some donation time still let, I issued the command to stop the attacks—the point had been made. Justina wasn’t defenseless. Under the banner of Anonymous, she and other institutionalized children could and would be protected. There have been no such egregious parentectomies published at BCH since.
In 2016, Justina’s family announced they were suing Boston Children’s. The civil claim reads like a medical horror novel.
Under U.S.-ratified human rights Conventions, there can be no justification for torture, not even war, the threat of war, or the preservation of human life. Freedom from torture is a non-derogable human right, and the U.S. is obligated to investigate, prosecute, and punish all acts of torture, no matter who perpetrated them.
To read more, including why what was done to Justina qualifies as torture under international law, see: www.FreeMartyG.com.
— Commander X (@CommanderXanon) 5 December 2016
I’d put money on Asssange bein off in to the sunset….
Medical experts’ warning over Asperger’s ‘hacker’ …
— Commander X (@CommanderXanon) 5 December 2016