Posted by rogerhollander in War, Criminal Justice, Peace, Democracy, Civil Liberties, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: anti-nuclear, anti-war, Criminal Justice, dissent, doj, eric holder, fran quigley, greg boertje-obed, megan rice, michael walli, non violence, nuclear, nuclear weapons, oak ridge, pacifism, peace, peace protestors, ramsey clark, roger hollander, swords into plowshares
Roger’s note: if this doesn’t send a chill up the spine of anyone with spine enough to peacefully challenge US war mongering, then I don’t know what will. This case is Lewis Carroll, Orwell and Kafka rolled up into one. Don’t fail to realize that this is happening under a president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
From left, Greg Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice, and Michael Walli. (Photo: Saul Young/News Sentinel)
In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism. Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.
Here is how it happened.
In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property. Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.
“The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
- Sr. Megan Rice
Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus for over sixty years. Greg Boertje-Obed, a married carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota. Michael Walli, a two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.
In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had signs stating “No Trespassing.” The signs indicate that unauthorized entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
No security arrived to confront them.
So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.
Still no security.
So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF. Still no security arrived. They began praying and sang songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace is Flowing Like a River.”
When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.
The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Frank Munger, an award-winning journalist with the Knoxville News Sentinel, was the first to publicly wonder, “If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant’s core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant’s security against more menacing intruders.”
On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security. The “security stand-down” was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court for a pretrial bail hearing. The government asked that all three be detained. One prosecutor called them a potential “danger to the community” and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial. The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.
Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action in protest of nuclear weapons. “But we had to — we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation,” Rice said. She also challenged the entire nuclear weapons industry: “We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars,” she said. “The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
Then the government began increasing the charges against the anti-nuclear peace protestors.
The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code Section 1363.
The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war. Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building.”
Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one felony and up to six years in prison.
But the government did not stop there. The next week, the charges were enlarged yet again.
On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace activists to three counts. The first was the original charge of damage to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years in prison. The second was an additional damage to federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.
Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the protestors started to receive national and international attention.
On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice on page one under the headline “The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum.” Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their actions “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”
At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at Y-12. Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated that the three were able to get as far as they did because of “multiple system failures on several levels.” The cited failures included cameras broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal monitors. The report concluded that “Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important “wake-up” call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site.”
On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against the U.S. government, a much more serious charge. Over 3000 people signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to charge them with sabotage.
But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the protestors. Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage. Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Counts two and three were the previous felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to fifteen more years in prison.
Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass. Now Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.
In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.
The government also successfully moved to strip the three from presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a document they called “Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in Support of Certain Justification Defenses.” In this motion, the U.S. asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy regarding nuclear weapons.
Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the Court ruled against defendants.
Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.
The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2012. The three peace activists were convicted on all counts. Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they did it. The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.
As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the protestors because they had been convicted of “crimes of violence.” The government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.
The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had been approved by their parole officers.
The three were immediately jailed. In its decision affirming their incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism. Since the charges carry potential sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.
These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2012.
In ten months, an 82 year old nun and two pacifists had been successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
Tags: ben emmerson, bush/cheney, CIA torture, eric holder, human rights, International law, jon queally, nuremberg, rendition, roger hollander, rule of law, torture, War Crimes, war on terror
Roger’s note: “Under Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Department of Justice would not prosecute any official who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by its Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush era on interrogation.” The mind boggles at this statement, which was the classic Nazi defense (not to mention the classic “Nixon Defense:” if the president does it, it is legal). It is as if Nuremberg never happened.
Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 by Common Dreams
‘Words are not enough. Platitudinous repetition of statements affirming opposition to torture ring hollow,’ says Ben Emmerson’
- Jon Queally, staff writer
If the US and UK governments truly want to rebuke the role that kidnapping, torture and prolonged detention without trial played—and in some cases continues to play—in their declared “war against terrorism” than they must go beyond words and release the still disclosed internal reports that document such abuses.
Ben Emmerson: failure to release intelligence reports shows seeming unwillingness by UK and US to face up to international crimes. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
That’s the argument of Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, who spoke out on Monday against the secrecy and denial that persists within both governments.
Perpetrators and architects of such programs should be held accountable and face justice, he declared in both an official report and in a speech delivered Monday.
“Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,” Emmerson writes in the report written for the the U.N. Human Rights Council, which he will present Tuesday.
Prefacing the report in Geneva on Monday, Emmerson criticized “a policy of de facto immunity for public officials who engaged in acts of torture, rendition and secret detention, and their superiors and political masters who authorized these acts.”
Citing the hypocrisy of such secrecy and the damage done to the reputation of both countries abroad, Emmerson continued:
“Words are not enough. Platitudinous repetition of statements affirming opposition to torture ring hollow to many in those parts of the Middle East and North Africa that have undergone, or are undergoing, major upheaval, since they have first-hand experience of living under repressive regimes that used torture in private whilst making similar statements in public.”
“The scepticism of these communities can only be reinforced if western governments continue to demonstrate resolute indifference to the crimes committed by their predecessor administrations.”
Shortly before the speech in Geneva, Emmerson told the Guardian it was time for “a reckoning with the past”. He added:
“In South America it took up to 30 years before the officials responsible for crimes like these were held fully accountable. With the conspiracy organised by ther Bush-era CIA it has taken a decade, but the campaign for securing the right to truth has now reached a critical point.
“The British and American governments are sitting on reports that reveal the extent of the involvement of former governments in these crimes. If William Hague is serious about pursuing a policy of ethical counter-terrorism, as he says he is, then the first thing the British government needs to do is to release the interim report of the Gibson Inquiry immediately.”
And Reuters adds:
Emmerson, an international lawyer from Britain, has served since August 2011 in the independent post set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2005 to probe human rights violations committed during counter-terrorism operations worldwide.
The “war on terror” waged by Bush after al Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 led to “gross or systematic” violations involving secret prisons for Islamic militant suspects, clandestine transfers and torture, Emmerson said.
Under Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Department of Justice would not prosecute any official who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by its Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush era on interrogation.
But Emmerson said that using a “superior orders defense” and invoking secrecy on national security grounds was “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes”.
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War on Terror.
Tags: Abdulrahman, aclu, anwar awlaki, assassination, constituion, Criminal Justice, democracy, doj, drone missiles, due process, eric holder, extrajudicial killings, glenn greenwald, global battlefield, john brennan, obama hit list, presidential assassination, roger hollander, samir khan, terrorism, war on terror
Roger’s note: OK, for the sake of argument, let’s give the benefit of doubt to the Obama supporters and say that he would never use this awesome power irresponsibly. But what about the next Reagan or Nixon or other future Republican wing nut — Bachman? Palin? In a democracy you just don’t give anyone, including the Chief Executive, the unlimited power of life and death, judge jury and executioner. This is such a no-brainer that one wonders about the collective lunacy that seems to have infected the Obama administration.
Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 by The Guardian
The president’s partisan lawyers purport to vest him with the most extreme power a political leader can seize
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.
Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama’s top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president’s power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title “disposition matrix”.
When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama’s hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying “he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president”. When the existence of Obama’s hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, she wrote that the “list includes three Americans”.
What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.
In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama’s first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that “the Bush Administration’s excessive reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”
But when it comes to Obama’s assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He’s maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.
Last night, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff released a 16-page “white paper” prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama’s power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama’s kill list – that is still concealed – but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.
This new memo is entitled: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”. It claims its conclusion is “reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen”. Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.
I’ve written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat – see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder’s statements before obtaining power – and won’t repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:
1. Equating government accusations with guilt
The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to “terrorists” when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.
Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out “against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force.”
This ensures that huge numbers of citizens – those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true – will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That’s the “reasoning” process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death.
But of course, when this memo refers to “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida”, what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.
This is the crucial point: the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.
Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.
(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an “associated force” of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo “authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law”.)
The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo – and the entire theory justifying Obama’s kill list – centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.
They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That’s why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can’t be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.
2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor
The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president’s power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US” where capture is “infeasible”, it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: “This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful.” Instead, as the last line of the memo states: “it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation” – not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.
Critically, the rationale of the memo – that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and “associated forces” – can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn’t apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.
3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield
The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the “battlefield” is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited “battlefield”. That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president’s powers are basically omnipotent on a “battlefield”. There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.
This “world-is-a-battlefield” theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world”.
But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama’s assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That’s because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can’t defend the application of “war powers” in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a “battlefield” and the president’s war powers thus exist without geographic limits.
This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, “retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities“. In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional “feasibility of capture” element, no geographic limits to the president’s authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.
4. Expanding the concept of “imminence” beyond recognition
The memo claims that the president’s assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”. That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it’s similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the “imminence” of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.
But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of “imminence”. Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future“. The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.
Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of “imminence”. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning”. Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer’s objection “an understatement”, noting that the memo’s understanding of “imminence” is “wildly overbroad” under international law.
Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo’s reasoning – that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces – then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an “imminent” threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.
The only reason to add these limitations of “imminence” and “feasibility of capture” is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president’s assassination power. As the ACLU’s Jaffer says: “This is a chilling document” because “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen” and the purported limits “are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts
This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one’s lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.
Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic – getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president’s conduct is legal – was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:
“validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble.”
Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That’s all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party’s leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.
That’s why courts, not the president’s partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn’t want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.
That’s all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this – secret memos from partisan lackeys – has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president’s conduct.
6. Making a mockery of “due process”
The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. It provides that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law”. Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.
The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: “Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person’s interest in his life.” But it nonetheless argues that a “balancing test” is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: “while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”
Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president’s assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:
“Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them.”
It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what “due process” requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ’s core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes “judicial encroachment” on the “judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force”. And then it cites the Bush DOJ’s mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.
The reason this is so fitting is because, as I’ve detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.
Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed – and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.
DOJ White Paper
Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Q… by
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: alan dershowitz, CIA torture, enhance interrogation, eric holder, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, human rights, International law, jay bybee, john yoo, maher arar, philip giraldi, rendition, roger hollander, torture, torture memos
Roger’s note: Here it is Christmas Eve, 2012, and I am posting yet another article on torture. Our shameless president may have chosen to “look forward, not backwards” when it comes to prosecuting those responsible for these high crimes. I for one cannot forget them, nor can I forget the fact that the United States government continues to sow death and destruction around the globe.
By Philip Giraldi (about the author)
OpEdNews Op Eds 12/23/2012 at 19:46:40
A classified Senate Intelligence Committee report shows the futility of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
If there is one word missing from the United States government’s post-9/11 lexicon it is “accountability.” While perfectly legal though illicit sexual encounters apparently continue to rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, leading to resignations, no one has been punished for malfeasance, torture, secret prisons, or extraordinary renditions.
Indeed, the Obama administration stated in 2009 that it would not punish CIA torturers because it prefers to “look forward and not back,” a decision not to prosecute that was recently confirmed by Attorney General Eric Holder in two cases involving the deaths of detainees after particularly brutal Agency interrogations. What the White House decision almost certainly means is that the president would prefer to avoid a tussle with the Republicans in congress over national security that would inevitably reveal a great deal of dirty laundry belonging to both parties.
The bipartisan willingness to avoid confrontation over possible war crimes makes the recently completed 6,000 page long Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture an extraordinary document. Though it is still classified and might well never see the light of day even in any sanitized or bowdlerized form, its principal conclusions have been leaking out in the media over the past two weeks. It directly addresses the principal argument that has been made by Bush administration devotees and continues to be advanced regarding the CIA torture agenda: that vital information obtained by “enhanced interrogation techniques” led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to the report, no information obtained by torture was critical to the eventual assassination of the al-Qaeda leader, nor has it been found to be an indispensable element in any of the other terrorism cases that were examined by the Senate committee.
What exactly does that mean? It means that torture, far from being an essential tool in the counter-terrorism effort, has not provided information that could not be obtained elsewhere and using less coercive methods. Senator Diane Feinstein, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has had access to the entire classified document, elaborated, explaining that the investigation carried out by the Senate included every detainee held by CIA, examining “the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy or inaccuracy of CIA descriptions about the program to the White House, Department of Justice, Congress and others.” It “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program…” The report has 35,000 footnotes and investigators perused 6 million pages of official records, which is why it has taken more than two years to produce.
The Senate inquiry’s conclusions inevitably lead to the assumption that there has been a whole lot of lying and obfuscation going on in connection with the so-called war on terror. To recap major developments, 9/11 unleashed a counter-offensive by the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center (CTC), which was at the time headed by Cofer “the gloves come off” Black. Secret prisons were established in Europe and Asia, torture was used extensively in the interrogation of suspects, and some detainees were shipped off to friendly intelligence services in places like Egypt for even more aggressive questioning. This was referred to as rendition. Some suspects were snatched off the streets in European and Asian cities before being rendered.
The Justice Department gave its approval for the harsh interrogation techniques in a notorious secret memo drafted by John Yoo and Jay Bybee in 2005 only months after a 2004 public statement in which the selfsame Justice Department declared that torture would not be acceptable. On October 5, 2007, President George W. Bush restated the official position, “This government does not torture people. We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations.” But he also contradicted himself, elaborating that his administration’s interrogation methods included questioning carried out by “highly-trained professionals.” He explained, “When we find somebody who may have information regarding an attack on America, and you bet we’re going to detain them, you bet we’re going to question them. The American people expect us to find out information, this actionable intelligence, so we can help protect them. That’s our job.”
Since that time the issue of torture itself has become an ideological abstraction, with the neoconservatives, many Republicans, and even some conservative Democrats reflexively supporting it. It has also frequently been debated in the intelligence community. There are undeniably some who believe that all terrorist suspects should be tortured even unto death to tell what they know, but an increasing number of former intelligence officers have expressed doubts over the efficacy of the procedure, a conclusion that is now supported by the Senate findings.
To cite one example of what torture can produce, prominent al-Qaeda figure Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, commonly referred to as KSM, was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan was reportedly water-boarded 183 times and “broken” by his CIA interrogators. He subsequently confessed to being involved in virtually every terrorist act carried out in the previous 20 years, including 9/11, the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl, and the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole. He clearly was not actually involved in many of the incidents, but he was willing to admit to anything.
There are also other good reasons to oppose torture and torture by proxy through CIA rendition. Most people and governments worldwide believe that torture is immoral, a view that is generally shared by most Americans. Legally there is also a long tradition condemning torture. German and Japanese officers were executed after the Second World War for torturing prisoners and the principle was firmly established that torture, specifically including waterboarding, is a war crime. The US is signatory to the UN’s anti-torture convention, and both the United States Code and specific acts of congress require prosecution of any government employee engaging in such activity. In practical terms, torture also opens up a door that should never be opened by anyone who genuinely cares about US soldiers, diplomats, and intelligence officers stationed at their peril around the world. To put it succinctly, if we do it to them, they will do it to us.
Mistakes are inevitable when one accepts that it is okay to break the rules in favor of more coercive interrogation. To cite one example of how intelligence operations can go wrong, on December 13, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United States kidnapped German citizen Khaled el-Masri and he was taken to an airport where he was “Severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded” before being sent on to Afghanistan for more of the same. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity while subsequent attempts to obtain recompense through the US courts were blocked by the Obama administration, which claimed state secrets privilege.
Another well-documented rendition case, of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, consigned an innocent man to torture in Syria. Yet another rendition, of Milan-based Muslim cleric Abu Omar turned into a prime example of an intelligence operation designed by Monty Python, employing a cast of hundreds at a cost of many millions of dollars. It continues to play out in the Italian courts. Abu Omar was tortured in Egypt and eventually released when it turned out that he had no information of value.
Torture advocates have assiduously cultivated a number of myths, most prominent of which is the “ticking time bomb.” This is a particular favorite of the redoubtable Alan Dershowitz and a number of prominent neocons. It goes like this — a terrorist is captured who has knowledge of an impending attack on a major civilian target, but he won’t cooperate. How to get the information? Simple. Get an accommodating judge to issue a legal finding that enables you to torture him until he talks, thereby saving lives of innocent civilians.
The only problem with the Dershowitz narrative is that there has never been an actual ticking time bomb. No terrorist has ever been captured, subjected to torture, and provided information that foiled an attack, not even in Israel where routine torture of suspected terrorists captured in flagrante used to be the case (but is now illegal). Advocating a policy of torture, with all that entails, based on a “what if” is fighting evil with more evil, not a solution.
Torture brutalizes and degrades the individual carrying it out, the organization he or she represents, and the government that approves of the practice. The Senate committee report should finally put paid to the arguments being made that it is a reliable interrogation tool, but there still remains the question of accountability. A recent book by Jose A. Rodriguez, who approved and oversaw the CIA torture regime while he served as head of the Counter Terrorism Center and later as Deputy Director of the Clandestine Services, demonstrates that there are still zealots who believe in “extreme measures” in spite of any evidence presented to the contrary. The book is entitled “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives.” Well, apparently that is just not true and perhaps Jose owes the surviving victims of “hard measures” an apology.
Philip Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest and a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues. He is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served eighteen years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Mr. Giraldi was awarded an MA and PhD from the University of London in European History and holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Turkish. His columns on terrorism, intelligence, and security issues regularly appear in The American Conservative magazine, Huffington Post, and antiwar.com. He has written op-ed pieces for the Hearst Newspaper chain, has appeared on “Good Morning America,” MSNBC, National Public Radio, and local affiliates of ABC television. He has been a keynote speaker at the Petroleum Industry Security Council annual meeting, has spoken twice at the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC convention in Washington, and has addressed several World Affairs Council affiliates. He has been interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Britain’s Independent Television Network, FOX News, Polish National Television, Croatian National Television, al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, 60 Minutes, and other international and domestic broadcasters.
Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, cia interrogators, CIA torture, detainee deaths, eric holder, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, Gul Rahman, jim lobe, justice department, Manadel al-Jamadi, roger hollander, torture, waterborading
Roger’s note: when Obama made that ridiculous and inane statement, I posted here an article entitled “Looking forward not backward code for no justice.” Next time you commit a crime and are put on trial, just tell the judge that it is time to look forward and not backward. Refer to the brilliant opinion of that constitutional law scholar who is the current president of the United States. The charges against you are sure to be dropped.
WASHINGTON – U.S. human rights groups have roundly condemned Thursday’s announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department will not pursue prosecutions of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers who may have been responsible for the deaths of two prisoners in their custody.
Rights groups denounced the decision not to pursue prosecutions of CIA officers who may have been responsible for the deaths of two prisoners in their custody. (Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS)
The announcement appeared to mark the end of all efforts by the U.S. government to hold CIA interrogators accountable for torture and mistreating prisoners detained during the so-called “Global War on Terror” launched shortly after the Al Qaeda attacks on Sep. 11, 2001.
For rights activists and for supporters of President Barack Obama, it was the latest in a series of disappointing decisions, including the failure to close the detention facility at the U.S. base in Guantanamo, Cuba. They had hoped Obama would not only end the excesses of President George W. Bush’s prosecution of the war, but also conduct a full investigation of those excesses, if not prosecute those responsible.
“This is truly a disastrous development,” said Laura Pitter, counter-terrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “To now have no accountability whatsoever for any of the CIA abuses for which there are now mountains of evidence is just appalling.”
“It completely undermines the U.S.’s ability to have any credibility on any of these issues in other countries, even as it calls for other countries to account for abuses and prosecute cases of torture and mistreatment,” she told IPS.
“Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognised prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment and sends the dangerous signal to government officials that there will be no consequences for their use of torture and other cruelty,” noted Jameel Jaffar, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“Today’s decision not to file charges against individuals who tortured prisoners to death is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record.”
In his announcement, Holder suggested that crimes were indeed committed in the two cases that were being investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham but that convictions were unlikely.
“Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
The two deaths took place at a secret CIA detention facility known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002 and at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison the following year. The victims have been identified as Gul Rahman, a suspected Taliban militant, and Manadel Al-Jamadi, an alleged Iraqi insurgent.
The two were the last reviewed by Durham, who had originally been tasked by Bush’s attorney general, Michael Mukasey, in 2008 with conducting a criminal investigation into CIA interrogators’ use of “waterboarding” against detainees and the apparently intentional destruction of interrogation videotapes that recorded those sessions.
In August 2009, Holder expanded Durham’s mandate to include 101 cases of alleged mistreatment by CIA interrogators of detainees held abroad to determine whether any of them may be liable to prosecution.
At the time, he also stressed that he would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the controversial legal guidance given by the Bush administration regarding possible “enhanced interrogation” techniques that could be used against detainees.
Such techniques, which include waterboarding, the use of stress positions and extreme heat and cold, are widely considered torture by human rights groups and international legal experts. As such, they violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT), as well as the Geneva Conventions and a 1996 U.S. federal law against torture.
Holder’s position was consistent with Obama’s statement, which human rights groups also strongly criticised, shortly after taking office in 2009 that he did not want CIA officials to “suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering” to escape prosecution and that he preferred “to look forward as opposed to…backwards”.
In his first days in office, Obama ordered all secret CIA detention facilities closed and banned the enhanced techniques authorised by his predecessor.
In late 2010, Durham announced that he would not pursue criminal charges related to the destruction of the CIA videotapes. Seven months later, he recommended that, of the 101 cases of alleged CIA abuse referred to him, only two warranted full criminal investigations in which CIA officers had allegedly exceeded the Bush administration’s guidelines for permissible interrogation techniques.
Now that Holder and Durham have concluded that prosecutions of the individuals involved are unlikely to result in convictions, it appears certain that no CIA officer will be prosecuted in a U.S. jurisdiction. Prosecutions of Bush officials responsible for authorising the “enhanced interrogation” techniques have also been ruled out.
In 2006, a private contractor for the CIA was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to six years in prison for beating an Afghan detainee to death three years before.
Some commentators suggested that these decisions, including the dropping of the two remaining cases, have been motivated primarily by political considerations. Indeed, HRW director Kenneth Roth wrote in an op-ed last year that “dredging up the crimes of the previous administration was seen as too distracting and too antagonistic an enterprise when Republican votes were needed”.
In a statement Thursday, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee praised Holder’s decision. Republicans protested Holder’s referral of the 101 cases to Durham in 2009.
But rights activists expressed great frustration. Holder’s announcement “is disappointing because it’s well documented that in the aftermath of 9/11, torture and abuse were widespread and systematic,” said Melina Milazzo of Human Rights First (HRF), which has been one of the most aggressive groups in investigating and publicising torture and abuse by U.S. intelligence and military personnel.
“It’s shocking that the department’s review of hundreds of instances of torture and abuse will fail to hold even one person accountable.”
Similarly, the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) noted that Holder’s announcement “belies U.S. claims that it can be trusted to hold accountable Americans who have perpetrated torture and other human rights abuses”.
It said the decision “underscores the need for independent investigations elsewhere, such as the investigation in Spain, to continue”. Victims and rights groups including CCR filed criminal complaints against former Bush officials in Spanish courts in 2009, launching two separate investigations by judges there.
© 2012 IPS
Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, afaghnaistan, cia, detainees, eric holder, Gul Rahman, human rights, Iraq, justice department, Manadel al-Jamadi, roger hollander, torture
Published on Friday, August 31, 2012 by Common Dreams
Years-long Justice Dept. investigation ends without accountability
- Common Dreams staff
The CIA will face no charges over the torture and death of detainees while in custody, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday as it ended a criminal investigation begun by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham in 2008. Rights groups have called the decision “nothing short of a scandal.”
Gul Rahman, who died in 2002 while being held at a secret CIA facility known as the ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan (photo: AP)
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Democracy Now! summarizes the part of the investigation begun in June of 2011 into the deaths of two detainees: “The Justice Department had been probing the deaths of two men: one in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. Gul Rahman died in 2002 while being held at a secret CIA facility known as the ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan. He had been shackled to a concrete wall in near-freezing temperatures. Manadel al-Jamadi died in 2003 while in CIA custody at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. His corpse was photographed packed in ice and wrapped in plastic.”
The ACLU slammed the decision.
“That the Justice Department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “The Justice Department has declined to bring charges against the officials who authorized torture, the lawyers who sought to legitimate it, and the interrogators who used it. It has successfully shut down every legal suit meant to hold officials civilly liable.
“Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment and sends the dangerous signal to government officials that there will be no consequences for their use of torture and other cruelty. Today’s decision not to file charges against individuals who tortured prisoners to death is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights also criticized the decision and noted the importance of independent investigations.
“Once again, the United States has shown it is committed to absolving itself of any responsibility for its crimes over the past decade. Today’s announcement belies U.S. claims that it can be trusted to hold accountable Americans who have perpetrated torture and other human rights abuses, and underscores the need for independent investigations elsewhere, such as the investigation underway in Spain, to continue. Impunity does not always cross borders,” the group stated.
Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Human Rights, Labor, Nigeria.
Tags: alien torts, atca, Criminal Justice, eric holder, human rights, justice department, nigeria, obama administration, ogoni, puck lo, roger hollander, royal dutch, shell oil, supreme court, torture
Roger’s note: Vote Obama! “Plus ca change …” you can believe in.
The Obama administration is backing Shell Oil after abruptly changing sides in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that could make it even more difficult for survivors of human rights abuses overseas to sue multinational corporations in federal courts. The case will be heard on October 1.
Lawyers at EarthRights International, a Washington-based human rights law nonprofit, say they suspect that a new legal submission – which was signed only by the U.S. Justice Department – reflects tensions inside the government on how to deal with multinational corporations do business in the U.S. Significantly, neither the State nor the Commerce Department signed on to the brief, despite their key roles in the case.
“It was shocking,” Jonathan Kaufman EarthRights legal policy coordinator commented to Reuters. “The brief was largely unexpected, based on what they had filed previously, and pretty breathtaking.”
At issue is the Alien Torts Claim Act (ATCA) – an 18th century U.S. law originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.
Lawyers began using ATCA as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. ATCA has brought almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder to U.S. federal courts to date.
In recent years, a number of ATCA lawsuits have also been filed against multinationals which has angered the business lobby. “Expansion of this problem into the international arena via ATCA promises nothing but trouble for U.S. economic and foreign policy interests worldwide,” wrote John Howard, vice president of international policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “U.S. national interests require that we not allow the continuing misapplication of this 18th century statute to 21st century problems by the latter day pirates of the plaintiffs’ bar.”
No plaintiff against a corporation has won on ATCA grounds, although some have settled or plea bargained. In 1996 Doe v. Unocal, a lawsuit filed by ethnic Karen farmers against Unocal (now owned by Chevron) set a new precedent when a U.S. federal court ruled that corporations and their executive officers could be held legally responsible for crimes against humanity. Unocal contracted with the Burmese military dictatorship to provide security for a natural gas pipeline project on the border of Thailand and Burma. The suit accused Unocal of complicity in murder, rape and forcing locals to work for Unocal for free. Shortly before the jury trial was set to begin in 2005, Unocal settled with the plaintiffs by paying an undisclosed sum, marking the first time a corporation settled in any way a case based on the ATCA.
Another such case was filed against Chiquita, the global banana producer, by surviving victims of brutal massacres waged by right-wing paramilitary squads in Colombia. The paramilitary, who killed thousands of civilians during Colombia’s dirty war of the 1980s and 1990s, were on Chiquita’s payroll in the 1990s. Now-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended Chiquita in the case and won a plea bargain for them of $25 million and five years of probation.
Holder isn’t the only Justice Department staffer who defended a corporation in an ATCA case. Sri Srinivasan, recently nominated for the second highest position in the Justice Department, represented Exxon Mobil in a case brought against them by Indonesian villagers who survived alleged attacks, torture and murder by Indonesian military units hired by Exxon to provide security. Lower courts disagreed on Exxon’s liability under ATCA, and in 2011 an appeals court sent the case back to trial.
Which brings us to the case currently before the Supreme Court – Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Shell) – brought by relatives of nine Nigerian Ogoni activists who were executed in 1995 by a military dictatorship allegedly working in collaboration with Shell. For the last ten years, the widow of executed Dr. Barinem Kiobel and other Nigerian refugees have been trying to prove in court that the British-Dutch multinational oil company Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., or Shell Oil, conspired with the Nigerian military to illegally detain, torture and kill critics of Shell’s environmentally destructive practices in the Niger Delta.
In February the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to determine whether or not corporations – as opposed to private parties – could be sued under the ATCA. At that time the Justice Department, submitted a “friend of the court” brief that said they could.
Lawyers say that if the Supreme Court accepts that the case can be heard in U.S. courts, it will mark a significant step forward for human rights activists. It will also send a powerful signal to business that any violations overseas can be prosecuted if they do business in the U.S.
Then in June, the Obama administration, suddenly changed its opinion. The new brief from the Justice Department “read like a roadmap for getting rid of cases Srinivasan and Holder had worked on previously” EarthRights attorney Kaufman told Reuters.
In its submission filed in response to a Supreme Court order to re-argue whether or not ATCA applied to territories outside the U.S., the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit against Shell. The brief’s authors stated that the ATCA was not appropriate for Kiobel or other lawsuits involving foreign corporations accused of collaborating in human rights abuses with a foreign government outside U.S. territory.
U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.
However, the Justice Department stopped short of categorically barring all similar cases that occur outside the U.S. from ATCA eligibility, and it left ambiguous whether the current recommendation would prevent future ATCA lawsuits against U.S. citizens or corporations, or in cases where abuses take place on the high seas.
EarthRights International filed three Freedom of Information Act requests in July to look for evidence showing whether or not corporate interests and lobbying influenced the government’s decision to back Shell.
“If disclosed, this information will help reveal whether or not the business interests of Attorney General Eric Holder or Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan influenced the government’s position in Kiobel,” said Kaufman.
Puck Lo is a freelance writer, researcher and multimedia producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.pucklo.com
“U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.”
Yet we can get involved in regime change in foreign sovereign countries like Libya and Syria?
Multinational corporations make law and justice with the
power of money and provide a safe haven to social predators while promoting the
rape of the planet for profit. The world
has no or few laws and little to no enforcement of justice to limit or abolish
multi National corporate abuse but in fact what laws exist or are enforced
promote abuse and injustice in the name of profit to shareholders. However the shareholders are for the most
part other corporations not people but a few greedy power hungry social predators. It’s time the world limits the criminal abuse
of multinational corporations and the few who control them for gain and or
Obama has been shiting on the Mother Earth and marginal populations for years on behalf of his corporate Masters. Just another day of the typical sell out.
Thank you for this info…. I have been trying to stay in touch with this type of issue…when I first heard about the Nigerian situation, read about the Ken WiWa(sp)…. case…and how the Nigerian Delta is the most polluted place in the world…. I have handed out articles about this to other people…
iowapinko•an hour ago
Three and a half years of unambiguous actions and decisions seem to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that it is unnecessary for corporations to
waste their time and money to “influence” the Obama admin. The Obama team was not only bought, but created by corporate interests such as Shell in order to dominate US govt.
If only the problem were as simple as Eric Holder, et al having a personal conflict of interest.
Thank you Puck Lo. Obama is not much more than Republican lite and this story is a part of the avalanche of proof that he could care less about the people of this country and the world.
Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
Tags: assange asylum, bradley manning, civil liberties, Criminal Justice, daniel ellsberg, death penalty, ecuador asylum, eric holder, espionage act, julian assange, justice department, michael moore, naomi wolf, oliver stone, press freedom, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, torture, whistle blower, wikileaks
Roger’s note: It is hard to believe that Correa will not come under tremendous pressure from the US government not to grant asylum to Assange. As far as I can see the most leverage the US will have has to do with trade. At present the US grants Ecuador privileged status with regards to export tariffs. Should the US withdraw this privilege, it will have an impact of Ecuadorian exporters, how much I am not sure. On other hand, accepting Assange is likely to be popular in Ecuador and internationally and would enhance Correa’s international profile. And Correa can not be ignorant of the fact that Ecuador may very well be Assange’s last chance to avoid US “justice.” Even if Assange somehow makes it to Ecuador, given the obsession of Obama, Holder, Congressional leaders, and — last but not least — the CIA, I doubt if the hunt will be over. All Obama has to do is brand him as terrorist, and the US — which respects no national boundary or sovereignty — will have the “legal” pretext to nab or murder him.
opednews.com, June 24, 2012
By Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Naomi Wolf, et al, Just Foreign Policy
The following letter has been circulated mostly in the United States by Just Foreign Policy. It will be hand-delivered to the Embassy of Ecuador in London by Just Foreign Policy Policy Director Robert Naiman on Monday, June 25.
We will also hand-deliver the online petition circulated by Just Foreign Policy, which has now been signed by more than 4,000 people. That petition — which you can still sign — is here:
June 25, 2012
Dear President Correa,
We are writing to urge you to grant political asylum to Julian Assange.
As you know, British courts recently struck down Mr. Assange’s appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he is not wanted on criminal charges, but merely for questioning. Mr. Assange has repeatedly made clear he is willing to answer questions relating to accusations against him, but in the United Kingdom. But the Swedish government insists that he be brought to Sweden for questioning. This by itself, as Swedish legal expert and former Chief District Prosecutor for Stockholm Sven-Erik Alhem testified, is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate.”
We believe Mr. Assange has good reason to fear extradition to Sweden, as there is a strong likelihood that once in Sweden, he would be imprisoned, and then likely extradited to the United States.
As U.S. legal expert and commentator Glenn Greenwald recently noted, were Assange to be charged in Sweden, he would be imprisoned under “very oppressive conditions, where he could be held incommunicado,” rather than released on bail. Pre-trial hearings for such a case in Sweden are held in secret, and so the media and wider public, Greenwald notes, would not know how the judicial decisions against Mr. Assange would be made and what information would be considered.
The Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Justice Department and Pentagon conducted a criminal investigation into “whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violated criminal laws in the group’s release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act.” Many fear, based on documents released by Wikileaks, that the U.S. government has already prepared an indictment and is waiting for the opportunity t o extradite Assange from Sweden.
The U.S. Justice Department has compelled other members of Wikileaks to testify before a grand jury in order to determine what charges might be brought against Mr. Assange. The U.S. government has made clear its open hostility to Wikileaks, with high-level officials even referring to Mr. Assange as a “high-tech terrorist,” and seeking access to the Twitter account of Icelandic legislator Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir due to her past ties to Wikileaks.
Were he charged, and found guilty under the Espionage Act, Assange could face the death penalty.
Prior to that, the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of providing U.S. government documents to Wikileaks, provides an illustration of the treatment that Assange might expect while in custody. Manning has been subjected to repeated and prolonged solitary confinement, harassment by guards, and humiliating treatment such as being forced to strip naked and stand at attention outside his cell. These are additional reasons that your government should grant Mr. Assange political asylum.
We also call on you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum because the “crime” that he has committed is that of practicing journalism. He has revealed important crimes against humanity committed by the U.S. government, most notably in releasing video footage from an Apache helicopter of a 2007 incident in which the U.S. military appears to have deliberately killed civilians, including two Reuters employees. Wikileaks’ release of thousands of U.S. State Department cables revealed important cases of U.S. officials acting to undermine democracy and human rights around the world.
Because this is a clear case of an attack on press freedom and on the public’s right to know important truths about U.S. foreign policy, and because the threat to his health and well-being is serious, we urge you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Will Eric Holder Succeed in Executing Julian Assange for Telling the Truth?
The world’s number one fear regarding Sweden’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange is that Sweden is simply acting as an agent of the United States. In fact the paranoia regarding our government’s desire to silence Assange is so strong that one Australian journalist suggested that Assange might be assassinated by a high power rifle as he leaves the Ecuadoran embassy or die in a Swedish jail incident reminiscent of how Stephen Biko was killed in South Africa. The Administration better pray that Assange is alive in November as voters would likely hold any death of Assange against Barack Obama when the polls open.
The ludicrous extradition and Obama’s obsession with WikiLeaks and Assange play well into these fears. What country (other than Sweden in the Assange case) extradites someone over a broken condom? England, instead of exercising common sense, is willing to allow extradition, but England has a history of going to war and committing crimes against humanity on behalf of the United States. Neither England nor Sweden has a death penalty, but acting as agents of the United States, they could put an honest, innocent man to death simply by extraditing him to the United States.
As Assange is not an American and not physically in the United States, a round-about method is needed for the U.S. Government to apprehend him for extinction. Hence the entrance of Sweden and a claim by a female CIA agent that a condom broke while Assange was having sex with her. This little rouse is enough to launch a hero of the people into a nightmare that could lead to the American death chambers.
Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder can play all the games they want, but they’ve already gone public with enough information to verify all of Julian Assange’s claims that the Sweden nonsense is nothing more than a rouse for the real criminal prosecution awaiting Assange in the United States for going public with evidence of U.S. Government corruption in its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The FBI’s WikiLeaks probe commenced with the arrest of Private Manning in May 2010 after he had allegedly confessed to former computer hacker turned FBI informant Adrian Lamo that he had leaked classified documents.
On November 29, 2010, US Attorney-General Eric Holder told a Washington press conference that the Justice Department was pursuing “an active, ongoing criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks. This was the day after WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing more than 250,000 State Department cables, showing wrongdoing by the U.S. Government.
Holder was urged to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 in a December 2, 2010, letter from PATRIOT Act and Iraq War proponent Dianne Feinstein (Chairwoman, U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee) and Christopher Bond (Deputy Chairman of said committee). The Espionage Act of 1917 was used to round up thousands of American patriots for their opposition to World War I in a witch hunt that was worse than the one engaged in by Joe McCarthy. Now they expected Holder to use his authority as Attorney General to create a new witch hunt aimed at suppressing international opposition to the current undeclared wars in the Middle East.
It is known that a grand jury was convened in Alexandra Virginia on or before December 22, 2010 and continuing thereafter for the purpose of prosecuting Julian Assange. Therefore, any pretense that the United States is not targeting Assange for a possible life or death sentence is a flat out lie that is disrespectful to the citizens of the United States.
Guilt or innocence has little to do with whether a person is executed in the United States. It was universally known that Troy Davis was innocent when he was executed with the acquiescence of President Barack Obama. Across America and around the world, people offered up their own lives in exchange for saving an innocent Troy Davis. Following the example of Spartacus, people everywhere took up the slogan, “I am Troy Davis.” Showing that economics matters more than innocence, Obama intervened for economic reasons on behalf of a likely-guilty death row convict the day after Davis was killed.
Executing likely innocents has had a long tradition in the United States. Nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize and saving potentially thousands of lives in Los Angeles was not enough to prevent the execution of Stan “Tookie” Williams. Condemnation from the Queen of England and even Nikita Khrushchev was not enough to save Caryl Chessman. Millions of German death camp victims might have been saved if the United States Government had not stopped Chessman from succeeding in his attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler prior to Chessman’s own execution by the State of California for an act Chessman probably did not commit and that was no longer even chargeable as a crime, not long after the erroneous conviction.
From using its Wall Street connections in preventing donations to WikiLeaks to arresting and torturing American military hero Bradley Manning on suspicion Manning leaked photos Americans NEEDED TO SEE, Eric Holder and the U.S. Government have made it clear they have ZERO TOLERANCE FOR TRUTH.
So with truth and justice still hanging in the balance, Ecuador may be the last hope of those who do not want truth to die. People around the world are praying that President Correa will do the right thing and take a stand for truth and freedom. Interestingly, it has been pointed out that the CIA has operatives in Ecuador and it may not be the perfect place for a CIA target to hang out. Yet, it is the only country offering to stand up for freedom of the press in this instance.
Ecuador has long opposed the death penalty and could really show its opposition to the death penalty through granting Assange asylum or going further and making him a diplomat and providing him with full immunity. Either would allow Assange to continue his work in ferreting out truths that the U.S. Government would rather keep hidden. If Obama ever decides to Hussein or Gadhafi Correa, Correa’s best hope for survival would be an informed public. Without safety for the Julian Assanges of the world, the U.S. is free to plunder Ecuador or other vulnerable countries at will.
The Wall Street executives, who think they own America, and the tyrants, who enforce the will of these spoiled rich elitists, should learn from history. They should read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and ponder whether three hundred million Americans are ready to listen to the words of Thomas Jefferson about patriots and tyrants. People and children are dying of starvation in the streets of America. Hard workers have lost their homes to Wall Street greed. The innocent are being maced and clubbed at their schools and arrested for standing on public property. Cities are enacting ordinances to prevent good Samaritans from feeding the homeless (like similar “Don’t feed the animals” ordinances). Revolution is in the air and it would not surprise me if any action taken against Assange were the catalyst. If Obama has any actual ability to govern and has not completely lost touch with reality, he should end all attempts to persecute Julian Assange and welcome any assistance from Ecuador in protecting this human symbol of everything for which America once stood.
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The author is the chairman of a liberal Democratic club that is working to move the Democratic Party towards its true base, the people. She has organized major political events and helped elect some of the most liberal politicians in America. Her (more…
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda, bill van awken, bradley manning, CIA torture, eric holder, Guantanamo, john kirakou, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, military commission, Obama, roger hollander, state secrets, torture, torture memos, waterboarding, wikileaks
Bill van Auken, www.opednews.com, April 8, 2012
Thursday’s indictment of John Kiriakou for exposing CIA torture of detainees confirms yet again that the Obama administration is continuing and deepening the crimes carried out by the Bush White House. Kiriakou, a CIA agent for 14 years, is being prosecuted for speaking to two journalists about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah.
In December 2007, he appeared in an ABC News interview, becoming the first CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of so-called “enemy combatants” and to describe the practice as torture. It is now known that Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in the space of one month while being held in a series of CIA “black sites” from Thailand to Poland to Diego Garcia.
Zubaydah, severely wounded when he was captured by US and Pakistani intelligence agents, had already been suffering the effects of a shrapnel wound to the head he received during the CIA-backed war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Under US control, he was beaten, placed in extreme temperatures, and subjected to music played at debilitating volumes, sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation.
His interrogators also locked him for protracted periods in a small box, where he was forced to crouch in complete darkness, while the stressful position caused his wounds to open up and bleed.
At some point during this ordeal, the CIA removed Zubaydah’s left eye.
Zubaydah’s co-counsel, Joseph Margulies, in a 2009 column published by the Los Angeles Times provided a wrenching description of the effect of protracted torture, isolation and unlawful detention upon his client. He wrote: “Abu Zubaydah’s mental grasp is slipping away. Today, he suffers blinding headaches and has permanent brain damage. He has an excruciating sensitivity to sounds, hearing what others do not. The slightest noise drives him nearly insane. In the last two years alone, he has experienced about 200 seizures. Already, he cannot picture his mother’s face or recall his father’s name. Gradually, his past, like his future, eludes him.”
Zubaydah’s torture was overseen in detail by the top officials of the US government, from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on down.
Bush publicly described Zubaydah as Al Qaeda’s chief of operations, in charge of “plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.” He was charged not only with planning 9/11, but with involvement in virtually every other crime attributed to Al Qaeda.
In September of last year, in response to habeas corpus filings by Zubaydah’s attorneys demanding justification for his continued imprisonment at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government formally recanted these charges. It acknowledged that Zubaydah had no “direct role in or advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,” and had not been a “member” of Al Qaeda or even “formally” identified with the organization.
Yet, after a decade of imprisonment and torture, the government refuses to either try or release him. He is one of those designated by the Obama administration to be detained indefinitely without charges.
The reasons are clear. There appears to be no evidence against him, and his case raises a whole range of crimes by government officials, including torture and the CIA’s destruction of videotapes recording his interrogation sessions, carried out in defiance of court demands that they be produced.
Nor have any of those responsible for the torture of Zubaydah and countless others been brought to justice. This includes not just the CIA torturers, but Bush, Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and ex-Justice Department officials like Jay Bybee, and John Yoo, who drafted the memos arguing that torture was legal.
The Obama administration has protected all of these individuals, repeatedly intervening in court and invoking “state secrets” to quash cases brought by torture victims.
While refusing to either try or release the victim of torture, Zubaydah, or to prosecute those responsible for the crimes committed against him, the Obama administration is prosecuting Kiriakou for daring to publicly expose these crimes, threatening him with up to 45 years in prison.
It is not an accident that the indictment of Kiriakou comes just a day after the Pentagon’s formal presentation of capital charges against Khalid Sheik Mohammed — waterboarded 183 times — and four others alleged to be part of the 9/11 conspiracy. It is a means of intimidating the attorneys of the defendants. The government wants to preclude any disruption of its rigged military commission at Guantanamo with charges of torture.
More fundamentally, the prosecution of Kiriakou is part of a policy of state secrecy and repression that pervades the US government under Obama, who came into office promising “the most transparent administration in history.” This marks the sixth government whistleblower to be charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act, twice as many such prosecutions as have been brought by all preceding administrations combined. Prominent among them is Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have leaked documents exposing US war crimes to WikiLeaks. He has been held under conditions tantamount to torture and faces a possible death penalty.
In all of these cases, the World War I-era Espionage Act is being used to punish not spying on behalf of a foreign government, but exposing the US government’s own crimes to the American people. The utter lawlessness of US foreign policy goes hand-in-hand with the collapse of democracy at home.
These cases make clear that it is the American working people whom the government views as its most dangerous enemy. It is determined to keep them in the dark as it systematically erects the framework for a police-state dictatorship.
Over the last few months, Obama has signed into law legislation granting himself the power to condemn alleged enemies of the state to indefinite military detention without charges or trials, and his attorney general, Eric Holder, has publicly asserted the “right” of the president to order the assassination of American citizens alleged to be involved in “hostilities” towards the US government.
After more than three years in office, it is abundantly clear that the Obama administration has substantially escalated the crimes carried out by its predecessor, both in terms of militarism abroad and state repression at home. These crimes were not the outcome of some specific right-wing ideology of the Bush White House, but rather the response of the US ruling elite to the decline in the global position of American capitalism and the growth of social inequality at home, which has increasingly rendered democratic methods of rule untenable.
The repressive measures being implemented by the government are targeted first and foremost at an anticipated eruption of mass popular struggles against the policies of the ruling class and the conditions being created by the crisis of the capitalist system
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
Tags: aclu, cia drones, drone missile, eric holder, foia, glenn greenwald, national security, Obama, roger hollander, rule of law, state secret
REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — A U.S. drone missile strike killed four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, ending a six-week hiatus in such attacks, imposed by Washington following American airstrikes late last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and severely marred relations between the two nations.
After repeatedly boasting about it in public, Obama officials tell courts it cannot confirm the CIA drone program
The ACLU is suing the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking to force disclosure of the guidelines used by Obama officials to select which human beings (both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) will have their lives ended by the CIA’s drone attacks (“In particular,” the group explains, the FOIA request “seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killing”). The Obama administration has not only refused to provide any of that information, but worse, the CIA is insisting to federal courts that it cannot even confirm or deny the existence of a drone program at all without seriously damaging national security; from the CIA’s brief in response to the ACLU lawsuit:
. . .
What makes this so appalling is not merely that the Obama administration demands the right to kill whomever it wants without having to account to anyone for its actions, choices or even claimed legal authorities, though that’s obviously bad enough (as I wrote when the ACLU lawsuit was commenced: “from a certain perspective, there’s really only one point worth making about all of this: if you think about it, it is warped beyond belief that the ACLU has to sue the U.S. Government in order to force it to disclose its claimed legal and factual bases for assassinating U.S. citizens without charges, trial or due process of any kind”). What makes it so much worse is how blatantly, insultingly false is its claim that it cannot confirm or deny the CIA drone program without damaging national security.
Numerous Obama officials — including the President himself and the CIA Director — have repeatedly boasted in public about this very program. Obama recently hailed the CIA drone program by claiming that “we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied,” and added that it is “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.” Obama has told playful jokes about the same drone program. Former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also likes to tell cute little jokes about CIA Predator drones, and then proclaimed in December that the drone program has “been very effective at undermining al Qaeda and their ability to plan those kinds of attacks.” Just two weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech purporting to legally justify these same drone attacks.
So Obama officials are eager to publicly tout the supposed benefits of the CIA’s drone programs in order to generate political gain for the President: to make him look like some sort of Tough, Brave Warrior single-handedly vanquishing Al Qaeda. The President himself boasts about how tightly controlled, precise and effective the CIA drones are. Everyone in the world knows the CIA has a drone program. It is openly discussed everywhere, certainly including the multiple Muslim countries where the drones routinely create piles of corpses, and by top U.S. Government officials themselves.
But then when it comes time to test the accuracy of their public claims by requesting the most basic information about what is done and how execution targets are selected, and when it comes time to ask courts to adjudicate its legality, then suddenly National Security imperatives prevent the government even from confirming or denying the existence of the program: the very same program they’ve been publicly boasting and joking about. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer put it after Obama publicly defended the program: “At this point, the only consequence of pretending that it’s a secret program is that the courts don’t play a role in overseeing it” – that, and ensuring that any facts that contradict these public claims remain concealed.
This is why the U.S. Government’s fixation on secrecy — worse than ever under the Obama administration, as evidenced by its unprecedented war on whistleblowers — is so pernicious. It not only enables government officials to operate in the dark, which inevitably ensures vast (though undiscovered) abuses of power. Worse, it enables the government to aggressively propagandize the citizenry without challenge: Obama officials are free to make all sorts of claims about how great and targeted the drone program is and how it Keeps Us Safe™, while simultaneously suppressing any evidence or information that would test those claims and/or contradict them.
Worse still, it literally removes our highest political officials from the rule of law. The sole purpose of these vast claims of secrecy around the drone program — the absurd notion that they cannot even confirm or deny its existence without harming National Security — is to block courts from reviewing the legality of what they’re doing, which is another way of saying: they have removed themselves from the rule of law. Even Bush DOJ lawyer Jack Goldsmith, a vociferous advocate of executive power and secrecy powers, understands how abusive this is:
First, it is wrong . . . for the government to maintain technical covertness but then engage in continuous leaks, attributed to government officials, of many (self-serving) details about the covert operations and their legal justifications. It is wrong because it is illegal. It is wrong because it damages (though perhaps not destroys) the diplomatic and related goals of covertness. And it is wrong because the Executive branch seems to be trying to have its cake (not talking about the program openly in order to serve diplomatic interests and perhaps deflect scrutiny) and eat it too (leaking promiscuously to get credit for the operation and to portray it as lawful).
Indeed, one of the worst abuses of the lawless Bush presidency was that Bush officials repeatedly invoked secrecy powers (the State Secret privilege) to shield their most controversial and lawless programs from judicial review: warrantless eavesdropping, rendition, and torture. One of the earliest alarms about what the Obama presidency would be was when the Obama DOJ told courts early in 2009 that it would continue to assert those same radical secrecy claims: thus telling courts that the very programs which candidate Obama long denounced as illegal were now such vital State Secrets that courts must not risk their disclosure by adjudicating their legality. Beyond Obama’s decree that the DOJ must not investigate Bush-era crimes, that was the instrument used by Obama to shield Bush’s criminal policies from judicial challenge: through Kafkaesque claims of secrecy whereby programs that everyone in the world knows exist were Too Secret even to let courts examine. In sum, there is only one place in the entire world where these policies of warrantless eavesdropping, rendition, torture, and CIA drones cannot be discussed: in American courts, when it’s time to review their legality and/or allow its victims to vindicate their legal rights.
Now, in this ACLU/FOIA case, the Obama administration is taking these warped secrecy games one step further. They boast publicly about the programs to lavish themselves with praise, only to turn around once they’re sued in court and insist that the programs are too secret even to acknowledge. So extreme is the fixation on secrecy from the Most Transparent Administration Ever™ that they are routinely reduced to this type of self-parody; behold how they are insisting in response to a separate FOIA lawsuit from The New York Times that they cannot even confirm or deny the existence of the OLC memo which authorized the assassination of Anwar Awlaki — even though the NYT reported on its contents. More amazingly still, the Obama administration continues to insist that they cannot confirm or deny the memo’s existence even after Eric Holder talks about the memo in a Senate hearing.
This would be laughable if it were not so destructive. It results in the government’s most consequential actions being completely shielded not only from public scrutiny, but also from the rule of law. It enables the most powerful political officials to inculcate the public with claims about their actions while preventing any form of checks and suppressing any contrary information. It literally means that the Obama administration is able to conduct multiple secret wars around the world, ones conducted by drone attacks, the very existence of which they refuse to acknowledge. And it is yet another means of how the Obama presidency is cementing the worst abuses of the Bush presidency: the very same ones he so inspirationally vowed to reverse.
Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@salon.com) is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of two New York Times Bestselling books on the Bush administration’s executive power and foreign policy abuses. His just-released book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, is an indictment of America’s two-tiered system of justice, which vests political and financial elites with immunity even for egregious crimes while subjecting ordinary Americans to the world’s largest and most merciless penal state. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive detention of Bradley Manning.