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Three-Fifths of an Attorney General Declares POWs “Non-Persons” July 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: Congratulations.  Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time.  Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons.  “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.

And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value.  Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all.  The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative.  More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery.  Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves.  Kafka would have loved it.

 

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Protestors gathered in New York City’s Time Square in April of 2013 to raise awareness of detainee hunger strikes and indefinite imprisonment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: flickr / cc /Jordan P)

 

Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”

Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.

Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”

According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”

Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.

America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding

My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.

This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.

The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”

Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.

Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.

If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”

US Forced to Release Memo on Extrajudicial Drone Killing of US Citizen June 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: As I have noted more than once on this Blog, the major crimes in history, including the death of Socrates, Jesus, and the Holocaust, were carried out and justified by the existing “legal’ system, that is under the color of law.   Again, history repeats itself, and David Barron of the OLC joins the disgraced criminal ranks of John Yoo, Bruce Bybee and the other torture memo conspirators.

What Excuse Remains for Obama’s Failure to Close GITMO? June 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: One is reminded of Richard Nixon’s famous “if the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

 

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Individuals and organizations like Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights have never wavered in their demand that Obama close the offshore prison in Guantanamo and put an end to the practice of indefinite detention. (Image: CCR)

The excuse-making on behalf of President Obama has always found its most extreme form when it came time to explain why he failed to fulfill his oft-stated 2008 election promise to close Guantanamo. As I’ve documented many times, even the promise itself was misleading, as it became quickly apparent that Obama — even in the absence of congressional obstruction — did not intend to “close GITMO” at all but rather to re-locate it, maintaining its defining injustice of indefinite detention.

But the events of the last three days have obliterated the last remaining excuse. In order to secure the release of American POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Obama administration agreed to release from Guantanamo five detainees allegedly affiliated with the Taliban. But as even stalwart Obama defenders such as Jeffery Toobin admit, Obama “clearly broke the law” by releasing those detainees without providing Congress the 30-day notice required by the 2014 defense authorization statute (law professor Jonathan Turley similarly observed that Obama’s lawbreaking here was clear and virtually undebatable).

The only conceivable legal argument to justify this release is if the Obama White House argues that the law does not and cannot bind them. As documented by MSNBC’s Adam Serwer – who acknowledges that “when it comes to the legality of the decision [critics] have a point” – Obama has suggested in the past when issuing signing statements that he does not recognize the validity of congressional restrictions on his power to release Guantanamo detainees because these are decisions assigned by the Constitution solely to the commander-in-chief (sound familiar?). Obama’s last signing statement concluded with this cryptic vow: “In the event that the restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees in sections 1034 and 1035 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.”

Obama defenders seem to have two choices here: either the president broke the law in releasing these five detainees, or Congress cannot bind the commander-in-chief’s power to transfer detainees when he wants, thus leaving Obama free to make those decisions himself. Which is it?

Both Serwer and a new Washington Post article this morning note the gross and obvious hypocrisy of Obama and his Democratic loyalists now using Article-II-über-alles signing statements to ignore congressionally enacted laws relating to the War on Terror. Quoting an expert on signing statements, the Post – referencing Obama’s Bush-era condemnation of signing statements — sums up much of the last six years of political events in the US: “Senator Obama had a very different view than President Obama.”

But the eagerness of many Democrats to radically change everything they claimed to believe as of January 20, 2009 is far too familiar and well-documented at this point to be worth spending much time on. Far more significant are the implications for Obama’s infamously unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo.

The sole excuse now offered by Democratic loyalists for this failure has been that Congress prevented him from closing the camp. But here, the Obama White House appears to be arguing that Congress lacks the authority to constrain the President’s power to release detainees when he wants. What other excuse is there for his clear violation of a law that requires 30-day notice to Congress before any detainees are released?

But once you take the position that Obama can override — i.e., ignore — Congressional restrictions on his power to release Guantanamo detainees, then what possible excuse is left for his failure to close the camp? As Jason Leopold notes in an astute article at Al Jazeera, this week’s episode “has led one human rights organization to question why the Obama administration has not acted to transfer dozens of other detainees who have been cleared for release for many years.” He added:

Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First, told Al Jazeera if the administration can make the argument that the five Taliban detainees are transferrable “without any significant problems under the congressionally imposed transfer restrictions” then certainly “the same argument can be made for the detainees who have already been cleared for release.”

Obama defenders seem to have two choices here: either the president broke the law in releasing these five detainees, or Congress cannot bind the commander-in-chief’s power to transfer detainees when he wants, thus leaving Obama free to make those decisions himself. Which is it?

Revealed: Gov’t Used Fusion Centers to Spy on Occupy May 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
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Roger’s note: The Patriot Act and the establishment of the Orwellian named Homeland Security have taken the United States one giant step forward towards a police state.  Criminalizing dissent is nothing new, goes back to WWI and further; but the scope of it today is truly frightening.

New report exposes US government’s treatment of social movements as ‘criminal or terrorist enterprises’

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

(Photo: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

U.S. government Fusion Centers, which operate as ill-defined “counter-terrorism” intelligence gathering and sharing centers, conducted spy operations against Occupy protesters involving police, the Pentagon, the FBI, military employees, and business people.

So finds a report released Friday by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund based on 4,000 public documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The release was accompanied by an in-depth article by the New York Times.

“The U.S. Fusion Centers are using their vast counter-terrorism resources to target the domestic social justice movement as a criminal or terrorist enterprise,” PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard stated. “This is an abuse of power and corruption of democracy.”

“Although the Fusion Centers’ existence is justified by the DHS as a necessary component in stopping terrorism and violent crime, the documents show that the Fusion Centers in the Fall of 2011 and Winter of 2012 were devoted to unconstrained targeting of a grassroots movement for social change that was acknowledged to be peaceful in character,” the report states.

Police chiefs of major metropolitan areas used the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center to produce regular reports on the occupy movement.

Furthermore, “The Boston regional intelligence center monitored and cataloged Occupy-associated activities from student organizing to political lectures,” according to the report. That center also produced twice-daily updates on Occupy activities.

The New York Times notes:

The Boston Regional Intelligence Center, one of the most active centers, issued scores of bulletins listing hundreds of events including a protest of “irresponsible lending practices,” a food drive and multiple “yoga, faith & spirituality” classes.

Nationwide surveillance has included extensive monitoring of social media, in addition to a variety of spying methods used across Fusion Centers.

“[T]he Fusion Centers are a threat to civil liberties, democratic dissent and the social and political fabric of this country,” said Carl Messineo, PCJF Legal Director. “The time has long passed for the centers to be defunded.”

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Pete Seeger and the NSA February 4, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, History, Police.
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Roger’s note: Of course, the recent revelations about NSA outdoing George Orwell is no laughing matter.  But if you need a moment of lightness today, click in the first paragraph on Pete’s testimony before HUAC.  It reads like a Monty Python skit.  With the persecutions of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden among others, and the hounding to death of Aaron Swartz, the U.S. government is just getting started in putting its mega data collection to use.  When the political protests heat up to the next level, I believe we are going to see the same kind of witch hunts that we saw under the era of Joseph McCarthy, only much worse.  Those who lived through that period of history can tell you what it is like to be persecuted by the government for your First Amendment protected beliefs.  Perhaps what is most frightening is the militarization of local police departments, and we saw what state violence against legitimate political protest will look like during the brutal repression of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Whether you are brought up before a Kafkaesque like official United States government kangaroo court or bashed over the head with police baton or run down by a Homeland Security issues armored vehicle, the chilling result is the same: fascism in our day.  
That it occurs under the auspices of the affable and articulate constitutional lawyer who is the first Black American president or the feisty and charming soon to be first woman American president, will not do much to soften the blow.

 

Published on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 by Deeplinks Blog/EFF

by Cindy Cohn

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

Pete Seeger, 1955, testimony pursuant to subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Pete Seeger (Image: EFF)

The world lost a clear, strong voice for peace, justice, and community with the death of singer and activist Pete Seegerlast week. While Seeger was known as an outspoken musician not shy about airing his political opinions, it’s also important to remember he was once persecuted for those opinions, despite breaking no law. And the telling of this story should give pause to those who claim to be unconcerned about the government’s metadata seizure and search programs that reveal our associations to the government today.

In 1955, Seeger was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he defiantly refused to answer questions about others who he associated with and who shared his political beliefs and associations, believing Congress was violating his First Amendment rights. He was especially concerned about revealing his associations:

I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business. . . .  But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.

But if the same thing were to happen today, a Congressional subpoena and a public hearing wouldn’t be necessary for the government to learn all of our associations and other “private affairs.” Since the NSA has been collecting and keeping them, they could just get that same information from their own storehouses of our records.

According to the Constitution, the government is supposed to meet a high standard before collecting this private information about our associations, especially the political ones that the Congressmen were demanding of Seeger. For instance, under the First Amendment, it must“serve compelling state interests, unrelated to the suppression of ideas, that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.”

It doesn’t matter whether the government wants associations to look for possibly “illegal” activities of civil rights activists, Communist sympathizers, anarchists, trade unionists, war resisters, gun rights activists, environmental activists, drug legalization advocates, or wants to go after legitimate criminals and potential terrorists, if the government can’t justify the collection of this “metadata” on this “strict scrutiny” standard, they’re not allowed to collect any of it. Yet right now, they collect all of it.

We’re still learning of all the ways the government is able to track our associations without anything like the due process and standards required by the First and Fourth Amendments, but it is the centerpiece of the NSA’s mass telephone records collection program under Patriot Act section 215, which EFF is fighting with our First Unitarian Church v. NSA case that focuses on the right of association.  Our lead client, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, had its own role in resisting the House Un-American Activities Committee. It’s also part and parcel of the mass collection of content and metadata of people all around the world under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. And it’s a real concern even if the companies hold the data, as we’ve seen with the FBI’s self-certified National Security Lettersand the Hemisphere program, where AT&T employees are embedded in government investigations so that they can more readily search through our phone records for the FBI, the DEA and others.

Each of these programs effectively allows the government to do to you what Pete Seeger refused to let them do to him—track your associations, beliefs and other private affairs without proper legal protections.  And they can do this at scale that was unimaginable in 1955, thanks to the digital nature of our communications, the digital tools that allow them to search automatically rather than by hand and the fact that so much more about these private affairs is in the hands of third parties like our phone and internet companies.

While Seeger escaped jail, he was convicted of contempt for his failure to answer these questions. Thankfully Joseph McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committees were later widely condemned, and Americans understandably look back sadly and with embarrassment on time when the Committee forced Americans to reveal their own associations, along with the associations and beliefs of others.  With the passing of moral and artistic heroes like Seeger, we should redouble our efforts to make sure that our “private affairs” remain safe and the government’s ability to access them remains subject to careful controls.

Join us on February 11 for the day we fight back against mass surveillance.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Cindy Cohn

Cindy Cohn is legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as its general counsel, coordinating over 40 national class action lawsuits against the telecommunications carriers and the government seeking to stop warrantless NSA surveillance

Federal Judge Orders ‘Compassionate Release’ of Attorney Lynne Stewart January 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Media.
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Roger’s note: amidst all the crap, some good news from a judge for a change.

 

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‘Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.’

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A federal judge ordered the “compassionate release” of former defense lawyer Lynne Stewart on Tuesday on the grounds that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer with a life expectancy of less than 18 months.Lynn Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, right, protests with others outside a Manhattan court in August (Reuters)

Stewart, 74, who is known for representing underserved and unpopular defendants, has served four years out of a ten-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell (FMC Carswell) in Fort Worth, Texas, in connection with her defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart allegedly helped pass messages between Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terror attacks, and an organization designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Secretary of State.

Presiding Judge John Koeltl wrote that Stewart’s “terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction [of her sentence.]… It is further ordered that the defendant shall be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as soon as her medical condition permits, the release plan is implemented and travel arrangements can be made.”

Stewart left prison on Tuesday and headed for New York City to live with her family.

Jill Shellow, Stewart’s attorney, told CNN her client’s supporters were “overjoyed that she will spend her remaining days with her family.”

“From arrest to sentencing, Lynne Stewart’s case was used by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to attorneys: think twice about who you represent!” said Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, of which Stewart was a member. “Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.”

Robert J. Boyle, one of Lynne Stewart’s attorneys added, “We are gratified and thankful that the government has agreed to Lynne’s compassionate release request. She has dedicated her life to fighting for justice for the underserved and unpopular. Lynne can now return home to her family and to the community that loves her.”

NSA Intercepting Laptops Bought Online to Install Spy Malware December 30, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Surveillance, Surveillance State.
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Roger’s note: I think George Orwell underestimated the problem.  According to Glenn Greenwald, “The NSA can literally watch every keystroke you make.”

 

 

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon

- Common Dreams staff

This National Security Agency complex in San Antonio, Texas, located in a former Sony chip factory, is one of the central offices of the intelligence agency’s Tailored Access Operations, the NSA’s top operative unit. It’s something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

Germany’s Der Spiegel is reporting Sunday that the US National Security Agency (NSA), working with the CIA and FBI, has been intercepting laptops and other electronics bought online before delivery to install malware and other spying tools.

According to Der Spiegel, the NSA diverts shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” to install the software before resending the deliveries to their purchasers.

Elite hackers working for the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division are considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon.

The NSA’s TAO reportedly has backdoor access to many hardware and software systems from major tech companies such as Cisco, Dell, and Western Digital and others. The NSA exploits Microsoft Windows error reports to find weak spots in compromised machines in order to install Trojans and other viruses.

The Der Spiegel report also notes that the NSA has successfully tapped into some of the massive, under-sea fiber-optic cables that connect the global data infrastructure, in particular the “SEA-ME-WE-4″ cable system.

“This massive underwater cable bundle connects Europe with North Africa and the Gulf states and then continues on through Pakistan and India,” Der Spiegel reports, ”all the way to Malaysia and Thailand. The cable system originates in southern France, near Marseille. Among the companies that hold ownership stakes in it are France Telecom, now known as Orange and still partly government-owned, and Telecom Italia Sparkle.”

From Der Spiegel:

To conduct those types of operations, the NSA works together with other intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, which in turn maintain informants on location who are available to help with sensitive missions. This enables TAO to attack even isolated networks that aren’t connected to the Internet. If necessary, the FBI can even make an agency-owned jet available to ferry the high-tech plumbers to their target. This gets them to their destination at the right time and can help them to disappear again undetected after even as little as a half hour’s work.

Responding to a query from SPIEGEL, NSA officials issued a statement saying, “Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies.” The statement added that TAO’s “work is centered on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection.” The officials said they would not discuss specific allegations regarding TAO’s mission.

Sometimes it appears that the world’s most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.

Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called “load stations,” agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the “most productive operations” conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”

Even in the Internet Age, some traditional spying methods continue to live on.

* * *

An aerial view of National Security Administration (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, MD

As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media October 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Democracy, Media, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
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With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed

 

NSA director Gen Keith Alexander.

NSA Director General Keith Alexander, earlier this month. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

 

The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

There are three points worth making about these latest developments.

First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.

Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that’s true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the “crime” of blowing the whistle on all of this?

If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn’t they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?

Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?

Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.

Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.

Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):

The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.

“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared. [My italics]

There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called “the first amendment”.

I’d love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to “come up with a way of stopping” the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?

Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.

Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters October 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: Back in the last decades of the 2000s, when we participated in protest activities — from the Vietnam War to the Iraq invasions — we knew there were likely to be police abuses and arrests, especially if civil disobedience was part of the strategy.  So we prepared by “arming” ourselves with information about our constitutional rights and usually had  ACLU lawyer types ready to back us up, their phone numbers in our back pockets.  Times have changed.  The constitution and habeas corpus doesn’t mean much any more.  The police have always acted with a degree of impunity, but today that has increased exponentially, along with a frightening degree of police militarization (they already have armored cars and tanks and will soon have little drone missiles).  The crackdowns on the Occupy Movement two years ago made that crystal clear.  Do we live in a police state?  I think the evidence speaks for itself.  Here is just one example of what peaceful protest faces today.

 

Promotional materials for private spy companies show that mass surveillance technology is being sold to police departments as a way to monitor dissent

 

by John Knefel

A number of private spying companies offer services to help police keep tabs on individual protesters’ tweets and Facebook posts. (Credit: Fuse)

The documents leaked to media outlets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden this year have brought national intelligence gathering and surveillance operations under a level of scrutiny not seen in decades. Often left out of this conversation, though, is the massive private surveillance industry that provides services to law enforcement, defense agencies and corporations in the U.S. and abroad – a sprawling constellation of companies and municipalities. “It’s a circle where everyone [in these industries] is benefitting,” says Eric King, lead researcher of watchdog group Privacy International. “Everyone gets more powerful, and richer.”

Promotional materials for numerous private spy companies boast of how law enforcement organizations can use their products to monitor people at protests or other large crowds – including by keeping tabs on individual people’s social media presence. Kenneth Lipp, a journalist who attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia from October 19th to 23rd, tells Rolling Stone that monitoring Twitter and Facebook was a main theme of the week. “Social media was the buzzword,” says Lipp. He says much of the discussion seemed to be aimed at designing policies that wouldn’t trigger potentially limiting court cases: “They want to avoid a warrant standard.”

While the specifics of which police departments utilize what surveillance technologies is often unclear, there is evidence to suggest that use of mass surveillance against individuals not under direct investigation is common. “The default is mass surveillance, the same as NSA’s ‘collect it all’ mindset,” says King. “There’s not a single company that if you installed their product, [it] would comply with what anyone without a security clearance would think is appropriate, lawful use.”

The YouTube page for a company called NICE, for instance, features a highly produced video showing how its products can be used in the event of a protest. “The NICE video analytic suite alerts on an unusually high occupancy level in a city center,” a narrator says as the camera zooms in on people chanting and holding signs that read “clean air” and “stop it now.” The video then shows authorities redirecting traffic to avoid a bottleneck, and promises that all audio and video from the event will be captured and processed almost immediately. “The entire event is then reconstructed on a chronological timeline, based on all multimedia sources,” says the narrator. According to an interview with the head of NICE’s security division published in Israel Gateway, NICE systems are used by New Jersey Transit and at the Statue of Liberty, though it isn’t clear if they are the same products shown in the video.

“Thousands of customers worldwide use NICE Security solutions to keep people safe and protect property,” says Sara Preto, a spokesperson for NICE. She declined to confirm any specific clients, but added: “We work with law enforcement and other government agencies within the framework of all relevant and national laws.”

Another program, made by Bright Planet and called BlueJay, is billed in a brochure to law enforcement as a “Twitter crime scanner.” BlueJay allows cops to covertly monitor accounts and hashtags; three that Bright Planet touts in promotional material are #gunfire, #meth, and #protest. In another promotional document, the company says BlueJay can “monitor large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals,” as well as “track department mentions.” Bright Planet did not respond to a request for comment.

A third company, 3i:Mind, lays out a scenario for a potential law enforcement client that begins: “Perhaps you are tracking an upcoming political rally.” It continues:

Once you set up the OpenMIND™ system to profile and monitor the rally, it will search the web for the event on web pages, social networking sites, blogs, forums and so forth, looking for information about the nature of the rally (e.g. peaceful, violent, participant demographics), try to identify both online and physical world activist leaders and collect information about them, monitor the event in real-time and alert you on user-defined critical developments.

The scenario concludes: “Your insight is distributed to the local police force warning them that the political rally may turn violent and potentially thwarting the violence before it occurs.” The 3i:Mind website gives no clues at to which governments or corporations use their products, and public information on the company is limited, though they have reportedly shown their product at various trade shows and police conferences. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Other companies are less upfront about how their products can be used to monitor social unrest. A product that will be familiar to anyone who attended an Occupy Wall Street protest in or around New York’s Zuccotti Park is SkyWatch, by FLIR, pointed out to Rolling Stone by Lipp, the journalist who attended the police conference. SkyWatch is a mobile tower in the form of a two-person cab that can be raised two stories high to provide “an array of surveillance options,” according to a promotional brochure. Those options include cameras and radar, as well as “customizable” options. The brochure says SkyWatch is perfect for “fluid operations whether on the front lines or at a hometown event.” As of this writing, the NYPD still has a SkyWatch deployed in a corner of Zuccotti Park, where Occupy activists were evicted by the police nearly two years ago.

These promotional materials, taken together, paint a picture not only of local police forces becoming increasingly militarized, but also suggest departments are venturing into intelligence-gathering operations that may go well beyond traditional law enforcement mandates. “Two things make today’s surveillance particularly dangerous: the flood of ‘homeland security’ dollars (in the hundreds of millions) to state and local police for the purchase of spying technologies, and the fact that spook technology is outpacing privacy law,” says Kade Crockford, director of the Massachusetts ACLU’s technology for liberty program and the writer of the PrivacySOS blog, which covers these issues closely. “Flush with fancy new equipment, police turn to communities they have long spied on and infiltrated: low-income and communities of color, and dissident communities.”

Many of the legal questions surrounding these kinds of police tactics remain unsettled, according to Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Information that is publicly available, like tweets and Facebook posts, is generally not protected by the Fourth Amendment, though legal questions may arise if that information is aggregated on a large scale – especially if that collection is based on political, religious or ethnic grounds. “This information can be useful, but it can also be used in ways that violate the Constitution,” says Patel. “The question is: what are [police departments] using it for?”

Rolling Stone contacted police departments for the cities of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. for comment on this story.

“The Philadelphia Police Department has their own cameras,” says that force’s spokesperson Jillian Russell. “The department does not have private surveillance companies monitor crime.” She directed follow-up questions about software used to process big data to a deputy mayor’s office, who didn’t return a phone call asking for comment.

When asked if the LAPD uses programs to monitor protesters, a media relations email account sent an unsigned message that simply read: “We are not aware of this.”

The other police departments did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S.’s 64-Square-Foot “Torture Chambers” October 19, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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ROGER’S NOTE: WHEN I READ ABOUT AMERICA’S TORTURE CHAMBERS (AND I DO NOT PUT THAT PHRASE IN QUOTATION MARKS) AND THE NEARLY 100,000 MOSTLY BLACK, LATINO AND FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES BEING TORTURED DAILY, I THINK OF THE AMERICAN MEDIA AND POLITICAL CULTURE AND ITS SELF-RIGHTEOUS, ARROGANT AND HYPOCRITICAL SERMONIZING ABOUT THE SOVIET GULAG OR THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS.  I WANT YOU TO IMAGINE THAT THE AVERAGE TIME FOR AN AMERICA PRISONER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS WHEN THE UNITED NATIONS ETHICAL STANDARD IS FIFTEEN DAYS MAXIMUM.

 

by Pam Johnson

He has not had human contact or a good night’s sleep in nearly three decades. Every single day, he wakes to the sound of metal doors clanging open and a pair of disembodied hands pushing a tray of food through a slot into his 64-square-foot cell.

L to R: Kimberly Richardson (of the Peoples Institute for Survival), Robert King (who spent 31 years in isolation), and Theresa Shoatz, whose father Russell Maroon Shoatz is also in long-term solitary confinement. (Credit: Ann Harkness/cc by 2.0)

For the next 23 hours, he will stare at the same four walls. If he is lucky, he’ll be escorted, shackled at his ankles and wrists, into a “yard” – an enclosure only slightly larger than his cell – for an hour of solitary exercise.

This is how Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a prisoner in the restricted housing unit at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in northern Pennsylvania, has spent the past 22 consecutive years.

On Thursday, Shoatz’s lawyers submitted a communication to Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, urging him to inquire into why a “father, grandfather and great grandfather” is being held in extreme isolation despite having a near-perfect disciplinary record for over 20 years.

The appeal comes on the heels of a surge in public debate on the practice of solitary confinement in the United States, where on any given day an estimated 81,000 men, women and children are held in some form of “restricted housing” unit, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics.

Authorities in each state have a myriad of euphemisms for the practice: administrative segregation, secure housing units (SHUs), “supermax” facilities, protective custody. Whatever the language, critics say the basic conditions remain the same: extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for years at a time.

According to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the restrictions imposed in “maximum security” facilities often “exceed the fathomable. In Pennsylvania’s most restrictive units, for example, prisoners have all the usual supermax deprivations plus some that seem gratuitously cruel: they are not permitted to have photographs of family members or newspapers and magazines.”

Mendez has already affirmed that holding a human being in isolation for a period exceeding 15 days constitutes a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Back in 2011, his office called for a complete global ban on the use of solitary confinement “except in the most extreme circumstances and for as short a time as possible”, citing numerous studies – some dating back decades, others as recent as Amnesty International’s 2012 report ‘The Edge of Endurance’ – that have documented the long-lasting psychological impacts resulting from even a few days of social separation.

This past August, a hunger strike involving over 30,000 prisoners protesting conditions in restricted housing units at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California prompted the rapporteur to make an urgent appeal to the U.S. government to “eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances”, stressing that the average U.S. prisoners banished to the hole typically stays there roughly 7.5 years – “far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law.”

Harold Engel, an attorney with over 43 years of experience and a retired partner of the global corporate law firm Reed Smith, said he co-signed the appeal Thursday in the hopes that an investigation undertaken by the office of the special rapporteur, housed at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, will bring an end to indefinite isolation.

“I first became involved in this case because my daughter told me about Shoatz’s situation and I found it abhorrent,” Engel told IPS.

“As I learned more I realised there wasn’t any clear law on the question of whether keeping someone in solitary confinement under conditions that Shoatz has been kept in violates the eighth amendment of the U.S. constitution [prohibiting the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment] – which, in my opinion, it does.”

Speaking to IPS under condition of anonymity, an inmate who spent several years in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison before being released back into the general population said his life was measured out in a series of arbitrary numbers: he was permitted one hour of exercise on five days out of the week; he was allowed three meals a day but zero contact visits with his family. His cell contained a single cot and one steel sink. Showers were taken thrice weekly, overseen by guards.

“Getting through each day felt like hewing a single stone from a mountain of despair,” he said.

Bret Grote, an activist who has worked for over six years with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) – an advocacy group comprised predominantly of prisoners’ families, ex-prisoners and their supporters – says he and others have documented “hundreds upon hundreds of instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside the solitary confinement units of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC).”

“The approximately 2,500 prisoners warehoused in solitary by the PA DOC are held in units where physical abuse, psychological deterioration, retaliation for exercising constitutionally-protected rights, food deprivation, extreme social isolation, severely reduced environmental stimulation, theft and destruction of property, obstruction of access to the courts, and racist abuse are normative features,” Grote told IPS.

As Shoatz’s lawyers await an official response from the U.N. rapporteur, they are holding out hope that a full investigation into his case could also bring some respite for the tens of thousands of others enduring such conditions.

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