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Email service used by Snowden shuts itself down, warns against using US-based companies August 9, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Democracy, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: Sorry to repeat this story so soon, but this article expands  on the issure in an important way.

 

Edward Snowden: ‘Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way’

 

 

A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden – Lavabit – announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users’ content. “After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations,” the company’s founder, Ladar Levinson, wrote in a statement to users posted on the front page of its website. He said the US directive forced on his company “a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” He chose the latter.

CNET’s Declan McCullagh smartly speculates that Lavabit was served “with [a] federal court order to intercept users’ (Snowden?) passwords” to allow ongoing monitoring of emails; specifically: “the order can also be to install FedGov-created malware.” After challenging the order in district court and losing – all in a secret court proceeding, naturally – Lavabit shut itself down to avoid compliance while it appeals to the Fourth Circuit.

This morning, Silent Circle, a US-based secure online communication service, followed suit by shutting its own encrypted email service. Although it said it had not yet been served with any court order, the company, in a statement by its founder, internet security guru Phil Zimmerman, said: “We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.”

What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this:

I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on – the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.”

Does that sound like a message coming from a citizen of a healthy and free country? Secret courts issuing secret rulings invariably in favor of the US government that those most affected are barred by law from discussing? Is there anyone incapable at this point of seeing what the United States has become? Here’s the very sound advice issued by Lavabit’s founder:

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

As security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in a great Bloomberg column last week, this is one of the key aspects of the NSA disclosures: the vast public-private surveillance partnership. That’s what makes Lavabit’s stance so heroic: as our reporting has demonstrated, most US-based tech and telecom companies (though not all) meekly submit to the US government’s dictates and cooperate extensively and enthusiastically with the NSA to ensure access to your communications.

Snowden, who told me today that he found Lavabit’s stand “inspiring”, added:

“Ladar Levison and his team suspended the operations of their 10 year old business rather than violate the Constitutional rights of their roughly 400,000 users. The President, Congress, and the Courts have forgotten that the costs of bad policy are always borne by ordinary citizens, and it is our job to remind them that there are limits to what we will pay.

“America cannot succeed as a country where individuals like Mr. Levison have to relocate their businesses abroad to be successful. Employees and leaders at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way small businesses are. The defense they have offered to this point is that they were compelled by laws they do not agree with, but one day of downtime for the coalition of their services could achieve what a hundred Lavabits could not.

“When Congress returns to session in September, let us take note of whether the internet industry’s statements and lobbyists – which were invisible in the lead-up to the Conyers-Amash vote – emerge on the side of the Free Internet or the NSA and its Intelligence Committees in Congress.”

The growing (and accurate) perception that most US-based companies are not to be trusted with the privacy of electronic communications poses a real threat to those companies’ financial interests. A report issued this week by the Technology and Innovation Foundation estimated that the US cloud computing industry, by itself, could lose between $21 billion to $35 billion due to reporting about the industry’s ties to the NSA. It also notes that other nations’ officials have been issuing the same kind of warnings to their citizens about US-based companies as the one issued by Lavabit yesterday:

And after the recent PRISM leaks, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich declared publicly, ‘whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don’t go through American servers.’ Similarly, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, a German Justice Minister, called for a boycott of US companies.”

The US-based internet industry knows that the recent transparency brought to the NSA is a threat to their business interests. This week, several leading Silicon Valley and telecom executives met with President Obama to discuss their “surveillance partnership”. But the meeting was – naturally – held in total secrecy. Why shouldn’t the agreements and collaborations between these companies and the NSA for access to customer communications not be open and public?

Obviously, the Obama administration, telecom giants, and the internet industry are not going to be moved by appeals to transparency, privacy and basic accountability. But perhaps they’ll consider the damage being done to the industry’s global reputation and business interests by constructing a ubiquitous spying system with the NSA and doing it all in secret.

It’s well past time to think about what all this reflects about the US. As the New York Times Editorial Page put it today, referencing a front-page report from Charlie Savage enabled by NSA documents we published: “Apparently no espionage tool that Congress gives the National Security Agency is big enough or intrusive enough to satisfy the agency’s inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans.” The NYT added:

Time and again, the NSA has pushed past the limits that lawmakers thought they had imposed to prevent it from invading basic privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

I know it’s much more fun and self-satisfying to talk about Vladimir Putin and depict him as this omnipotent cartoon villain. Talking about the flaws of others is always an effective tactic for avoiding our own, and as a bonus in this case, we get to and re-live Cold War glory by doing it. The best part of all is that we get to punish another country for the Supreme Sin: defying the dictates of the US leader.

[Note how a country’s human rights problems becomes of interest to the US political and media class only when that country defies the US: hence, all the now-forgotten focus on Ecuador’s press freedom record when it granted asylum to Julian Assange and considered doing so for Edward Snowden, while the truly repressive and deeply US-supported Saudi regime barely rates a mention. Americans love to feign sudden concern over a country’s human rights abuses as a tool for punishing that country for disobedience to imperial dictates and for being distracted from their own government’s abuses: Russia grants asylum to Snowden –> Russia is terrible to gays! But maybe it’s more constructive for US media figures and Americans generally to think about what’s happening to their own country and the abuses of the own government, the one for which they bear responsibility and over which they can exercise actual influence.]

Lavabit has taken an impressive and bold stand against the US government, sacrificing its self-interest for the privacy rights of its users. Those inclined to do so can return that support by helping it with lawyers’ fees to fight the US government’s orders, via this paypal link provided in the company’s statement.

One of the most remarkable, and I think enduring, aspects of the NSA stories is how much open defiance there has been of the US government. Numerous countries around the world have waved away threats, from Hong Kong and Russia to multiple Latin American nations. Populations around the world are expressing serious indignation at the NSA and at their own government to the extent they have collaborated. And now Lavabit has shut itself down rather than participate in what it calls “crimes against the American people”, and in doing so, has gone to the legal limits in order to tell us all what has happened. There will undoubtedly be more acts inspired by Snowden’s initial choice to unravel his own life to make the world aware of what the US government has been doing in the dark.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

The ‘War on Terror’ – by Design – Can Never End January 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War, War on Terror.
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Published on Friday, January 4, 2013 by The Guardian

 

As the Pentagon’s former top lawyer urges that the war be viewed as finite, the US moves in the opposite direction

by Glenn Greenwald

endless_war_on_terror

A U.S. Army soldier takes cover as a Black Hawk chopper takes off from a U.S. military base in Arghandab valley near Kandahar. (Photo: Reuters)

Last month, outgoing pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson gave a speech at the Oxford Union and said that the War on Terror must, at some point, come to an end:

“Now that efforts by the US military against al-Qaida are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves: How will this conflict end? . . . . ‘War’ must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs. We must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the ‘new normal.’ Peace must be regarded as the norm toward which the human race continually strives. . . .

“There will come a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaida and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, that al-Qaida will be effectively destroyed.”

On Thursday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow interviewed Johnson, and before doing so, she opined as follows:

“When does this thing we are in now end? And if it does not have an end — and I’m not speaking as a lawyer here, I am just speaking as a citizen who feels morally accountable for my country’s actions — if it does not have an end, then morally speaking it does not seem like it is a war. And then, our country is killing people and locking them up outside the traditional judicial system in a way I think we maybe cannot be forgiven for.”

It is precisely the intrinsic endlessness of this so-called “war” that is its most corrupting and menacing attribute, for the reasons Maddow explained. But despite the happy talk from Johnson, it is not ending soon. By its very terms, it cannot. And all one has to do is look at the words and actions of the Obama administration to know this.

There’s no question that this “war” will continue indefinitely. There is no question that US actions are the cause of that, the gasoline that fuels the fire.

In October, the Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported that the administration was instituting a “disposition matrix” to determine how terrorism suspects will be disposed of, all based on this fact: “among senior Obama administration officials, there is broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade.” As Miller puts it: “That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”

The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.

Does that sound to you like a government anticipating the end of the War on Terror any time soon? Or does it sound like one working feverishly to make their terrorism-justified powers of detention, surveillance, killing and secrecy permanent? About all of this, the ACLU’s Executive Director, Anthony Romero, provided the answer on Thursday: “President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended.”

There’s a good reason US officials are assuming the “War on Terror” will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs. The New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg this morning examines what the US government seems to regard as the strange phenomenon of Afghan soldiers attacking US troops with increasing frequency, and in doing so, discovers a shocking reality: people end up disliking those who occupy and bomb their country:

“Such insider attacks, by Afghan security forces on their Western allies, became ‘the signature violence of 2012′, in the words of one former American official. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable, and American officials have expressed worries about its disruptive effects on the training mission that is the core of the American withdrawal plan for 2014. . . .

“But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings.

“‘A great percentage of the insider attacks have the enemy narrative — the narrative that the infidels have to be driven out — somewhere inside of them, but they aren’t directed by the enemy,’ said a senior coalition officer, who asked not to be identified because of Afghan and American sensitivities about the attacks.”

In other words, more than a decade of occupying and brutalizing that country has turned large swaths of the population into the “Taliban”, to the extent that the “Taliban” means: Afghans willing to use violence to force the US and its allies out of their country. As always, the US – through the very policies of aggression and militarism justified in the name of terrorism – is creating the very “terrorists” those polices are supposedly designed to combat. It’s a pure and perfect system of self-perpetuation.

There is zero reason for US officials to want an end to the war on terror, and numerous and significant reasons why they would want it to continue.

Exactly the same thing is happening in Yemen, where nothing is more effective at driving Yemenis into the arms of al-Qaida than the rapidly escalated drone attacks under Obama. This morning, the Times reported that US air strikes in Yemen are carried out in close cooperation with the air force of Saudi Arabia, which will only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, virtually every person accused of plotting to target the US with terrorist attacks in last several years has expressly cited increasing US violence, aggression and militarism in the Muslim world as the cause.

There’s no question that this “war” will continue indefinitely. There is no question that US actions are the cause of that, the gasoline that fuels the fire. The only question – and it’s becoming less of a question for me all the time – is whether this endless war is the intended result of US actions or just an unwanted miscalculation.

It’s increasingly hard to make the case that it’s the latter. The US has long known, and its own studies have emphatically concluded, that “terrorism” is motivated not by a “hatred of our freedoms” but by US policy and aggression in the Muslim world. This causal connection is not news to the US government. Despite this – or, more accurately, because of it – they continue with these policies.

One of the most difficult endeavors is to divine the motives of other people (divining our own motives is difficult enough). That becomes even more difficult when attempting to discern the motives not of a single actor but a collection of individuals with different motives and interests (“the US government”).

But what one can say for certain is that there is zero reason for US officials to want an end to the war on terror, and numerous and significant reasons why they would want it to continue. It’s always been the case that the power of political officials is at its greatest, its most unrestrained, in a state of war. Cicero, two thousand years ago, warned that “In times of war, the law falls silent” (Inter arma enim silent leges). John Jay, in Federalist No. 4, warned that as a result of that truth, “nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it . . . for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans.”

Only outside compulsion, from citizens, can make an end to all of this possible.

If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It’s that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.

Just this week, a federal judge ruled that the Obama administration need not respond to the New York Times and the ACLU’s mere request to disclose the government’s legal rationale for why the President believes he can target US citizens for assassination without due process. Even while recognizing how perverse her own ruling was – “The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me” and it imposes “a veritable Catch-22″ – the federal judge nonetheless explained that federal courts have constructed such a protective shield around the US government in the name of terrorism that it amounts to an unfettered license to violate even the most basic rights: “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret” (emphasis added).

Why would anyone in the US government or its owners have any interest in putting an end to this sham bonanza of power and profit called “the war on terror”? Johnson is right that there must be an end to this war imminently, and Maddow is right that the failure to do so will render all the due-process-free and lawless killing and imprisoning and invading and bombing morally indefensible and historically unforgivable.

But the notion that the US government is even entertaining putting an end to any of this is a pipe dream, and the belief that they even want to is fantasy. They’re preparing for more endless war; their actions are fueling that war; and they continue to reap untold benefits from its continuation. Only outside compulsion, from citizens, can make an end to all of this possible.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Extremism normalized July 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Torture.
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of Barry Goldwater’s infamous statement in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Republican nomination: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”  Today’s neo-con Republicans have come a long way since then, in a neo-fascist direction that I suspect would trouble a libertarian like Goldwater, who was an Air Force General if I remember correctly.  I would argue in fact that Goldwater’s genuine spiritual heirs are not the nut case Republican leadership or Fox News racists, but rather the libertarian Republicans such as Ron Paul, who are the only vocal critics in Congress (apart from a handful of Democrats)  of the Bush/Clinton/Obama super imperialist and militarist foreign policy (while, unfortunately, remaining shills for American corporatism with respect to domestic policy).

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012 05:19 AM EST, www.salon.com

 

How Americans are efficiently trained to acquiesce to ideas once deemed so radical as to be unthinkable

By

 

Extremism normalizedSen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, shakes hands with Vice President Dick Cheney after McCain introduced Cheney during a campaign stop, Friday, July 16, 2004, at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich. (Credit: AP Photo/Al Goldis)

(updated below – Update II)

Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal. Here are several examples from the last couple of days illustrating that same dynamic; none seems overwhelmingly significant on its own, but that’s the point:

After Dick Cheney criticized John McCain this weekend for having chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate, this was McCain’s retort:

Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.

Isn’t it amazing that the first sentence there (“I respect the vice president”) can precede the next one (“He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not”) without any notice or controversy? I realize insincere expressions of respect are rote ritualism among American political elites, but still, McCain’s statement amounts to this pronouncement: Dick Cheney authorized torture — he is a torturer — and I respect him. How can that be an acceptable sentiment to express? Of course, it’s even more notable that political officials whom everyone knows authorized torture are walking around free, respected and prosperous, completely shielded from all criminal accountability. “Torture” has been permanently transformed from an unspeakable taboo into a garden-variety political controversy, where it shall long remain.

Equally remarkable is this Op-Ed from The Los Angeles Times over the weekend, condemning President Obama’s kill lists and secret assassinations:

Allowing the president of the United States to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence is impossible to reconcile with the Constitution’s guarantee that a life will not be taken without due process of law.

Under the law, the government must obtain a court order if it seeks to target a U.S. citizen for electronic surveillance, yet there is no comparable judicial review of a decision to kill a citizen. No court is even able to review the general policies for such assassinations. . . .

But if the United States is going to continue down the troubling road of state-sponsored assassination, Congress should, at the very least, require that a court play some role, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does with the electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists. Even minimal judicial oversight might make the president and his advisors think twice about whether an American citizen poses such an “imminent” danger that he must be executed without a trial.

Isn’t it amazing that a newspaper editorial even has to say: you know, the President isn’t really supposed to have the power to act as judge, jury and executioner and order American citizens assassinated with no transparency or due process? And isn’t it even more amazing that the current President has actually seized and exercised this power with very little controversy? Recall that when The New York Times first confirmed Obama’s targeting of citizens for assassinations in 2010, it noted, citing “officials,” that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” No longer. That presidential power — literally the most tyrannical power a political leader can seize — is also now a barely noticed fixture of our political culture.

Meanwhile, we have this, from the Associated Press yesterday:

Remember when John Poindexter’s “Total Information Awareness” program – which was “to use data mining technologies to sift through personal transactions in electronic data to find patterns and associations connected to terrorist threats and activities”: basically create real-time surveillance of everyone – was too extreme and menacing even for an America still at its peak of post-9/11 hysteria? Yet here we have the NYPD — more than a decade removed from 9/11 — announcing a very similar program in very similar terms, and it’s almost impossible to envision any real controversy.

Similarly, in the AP’s sentence above describing the supposed targets of this new NYPD surveillance program: what, exactly, is a “potential terrorist”? Isn’t that an incredibly Orwellian term given that, by definition, it can include anyone and everyone? In practice, it will almost certainly mean: all Muslims, plus anyone who engages in any activism that opposes prevailing power factions. That’s how the American Surveillance State is always used. Still, the undesirability of mass, “all-seeing,” indiscriminate surveillance regime was a given — a view, in sum, that the East German Stasi was a bad idea that we would not want to replicate on American soil — yet now, there is almost no limit on the level of state surveillance we tolerate.

In The New York Times yesterday, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote about the very moving and burdensome plight of America’s drone pilots who, sitting in front of a “computer console [] in the Syracuse suburbs,” extinguish people’s lives thousands of miles away by launching missiles at them. The bulk of the article is devoted to eliciting sympathy and admiration for these noble warriors, but when doing so, she unwittingly describes America’s future with domestic surveillance drones:

Among the toughest psychological tasks is the close surveillance for aerial sniper missions, reminiscent of the East German Stasi officer absorbed by the people he spies on in the movie “The Lives of Others.” A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.

“They watch this guy do bad things and then his regular old life things,” said Col. Hernando Ortega, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Air Education Training Command, who helped conduct a study last year on the stresses on drone pilots. . . . ”You see them wake up in the morning, do their work, go to sleep at night,” said Dave, an Air Force major who flew drones from 2007 to 2009 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and now trains drone pilots at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

That’s the level of detailed monitoring that drone surveillance enables. Numerous attributes of surveillance drones — their ability to hover in the same place for long periods of time, their ability to remain stealthy, their increasingly cheap cost and tiny size — enable surveillance of a breadth, duration and invasiveness unlike other types of surveillance instruments, such as police helicopters or satellites. Recall that one new type of drone already in use by the U.S. military in Afghanistan — the Gorgon Stare, named after the “mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them” — is “able to scan an area the size of a small town” and “the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity”; boasted one U.S. General: “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

There is zero question that this drone surveillance is coming to American soil. It already has spawned a vast industry that is quickly securing formal approval for the proliferation of these surveillance weapons. There’s some growing though still marginal opposition among both the independent left and the more libertarian-leaning precincts on the right, but at the moment, that trans-ideological coalition is easily outgunned by the combination of drone industry lobbyists and Surveillance State fanatics. The idea of flying robots hovering over American soil monitoring what citizens do en masse is yet another one of those ideas that, in the very recent past, seemed too radical and dystopian to entertain, yet is on the road to being quickly mainstreamed. When that happens, it is no longer deemed radical to advocate such things; radicalism is evinced by opposition to them.

* * * * *

Whatever one thinks of the RT network, Alyona Minkovski, a host of a show on that network, is an excellent journalist and interviewer. Last night was her last show — she’s leaving to work on a Huffington Post video show — and I was on last night, along with Jane Hamsher, discussing several domestic police state issues…

 

Over the weekend, in the column I wrote hailing the Internet’s capacity to detect falsehoods and myths better than traditional journalism, I made reference to the “mass panic” caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” Numerous people — in comments, via email and elsewhere — objected by arguing that no such panic was ever documented. Journalism Professor W. Joseph Campbell makes the case here that this is nothing more than urban myth. He suggests that the widespread propagation of this myth on the Internet undermines my argument because it shows how the Internet can spread rather than combat falsehoods (Dan Drezner makes a related argument here), but (at least with regard to Campbell’s argument) I’d say the opposite is true. Leaving aside that this “mass panic” myth was widely believed long before the Internet was widely used, I was quickly exposed to, and persuaded by, the likely mythical nature of my claim as a result of the interactive process of Internet journalism which I praised.

UPDATE: In Mother Jones, Adam Serwer argues that “Congress is finally standing up to President Barack Obama on targeted killing” — specifically that they “are pushing the administration to explain why it believes it’s legal to kill American terror suspects overseas.” Notably, this push is coming from Republican Senators, while leading Democrats such as  are attempting to impede these efforts to bring basic accountability and transparency to this most radical power. Note the debate here: not whether the President should have the power to order Americans executed without due process, but simply whether he should have to account to Congress for what he does and what the legal framework is that he believes authorizes this.

 

UPDATE II: Via BuzzFeed and Spencer Ackerman, here is the logo for the U.S. Navy’s executive offices for its drone planes:

 Why do they hate us?

When It Looks and Feels Like Totalitarianism… May 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights.
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Tue, 04/24/2012 – 21:22 — Jemima Pierre
 
www.blackagendareport.com

 

 

by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre

The Obama administration has spent the last three years building the infrastructure of a totalitarian police state, that “has surpassed the Bush administration’s attempts to expand executive power by crushing the civil liberties of US citizens.” At the center of the repressive edifice is preventive detention without trial, buttressed by various measures that, effectively, criminalize dissent. Clearly, and methodically, “the US government is preparing for domestic insurrection.”

 

When It Looks and Feels Like Totalitarianism…

by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre

The NDAA’S dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield.”

George W. Bush would blush. Joseph McCarthy would be proud. And COINTELPRO now seems like child’s play. In only three years,the Obama administration and its enablers have established, legitimized, and normalized a national security state apparatus that removes any doubt that domestic policing is a prelude to a totalitarian police state. This apparatus has surpassed the Bush administration’s attempts to expand executive power by crushing the civil liberties of US citizens. And it has done so boldly, with only a few prominent critics, and without so much as a whimper from so-called leftists.

What we urgently need is a compilation of the various acts, presidential signing statements, domestic surveillance programs, secret military and police operations, censorships, and other administrative measures that affect not only our civil liberties, but also our human rights and human dignity. For now, I will focus on two of the more recent congressionally approved draconian laws passed by the Obama administration.

On New Year’s Eve, 2011, away from the glitter and swoon of the media, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (or NDAA).The law states that based on suspicion alone, the military can indefinitely detain anyone who is considered a “terrorist” or deemed an accessory to terrorism. This includes US citizens. According to the ACLU, this law codifies “indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history.” “The NDAA’S dangerous detention provisions,” the ACLU continues, “would authorize the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield.”

The Obama administration and its enablers have established, legitimized, and normalized a national security state apparatus that removes any doubt that domestic policing is a prelude to a totalitarian police state.”

What is most dangerous about this law, according to its many critics, is its broad language about who can be considered a target. In his column describing why he is suing the Obama administration over NDAA, journalist Chris Hedges points particularly to Section 1031 defining a potential target as a person who is either a member of, or substantially supported, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” This also includes “any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” The law doesn’t define what “associated forces” are, or what “engaging in hostilities” against the US means. And because the definition of a “terrorist” shifts according to political necessity, all of us – all over the world – are potential targets and eventual victims. Historically, we have seen how the US government has labeled “domestic terrorist” any persons or groups, particularly those on the left, who have dared challenge inequality and state oppression (clear examples are the American Indian Movement and the Black Power Movement). Most recently, we have seen the brutal suppression of domestic dissent through the militarized dismantling of Occupy Wall Street encampments – which brings us to the next worrisome law, HR 347.

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 or the “Trespass Bill” (HR 347 and its companion Senate bill, S. 1794) was signed into law by Obama on March 9, 2012. This law, according to a Business Insiderarticle, “potentially makes peaceable protest anywhere in the U.S. a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.” What it says, specifically, is that anyone can be charged with a federal felony for “trespassing” on property or grounds that is under Secret Service protection, even if the supposed “trespasser” is not aware that the area is under such protection. One can also be charged if he or she “impede[s] or disrupt[s] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.” This law effectively criminalizes any form of protest. This means that any place or event can, at any time and under any circumstance, be designated a “trespass” area and, anyone protesting any event can potentially be arrested. Knowing also that under NDAA, once arrested, a person can be detained indefinitely and extradited if he or she is deemed a threat, should give us all pause.

Any place or event can, at any time and under any circumstance, be designated a “trespass” area and, anyone protesting any event can potentially be arrested.”

Along with these new laws, there is the recent Executive Order signed by Obama on March 16, 2012: National Defense Resource Preparedness (EO 8248). This order allows the executive branch – through various federal authorities such as the Secretaries of Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Defense, and Commerce – to take control of all food, all energy, all health resources and all transportation resources in the service of “national defense,” even in times of declared peace. It is true that this latest executive order is an update to the one signed by Bill Clinton in 1994. But in the context of the growing number of laws that expand executive and military power to stifle dissent along with the rapidly expanding national security enterprise, we should be wary.

Since the passing of the Patriot Act in 2001 and its reauthorization by Obama last year, we have seen assaults on our dignity, our human rights and ability to protest. These assaults now come from multiple fronts and contain diverse tactics. And they affect us all. We see examples in the local and federal militarized response to the Occupy Wall Street movements, the deployment of drones domestically by city governments, universities, private contractors, and local police (see domestic drone authorization map here), and we see how the Obama administration has waged an all out war against whistleblowers by using the archaic World War I era Espionage Act, prosecuting more people than all other presidents combined.More importantly, there is what the Washington Post last year called the “National Security Enterprise” that depends on “854,000 civil servants, military personnel and private contractors with top-security clearances,” and whose major work is domestic surveillance to curtail dissent. The unprecedented $1.5 billion, almost 1 million square feet National Security Agency data center (or “Spy Center”) that is being built in Utah, is to work both as a bottomless database for all information on all Americans, and as a remote interrogation center.

With all of this, it is clear that, even though it seems to only be concerned with international wars and other misadventures, the US government is preparing for domestic insurrection. And it has done so by unleashing the structures of totalitarianism, as it seeks to regulate our actions through mass surveillance, fear, and threats of repression. (For how else can we understand the recent purchase by the Department of Homeland Security of nearly 500 million rounds of ultra-deadlyhollow-point bullets and 40 caliber ammo, as well as a large number of semi-portable steel checkpoint guardhouses, complete with high-impact bulletproof glass windows and doors?)

And why not? The political order is being shaken, the Western financial infrastructure is collapsing, and empire is imploding. They know it and they are ready.

Jemima Pierre can be reached at BAR1804@gmail.com.

Only Ron Paul Warns Of Emerging Fascist State February 27, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, Right Wing, War.
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Roger’s note: Please don’t get me wrong, I am no fan or supporter of Ron Paul with his Social Darwinian Ayn Rand Libertarian philosophy that makes a fetish of the sacred concept of individual liberty (as if it were possible to separate the individual from the community).  Nevertheless, Paul’s positions on war and empire coincide with that of the left in general and the Occupy Movement in specific.  It is also easy to see why his persona, which reeks of sincerity and honest indignation, appeals to youthful idealism.  His association with the extreme right and some alleged policy statements that sound like white supremacism, are disturbing.  But his position of militarism and fascism, as outlined in the article below, begs the question of why he is a part of the Republican Party in the first place; and why, if he sees the connection between authoritarian government and mega corporations, his domestic policy coincides with the interests of those same corporations.

(about the author), Feb. 26, 2012, www.opednews.com

Republican Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate of either party to tell the truth that America is “slipping into a fascist system.”

That is unquestionably the critical issue of the hour for the United States of America and one that Paul’s Republican fellow candidates and their Democratic opponent President Obama choose to ignore.

Hand in hand with this existential crisis is that a nation that goes fascist at home invariably becomes a tyrant abroad. Thus, the Congressman from Galveston is right on the mark when he calls for the predatory U.S. to pull its troops out of the Middle East and Africa and close down its foreign bases. The U.S., indisputably, with its 1,000 military bases at home and a thousand more abroad, is now   the   most awesome military power ever.

“We’ve slipped away from a true Republic,” Paul told a cheering crowd of followers at a Feb. 18th rally in Kansas City, Mo.   “Now we’re slipping into a fascist system where it’s a combination of government and big business and authoritarian rule and the suppression of the individual rights of each and every American citizen.”

According to the   Associated Press   reporter who covered his speech, “Paul repeatedly denounced President Barack Obama’s recent enactment of a law requiring military custody of anyone suspected to be associated with al-Qaida and involved in planning an attack on the U.S.” (Note: Paul is a consistent defender of individual rights. He also opposed that previous horrific piece of totalitarian legislation mislabeled as the Patriot Act.)

Ralph Munyan, a Republican committeeman who attended the Paul rally, told   AP   he agreed with Paul’s warnings of a “fascist system” and Paul’s pledges to end the War on Drugs as well as U.S. involvement in wars overseas. By contrast, candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are all hawks spoiling for a fight with Iran and who leave peace-minded Republican voters no one to turn to save Paul.

An article on Paul published in the Feb. 27th issue of   “The New Yorker”   quotes him as saying, “We thought Obama might help us and get us out of some of these messes. But now we’re in more countries than ever—we can’t even keep track of how many places our troops are!”

In the evaluation of   “New Yorker”   reporter Kelefa Sanneh, “So far, the Paul campaign is neither a groundswell nor a failure. He is slowly collecting delegates…” which could impact the final selection of the nominee even if they do not have the strength to nominate Paul.

Overall, Paul’s message appears to be “doing better, state by state, than he did in 2008,” Sanneh writes, but “he has conspicuously failed to establish himself as this year’s Tea Party candidate.”

“People don’t think of Paul as a top-tier Republican candidate partly because they think of him as a libertarian: anti-tax and anti-bailout, but also antiwar, anti-empire, and, sometimes, anti-Republican,” Sanneh continues.

To date, Paul’s shining contribution to the 2012 campaign is educational—even if the major networks and cable powerhouse Fox News downplay his candidacy in their primary night election coverage. Some of what he says gets through to the public, particularly youthful voters. On the grave issues of totalitarianism at home and tyranny abroad, Paul is the last truth-teller. As such, Paul is a dove fighting for survival among a flock of hawks, and his chances are not bright.

(Sherwood Ross heads a public relations firm for political candidates who favor peace and prosperity.)

Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular “Workplace” column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more…)

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Police Crackdowns on OWS Coordinated among Mayors, FBI, DHS November 16, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
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Roger’s note: Crackdowns?  Police repression?  We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Published on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 by Juan Cole

  by  Juan Cole

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan let slip in an interview with the BBC that she had been on a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities about how to deal with the Occupy Wall Street movement. That is, municipal authorities appear to have been conspiring to deprive Americans of their first amendment rights to freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

 

Likewise, A Homeland Security official let it slip in a phone interview that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had been strategizing with cities on how to shut down OWS protests. The FBI is said to have advised using zoning ordinances and curfew regulations, and to stage the crackdown with massive police force at a time when the press was not around to cover the crackdown.

Wonkette suggests that the PATRIOT Act is implicated here, but I’m not sure how that works. Actually the techniques discussed are standard for US police forces in dealing with peaceful protests (the only routine technique missing is that of putting saboteurs among the protesters who cause destruction and create an image of them as violent.

What these two reports show is a high-level conspiracy to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to protest peacefully.

When will we see Occupy Wall Street protesters hooded, dressed in orange jump suits, and sent to Guantanamo for military trials? When you let the government act without regard for the rule of law toward foreigners suspected of terrorism, you open yourself to be treated the same way if the rich decide to sic their police on you (it is mostly their police). This is why a rule of law has to be maintained. Anything less ratchets toward tyranny.

© 2011 Juan Cole

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Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He is also the author of Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

When mistaken identity leads to torture September 11, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: There is nothing wrong with mourning the deaths of the nearly 3000 victims of 9/11.  It is only natural, and I can only imagine what it must be like to have lost a friend or relative in that holocaust.  But to mourn in an orgy of patriotic jingoism and at the same time ignore the hundreds of thousands of non-American lives destroyed by the murderous response to 9/11 by the Bush and Obama Administrations: well, that to me is beyond obscene.  What follows below are only two stories of the thousands of stories could be told of lives caught in the web of blood thirsty orgy of revenge and paranoia that has become official United States policy.

Saturday, Sep 10, 2011 15:01 ET

Khaled El-Masri was held for weeks by secret agents who missed a letter in his name

                                               By Khaled El-Masri

 

Julien Lallemand

Every day through Sept. 11, we’ll offer a new story from “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice,” about men and women caught in the war on terror’s crossfire.

On New Year’s Eve 2003, Khaled el-Masri, now 48, was seized at the border of Serbia and Macedonia by Macedonian police who mistakenly believed that he was traveling on a false German passport. (Reportedly, he was mistaken for a suspected terrorist with the name al-Masri.)

He was detained for over three weeks before being handed over to the CIA and rendered to Afghanistan. Shortly after Khaled’s release from Afghanistan, staff within both the CIA and the U.S. State Department reported the mistaken identity of their detainee to senior personnel, and German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents allegedly involved in Khaled’s abduction. However, cables disclosed by WikiLeaks reveal that United States officials heavily pressured Germany to abandon the case. A February 2007 cable quoted the deputy U.S. chief of mission in Berlin as advising a German diplomat to “weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the United States” if the agents were prosecuted. The German government withdrew the warrants five months later. The CIA analyst who advocated Khaled’s abduction and argued against his release was reportedly later promoted to chief of the Global Jihad unit hunting al-Qaida members.

Currently incarcerated in Germany (on unrelated charges), Khaled has stopped speaking about his experiences. His narrative is drawn from sworn and published statements made in the past. The excerpt below describes Khaled’s arrest by Macedonian police and his subsequent detention in Skopje, Macedonia. Khaled was held in a hotel room in Skopje for 23 days before being transported by the CIA to Afghanistan.

I asked them if I was under arrest and they said that I wasn’t, asking me if I saw any handcuffs on my wrists. They carried out another search of all my belongings. After this, three of them began interrogating me again. These interrogations were conducted in English, despite the fact that I have only a very basic grasp of the language. The three men asked many questions all at once, speaking at me and firing questions from all sides of the room. The interrogation lasted until at least 3 a.m. the next morning.

The men conducted similar such interrogations for the next three days. They observed my every move at all times. Even when I went to the toilet they asked me to leave the door open, although it was located in the same room where I was staying. When I was exhausted and tired of answering their questions, and after having been locked in this hotel room all this time, I demanded a translator. Then I asked to call the German embassy, a lawyer and my family. All my requests were refused.

At one point I became so angry that I demanded to be released and attempted to leave the room by force. During this particular incident, we all raised our voices, each of us speaking in our own language. Communication was clearly impossible. One of the men pulled out his firearm and held it level with my head. The other two placed their hands on their holsters in a threatening manner.

*   *   *

The watch was divided between nine men; they changed shifts every six hours. On the fifth day, a man with a bag appeared. He had sheets of paper and fingerprint ink. He also had a camera and took a few photographs of me: right profile, left profile and then frontal.

After about seven days, another official turned up. He appeared to be of a much higher rank than any of my guards. He brought an assistant with him. He was very respectful. He asked me about my condition and how the food was. He told me that I could order food from any restaurant if I didn’t like the food that was being served. He also asked if the guards had treated me well. I thanked him and said that so far I was fine. He then told me that he wanted to and could end my current situation, and that he had a deal to offer me.

I asked him what kind of a deal. He replied that if I admitted that I belonged to the al-Qaida organization they would send me back to Germany with a police escort. I refused and he subsequently left.

Two or three days later, his assistant showed up again and presented me with a list of allegations. He told me that he was certain that these allegations were true. He added that, based on these allegations, the case against me was no longer within their control, and that it had been referred to the Macedonian president. He said that the president had made a decision regarding my continued detention.

I was surprised by this turn of events and asked again to meet with the German ambassador or any other German authority. He told me that the German government did not want anything to do with me, and that I was wanted by them as well. One of the specific allegations against me was that my passport did not belong to me, and that I was wanted by both the Egyptian and German governments because I had been seen in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. After presenting me with these allegations, he left.

*   *   *

On the 13th day after my seizure, I began a hunger strike to protest my situation. A week later, I was told they would soon send me to the airport to fly me back to Germany. I did not eat again for the remaining 10 days of detention in Macedonia.

At around 8 p.m. on the 23rd day of my captivity, January 23, 2004, a video recording was taken of me. I was instructed to state my full name, that I had been treated well, and that I would shortly be flown back to Germany. I was then accompanied out of the hotel. Once outside, two men approached me. They grabbed hold of my arms and a third man then handcuffed and blindfolded me.

Before being blindfolded, I saw a white minivan, and in front of it, a black jeep. I also saw many people in plainclothes waiting around. I was placed in the jeep and it drove off.

The most degrading and shameful act

After about half an hour, the vehicle came to a halt. I was taken out of the vehicle and made to sit down on a chair, where I sat for about another one and a half hours. At this point, I heard the voice of the assistant who had come to see me with the high-ranking official. I was told that I would soon be taken into a room for a medical examination before being returned to Germany.

As I was led into this room, I felt two people violently grab my arms, one from the right side and the other from the left. They bent both my arms backward. This violent motion caused me a lot of pain. I was beaten severely from all sides. I then felt someone else grab my head with both hands so I was unable to move. Others sliced my clothes off. I was left in my underwear. Even this they attempted to take off. I tried to resist at first, shouting out loudly for them to stop, but my efforts were in vain. The pain from the beatings was severe. I was terrified and utterly humiliated. My assailants continued to beat me, and finally they stripped me completely naked and threw me to the ground. My assailants pulled my arms back and I felt a boot in the small of my back.

I then felt a stick or some other hard object being forced in my anus. I realized I was being sodomized. Of all the acts these men perpetrated against me, this was the most degrading and shameful.

I was then pulled to my feet and pushed into the corner of a room. My feet were tied together, and then, for the first time since the hotel, they took off my blindfold. As soon as it was removed, a very bright flashlight went off and I was temporarily blinded. I believe from the sounds that they had taken photographs of me throughout.

When I regained my vision, I saw seven to eight men standing around me, all dressed in black, with hoods and black gloves.

I was dressed in a diaper, over which they fitted a dark-blue sports suit with short sleeves and legs. I was once again blindfolded, my ears were plugged with cotton, and headphones were placed over my ears. A bag was placed over my head and a belt around my waist. My hands were chained to the belt. They put something hard over my nose. Because of the bag, breathing was getting harder and harder for me. I struggled for breath and began to panic. I pictured myself like the images I had seen in the media of the Muslims that were brought to Guantánamo.

They bent me over, forcing my head down, and then hurried with me to a waiting car and then on to a waiting aircraft. They walked so fast that the pain in my joints was getting worse, as the iron of my shackles chafed against my ankles. When I tried to slow down, they almost dislocated my shoulder. In the airplane, I was thrown down onto the floor and my arms and legs were spread-eagled and secured to the sides of the plane.

During the flight, I received two injections, one in the left arm and one in the right arm, at different times. They put something over my nose. I think it was some kind of anesthesia. It felt like the trip took about four hours, but I don’t really remember. However, it appeared to be a much longer trip than one to Germany.

I was mostly unconscious for the duration. I think the plane touched down once and took off again. When the plane landed for the final time I was fully conscious, although still a little light-headed. I was taken outside the aircraft. I could feel dry, warm air and knew immediately that the place where the plane had landed couldn’t possibly be Europe.

That day, Khaled was not flown back to Germany, as he’d been told, but to Kabul, Afghanistan.

A small, filthy concrete cell

After being removed from the aircraft, I was thrown down into what felt like the trunk of a vehicle. The vehicle drove for about 10 minutes. I was then dragged out of the trunk and down a flight of stairs. My arms were raised high behind my back. I was marched so quickly that at times my feet hardly touched the ground. They pushed and shoved me against the walls of the building. Finally I was thrown to the ground. They beat me and kicked my head. Someone stepped on my head and neck with his feet, then removed my chains and my blindfold. I heard them leave and the door being pulled hard and locked behind them.

After adjusting my eyes to the light, I could see that I was lying in a small, filthy concrete cell. The walls were covered in crude Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi writing. In place of a bed there was one dirty, military-style blanket and some old, torn clothes bundled into a thin pillow. It was cold and dark. Through a small opening near the roof of the cell, I could see the red, setting sun. It was only then that I realized that I had been traveling for some 24 hours.

From “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice,” edited by Alia Malek and published by Voice of Witness. This oral history collection tells the stories of men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the war on terror. Narrators recount personal experiences of the post-9/11 backlash that have deeply altered their lives and communities. For more information on the book and to learn more about Voice of Witness visit www.voiceofwitness.org

“Isn’t that a terrorist?”

No, it’s a young girl. And with her father jailed on questionable terror-related charges, she’s growing up alone

By Sara Jayyousi

Kifah Jayyousi

Every day through Sept. 11, we’ll offer a new story from “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice,” about men and women caught in the war on terror’s crossfire.

Sara Jayyousi, now 15, was just 9 years old when her father, Kifah, was arrested in March 2005 and charged with providing material support to terrorists and with conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim in a foreign country. The charges against him were the result of charitable contributions he made to an organization in Bosnia in the 1990s. Prior to his arrest, Kifah had been chief facilities director for the Washington, D.C., public school system, and then an adjunct professor at Wayne State University. He had also served in the U.S. Navy. When he was convicted in 2007, the judge noted for the record that there was no evidence linking Sara’s dad to specific acts of violence anywhere. The judge also said that he was “the kind of neighbor that people would want in a community.” In June 2008, Kifah was transferred to the federal Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Ind.

On August 17, 2007, my dad and mom were going to court on the last day of the trial. That was the day the verdict was to be delivered. “High School Musical” was playing on the Disney Channel, and my sisters and I had never seen it before, so we were super-excited to watch it. We made popcorn and got situated around the TV. As my father and mother were getting ready to leave, my dad told us to come hug him before he left. He was holding his brown leather briefcase. He has had it as long as I can remember. He took it with him every day of the trial.

So I walked up and gave him a hug really fast and pulled away. I wanted to hurry back to the TV because “High School Musical” was starting in a couple of minutes! I didn’t know that was the last hug I was going to give him for a very long time.

My parents told us they would both be back in three hours. They had that much hope that my dad would be found innocent.

Four hours passed with me and my sisters watching “High School Musical,” playing on the computer and messing around. Then we all started to get worried, and we didn’t want to be alone. So we called my mom’s friend, and she picked us up and took us to her house, where we swam in her pool. We just left a message on my mom’s cell phone telling her where we were going. We swam for two hours with my mom’s friend’s kids.

I was carefree and super-happy; it would be the last time I felt that way.

Suddenly, my mother appeared on the patio outside, next to the pool. Her face was red and puffy. I was freaking out because my dad wasn’t beside her, and she was holding his briefcase in her hands.

She sat us all down when we got out of the pool. She said our dad had been found guilty.

I burst out crying. She said he wasn’t going to come back. And I knew, from her holding his briefcase, that he really wasn’t coming back.

Before she told us all this, it had felt so hot. But then suddenly I got cold. I was shivering, a lot. I was in my wet bathing suit; it felt like snow.

Then I felt this pumping in my head. Everything was weird, it was all going wrong. I felt like my family had been put on pause, like everything else was moving, except us. I’d never felt that kind of pain in my life before.

I remember going back in the pool because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. I remember my big sister came after me, hugging me. I cried a lot that day, more than I have ever done.

When we got home, my dad’s clothes were still were where he had left them in his room. That made it even harder for me.

That night, I remember me and my little sister piled in with my mom, and we slept next to her. I’ve never seen my mom so sad before.

We still have my dad’s briefcase. It has his smell in it. A cologne that smells really sweet and manly at the same time.

Handprints on the glass

Sara’s father was sentenced to 12 years and eight months. He began serving his sentence in Florida. On June 18, 2008, he was transferred to the CMU in Terre Haute, Ind., and was then moved to the CMU in Marion, Ill.

After he was put in the CMU in Terre Haute, telephone calls were every Wednesday and Sunday for 15 minutes. The thing about telephone calls is that we share them with my grandparents, so we get every other Wednesday but every Sunday. When he was in Terre Haute, we would visit him whenever we had a break at school, so every few months, but we’ve only been to Marion once because it’s a lot farther to get to. We always have non-contact visits, with a heavy glass in between us.

I have not touched my father since December 2007. If I had known, I could have made that hug longer.

Now, when we travel to Terre Haute, I stay in the car most of the time because my mom and I get stared at a lot for wearing hijabs. Like when we enter Olive Garden, everyone turns around. I can just hear them talking and whispering. I imagine them saying, “Isn’t that a terrorist?” or “Oooo, look, it’s an Arab.”

I don’t know what they say exactly. I’m glad I don’t.

I just don’t feel safe. I hate stares. I hate angry people.

*   *   *

The CMU visits are horrible. The visitation room there is so, so small, and it’s hot and uncomfortable. It’s surrounded by Plexiglas, and we’re separated from my father by a Plexiglas wall in the middle of the room. We are all locked in. I wanna break that Plexiglas wall.

We have to use a black telephone to talk to my father through the glass. Running through the glass are all these wires. The wires reflect on the glass, so it’s checkered and I don’t get a clear view. I can’t even see my father’s full face.

I want to see his face clearly. I want to notice the littlest things, down to every little dimple or freckle, so I can keep it in my head and remember them until the next visit. In Florida, I got to hug and kiss my dad. I got to smell him and see him as he is, without a checkered pattern from a glass on his skin.

One time we asked if we could hug him on a holiday, and the guards said no, because they didn’t have enough security. It’s not like he’s gonna kill us or hurt us. I mean, we are his daughters. It hurts so much knowing that he’s right there but you can’t touch him at all, like he’s an animal, like he’s gonna hurt you.

When it’s over, you hear the guard’s keys rattling on the door. That sound hurts so bad. All you see at the end of our visits are the handprints on the glass.

From “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice,” edited by Alia Malek and published by Voice of Witness. This oral history collection tells the stories of men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the war on terror. Narrators recount personal experiences of the post-9/11 backlash that have deeply altered their lives and communities. For more information on the book and to learn more about Voice of Witness visit www.voiceofwitness.org.

 

The great generational threat July 10, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: no one is better at unmasking the motives behind the Bush Obama agenda than Glenn Greenwald.  But one has to ask the question: what is served by the “National Security and Surveillance State” that the United States has become?  In broad terms the answer is simple: the Empire.  The enormous apparatus of the National Security and Surveillance State is necessary to maintain and protect the US corporate interests around the globe.  This includes the FBI and the Patriot Act at home, the CIA and its vast network of torture and drone missile targeted assassination abroad, and of course the array of US military scattered amongst the nooks and crannies of the  four corners of the world.  It is a dying empire that is doomed to collapse under its own weight, but oh the suffering and destruction that it will engender as it dies its slow and agonizing death.  

Saturday, Jul  9, 2011 12:10 ET

In just the past two months alone (all subsequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden), the U.S. Government has taken the following steps in the name of battling the Terrorist menace: extended the Patriot Act by four years without a single reform; begun a new CIA drone attack campaign in Yemen; launched drone attacks in Somalia; slaughtered more civilians in Pakistan; attempted to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki far from any battlefield and without a whiff of due process; invoked secrecy doctrines to conceal legal memos setting forth its views of its own domestic warrantless surveillance powers; announced a “withdrawal”plan for Afghanistan that entails double the number of troops in that country as were there when Obama was inaugurated; and invoked a very expansive view of its detention powers under the 2001 AUMF by detaining an alleged member of al-Shabab on a floating prison, without charges, Miranda warnings, or access to a lawyer.  That’s all independent of a whole slew of drastically expanded surveillance powers seized over the past two years in the name of the same threat.

Behold the mammoth, life-altering, nation-threatening danger justifying this endless — and ongoing — erosion of safeguards, checks and liberties, from The Los Angeles Times (h/t Antony Loewenstein):

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared Saturday that the United States is “within reach” of “strategically defeating” Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat, but that doing so would require killing or capturing the group’s 10 to 20 remaining leaders.

Heading to Afghanistan for the first time since taking office earlier this month, Panetta said that intelligence uncovered in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May showed that 10 years of U.S. operations against Al Qaeda had left it with fewer than two dozen key operatives, most of whom are in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa.

 

In one sense, it’s commendable that Panetta is acknowledging this, though he’s doing so to protect the President from political attacks in the wake of his announced withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Afghanistan.  But in another, more important sense, Panetta knows that this disclosure won’t even slightly impede the always-expanding National Security State and the War on Terror which justifies it — just like the acknowledgment long ago that there were fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan had no effect on our decade-long war there.  That’s because — as the above-described events of the last eight weeks demonstrate — civil liberties assaults and expansions of executive power are not what the U.S. Government does in response to some actual problem; it’s what the public-private consortium composing the U.S. Government is.  Terrorist villains are the pretext for, not the cause of, those policies, and they will continue irrespective of the scope or magnitude of Terrorism.

Indeed, even as he described the puny, broken, absurd state of Al Qaeda — one that has, at most, produced a grand total of one attack on U.S. soil in the last decade and a handful of amateurish, low-level attempts thwarted by regular police powers, and kills fewer Americans each year than intestinal ailments — Panetta claimed “that it would take “more work'”; that “now is the moment following the death of Bin Laden to put maximum pressure“; that “it was from Yemen — not Pakistan — that the U.S. faces the most potent threat of future terrorist attacks, from an Al Qaeda offshoot known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, where “the group has gained strength in recent months as unrest has swept through Sana, the capital, and large swaths of its rugged hinterlands, where militants are growing in strength“; and that we have to kill all the remaining operatives.  In other words, he offered multiple reasons why the War on Terror and the civil liberties abuses justified in its name must not only continue but be escalated.

Of course, just in case those propagandistic claims aren’t sufficient — we must wage war in multiple countries and seize ever-expanding surveillance powers to stop this group of two dozen Terrorist masterminds — the U.S. is doing everything possible to ensure that Terrorism remains as large as a threat as possible:

A NATO air strike has killed at least 14 civilians, including eight children, in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, local police say. . . .The deadly air raid came a day after two children were reportedly killed in a separate air strike in southwest Ghazni province.

The killing of civilians by foreign troops is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has soured the feelings of many ordinary Afghans towards foreign forces. . . . As violence has spread across the country, casualties have risen, and the United Nations said May was the deadliest month for civilians since they began keeping records four years earlier.

 

I long believed that the most patently irrational American policy — the one that would cause future generations to look back in baffled disgust — was the Drug War: imprisoning huge numbers of citizens for years and years for nothing more than possessing or selling banned substances to consenting adults.  But now I think it’s this: that the U.S. Government is able to persuade the populace to continue to support and pay for blood-spilling and liberty-destroying policies in the name of Terrorism when nothing sustains and exacerbates the threat of Terrorism more than those very policies.  Just like the FBI continues to manufacture its own Terrorist plots that it then flamboyantly boasts of thwarting, the U.S. continues to generate the threat that justifies its National Security and Surveillance State.

* * * * *

In the last week alone, U.S.-allied governments have done the following to their own citizens: killed “dozens of civilians” in Yemen; beaten anti-government protesters in Baghdad while the Iraqi Prime Minister threatened “bloodshed” and “blood to the knees” if protests continued; attacked protesters in Cairo with arms; and beat opposition protesters in prison and branded them “traitors” in Bahrain.  As we recently learned, the U.S. cannot and will not “stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.” What, then, can and should the U.S. do in the face of this oppression?  Don’t we have more of a responsibility to act when such brutality is carried out by regimes that we arm, support and prop up than by ones we don’t?

The always-expanding bipartisan Surveillance State May 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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Friday, May 20, 2011 08:21 ET

When I wrote earlier this week about Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the passage I hailed as “the single paragraph that best conveys the prime, enduring impact of the Obama presidency” included this observation from Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin:  “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state.”  There are three events — all incredibly from the last 24 hours — which not only prove how true that is, but vividly highlight how it functions and why it is so odious.

First, consider what Democrats and Republicans just jointly did with regard to the Patriot Act, the very naming of which once sent progressives into spasms of vocal protest and which long served as the symbolic shorthand for Bush/Cheney post-9/11 radicalism:

Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, the controversial law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that governs the search for terrorists on American soil.

The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner calls for a vote before May 27, when parts of the current act expire. The idea is to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government. . . .

From its inception, the law’s increased surveillance powers have been criticized by liberals and conservatives alike as infringements on free speech rights and protections against unwarranted searches and seizures.

Some Patriot Act opponents suggest that Osama bin Laden’s demise earlier this month should prompt Congress to reconsider the law, written when the terrorist leader was at the peak of his power. But the act’s supporters warn that al-Qaida splinter groups, scattered from Pakistan to the United States and beyond, may try to retaliate.

Now more than ever, we need access to the crucial authorities in the Patriot Act,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This will be the second time that the Democratic Congress — with the support of President Obama (who once pretended to favor reforms) — has extended the Patriot Act without any changes.  And note the rationale for why it was done in secret bipartisan meetings:  to ensure “as little debate as possible” and “to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t want to have any messy, unpleasant democratic debates over “the expanded power the law gives to the government.”  Here we find yet again the central myth of our political culture:  that there is too little bipartisanship when the truth is there is little in Washington but that. And here we also find — yet again — that the killing of Osama bin Laden is being exploited to justify a continuation, rather than a reduction, in the powers of the National Security and Surveillance States.

Next we have a new proposal from the Obama White House to drastically expand the scope of “National Security Letters” — the once-controversial and long-abused creation of the Patriot Act that allows the FBI to obtain private records about American citizens without the need for a subpoena or any court approval — so that it now includes records of your Internet activities:

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. . .

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.” . . .

To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is “incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting,” said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.

The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. “You’re bringing a big category of data — records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information — outside of judicial review,” said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.

So first they conspire with the GOP to extend the Patriot Act without any reforms, then seek to expand its most controversial and invasive provisions to obtain the Internet activities of American citizens without having to bother with a subpoena or judicial approval — “they” being the Democratic White House.

Most critically, the government’s increased ability to learn more and more about the private activities of its citizens is accompanied — as always — by an ever-increasing wall of secrecy it erects around its own actions.  Thus, on the very same day that we have an extension of the Patriot Act and a proposal to increase the government’s Internet snooping powers, we have this:

The Justice Department should publicly release its legal opinion that allows the FBI to obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process, a watchdog group asserts.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel violated federal open-records laws by refusing to release the memo.

The suit was prompted in part by McClatchy’s reporting that highlighted the existence of the memo and the department’s refusal to release it. Earlier this year, McClatchy also requested a copy and was turned down.

The decision not to release the memo is noteworthy because the Obama administration — in particular the Office of Legal Counsel — has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration was. By turning down the foundation’s request for a copy, the department is ensuring that its legal arguments in support of the FBI’s controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept secret.

What’s extraordinary about the Obama DOJ’s refusal to release this document is that it does not reveal the eavesdropping activities of the Government but only its legal rationale for why it is ostensibly permitted to engage in those activities.  The Bush DOJ’s refusal to release its legal memos authorizing its surveillance and torture policies was unquestionably one of the acts that provoked the greatest outrage among Democratic lawyers and transparency advocates (see, for instance, Dawn Johnsen’s scathing condemnation of the Bush administration for its refusal to release OLC legal reasoning: “reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”

The way a republic is supposed to function is that there is transparency for those who wield public power and privacy for private citizens.  The National Security State has reversed that dynamic completely, so that the Government (comprised of the consortium of public agencies and their private-sector “partners”) knows virtually everything about what citizens do, but citizens know virtually nothing about what they do (which is why WikiLeaks specifically and whistleblowers generally, as one of the very few remaining instruments for subverting that wall of secrecy, are so threatening to them).  Fortified by always-growing secrecy weapons, everything they do is secret — including even the “laws” they secretly invent to authorize their actions  — while everything you do is open to inspection, surveillance and monitoring.

This dynamic threatens to entrench irreversible, absolute power for reasons that aren’t difficult to understand.  Knowledge is power, as the cliché teaches.  When powerful factions can gather unlimited information about citizens, they can threaten, punish, and ultimately deter any meaningful form of dissent:  J. Edgar Hoover infamously sought to drive Martin Luther King, Jr. to suicide by threatening to reveal King’s alleged adultery discovered by illicit surveillance; as I described earlier today in my post on New York’s new Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer was destroyed in the middle of challenging Wall Street as the result of a massive federal surveillance scheme that uncovered his prostitution activities.  It is the rare person indeed with nothing to hide, and allowing the National Security State faction unfettered, unregulated intrusive power into the private affairs of citizens — as we have been inexorably doing — is to vest them with truly awesome, unlimited power.

Conversely, allowing government officials to shield their own conduct from transparency and (with the radical Bush/Obama version of the “State Secrets privilege”) even judicial review ensures that National Security State officials (public and private) can do whatever they want without any detection and (therefore) without limit or accountability.  That is what the Surveillance State, at its core, is designed to achieve: the destruction of privacy for individual citizens and an impenetrable wall of secrecy for those with unlimited surveillance power.  And as these three events just from the last 24 hours demonstrate, this system — with fully bipartisan support — is expanding more rapidly than ever.

FBI Raids Homes of Antiwar and Pro-Palestinian Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis September 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Peace.
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DEMOCRACY NOW!  September 27, 2009

Jess Sundin, longtime antiwar activist in Minneapolis. Her home was raided by the FBI early Friday morning. She’s a member of the Anti-War Committee, whose offices were also raided.

Joe Iosbaker, employee of the University of Illinois in Chicago and a steward for SEIU Local 73. He helped coordinate buses from Chicago to the protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008. His home was one of two raided in Chicago Friday.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower based in Minnesota. She was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2002.

AMY GOODMAN: Antiwar activists are gearing up for protests outside FBI offices in cities across the country today and tomorrow after the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis Friday.

The FBI’s search warrants indicate agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. Most of the people whose homes were searched or who were issued subpoenas had helped organize or attended protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, two years ago.

The federal law cited in the search warrants prohibits, quote, “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups that said some of its provisions put them at risk of being prosecuted for talking to terrorist organizations about nonviolent activities. Some of groups listed by name in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters.

Friday’s raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006.

For more, I’m joined now by three guests.

Joining us from Minneapolis, longtime antiwar activist Jess Sundin, whose home was raided by the FBI early Friday morning. She’s a member of the Anti-War Committee, whose offices were also raided.

Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Chicago is Joe Iosbaker, whose home was one of two raided in Chicago Friday. He’s an employee of the University of Illinois in Chicago and a steward for SEIU Local 73. He helped coordinate buses from Chicago to the protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008.

Also in Minneapolis we’re joined by former FBI special agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley. Time named her Woman of the Year, Person of the Year in 2002.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Minneapolis with Jess Sundin. Tell us what happened.

JESS SUNDIN: Friday morning, I awoke to a bang at the door, and by the time I was downstairs, there were six or seven federal agents already in my home, where my partner and my six-year-old daughter had already been awake. We were given the search warrant, and they went through the entire house. They spent probably about four hours going through all of our personal belongings, every book, paper, our clothes, and filled several boxes and crates with our computers, our phones, my passport. And when they were done, as I said, they had many crates full of my personal belongings, with which they left my house.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you the only one there that morning?

JESS SUNDIN: No, my partner and my first-grade daughter were also there.

AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly did they show you to get in?

JESS SUNDIN: Well, we have a porch where you can’t see exactly who’s outside. And so, they had already let themselves into the porch by the time my daughter—my wife opened the door. And when they came in, they showed us this four-page document that listed, as I said, all the kinds of things that they were entitled to look—to search for in my home, as well as a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. My name was listed on the search warrant, but both myself and my partner received subpoenas for the grand jury in Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Chicago, to Joe Iosbaker. Describe what happened to you on Friday morning.

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, it’s the exact same story. It was a nationally coordinated assault on all of these homes. Seven a.m., the pound on the door. I was getting ready for work, came down the stairs, and there were, I think, in the area of ten agents, you know, of the—they identified themselves as FBI, showed me the search warrant. And I turned to my wife and said, “Stephanie, it’s the thought police.”

AMY GOODMAN: And they came in?

JOE IOSBAKER: They came in, and they proceeded to set up their operation in our living room, and they proceeded to photograph every room in our house. And over the next, I don’t know, thirty or forty-five minutes, they proceeded to label every room and then systematically go through every room, our basement, our attic, our children’s rooms, and pored through not just all of our papers, but our music collection, our children’s artwork, my son’s poetry journals from high school—everything.

AMY GOODMAN: And were they explaining to you what they were doing as they were raiding your house?

JOE IOSBAKER: There was—there were—some of the officers, you know, were telling us what they were doing. Most of them were not. But they gave us some explanation.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly did they say to you?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, they—all they said in terms of the content of what they were looking for is that they—you know, they showed us the search warrant, and I was—my wife and I were both subpoenaed, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: What organizations are you involved with, Joe? What do you think they’re looking for?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, as you said at the start, I’m a trade unionist primarily. That’s how most people know me. I’m also the staff adviser at UIC for the Students for a Democratic Society chapter.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s University of Illinois, Chicago.

JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. And, you know, I’ve been a political activist for thirty-three years, so I’ve been a member of a lot of organizations and campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, you’re a former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Can you explain what you think is happening here? And also, put it in the context of this very interesting Justice Department IG—Inspector General—report that has just come out on their surveillance of whistleblowers—rather, the surveillance of activists over the last almost decade.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t really detail all of the legal factors that have changed since 9/11, but there simply has been a sea change. For instance, when I taught constitutional rights in the FBI, one of the main top priorities was First Amendment rights. And while this is not the first time that you’ve seen this Orwellian turn of the war on terror onto domestic peace groups and social justice groups—actually, we had that begin very quickly after 9/11, and there were legal opinions, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, that said the First Amendment no longer controls the war on terror—but even so, this is shocking and alarming that at this point we have the, you know, humanitarian advocacy now being treated as somehow material support to terrorists.

We’ve also just seen, ironically, four days before this national raid, we saw the Department of Justice Inspector General issue a report that soundly criticized the FBI for four years of targeting domestic groups such as Greenpeace, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, different antiwar rallies, even involving a finding that the FBI director had given them a falsehood to Congress as to the justification for the FBI to monitor a peace group.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happened in Iowa, Coleen Rowley?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another instance. And that one is actually after the scope of the IG investigation. The IG investigation only went to 2006. There have been requests for that IG to go further. Obviously there’s been four more years. And in 2008, we found out through a Freedom of Information request that there’s 300 pages of—I think it was four or five, six agents trailing a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars, restaurants. They even went through their trash. So, this is another reason why peace groups, and certainly law professors, have to be very concerned now about this misinterpretation that says advocacy for human-rights—I just have to mention, we have a famous Minnesotan who wrote Three Cups of Tea. And he obviously sets up schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His name is Greg Mortenson. Obviously, people like him and Jimmy Carter are even at peril, given this wide discretion now to say that anyone who works in a foreign country, even for peace or humanitarian, anti-torture purposes, could somehow run afoul of the PATRIOT Act.

AMY GOODMAN: The Church Committee in the 1970s really blew the lid open on CIA spying at home, and also guidelines then, regulations, were passed afterwards. How do they apply today, when Americans are being surveilled, infiltrated, spied on at home?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another one of the factors, besides this Supreme Court ruling. Right after 9/11, the Attorney General began to erode those guidelines. He basically said that FBI agents could go into mosques and places like that to monitor, so that was the beginning. The very—almost the last official act that Bush did in 2008 was that he totally erased those prior AG guidelines. There is really no need to even show factual justification now. The presumption is entirely reversed. And basically the FBI need only say that they were not targeting—that they were not targeting a group solely based on their exercise of First Amendment rights. So the presumption really did, again, a complete flip-flop.

And, of course, that’s why you see these various scandals now coming out. It should be no surprise to someone that if there’s no restraints, the green light is on, that you see, of course—I actually kind of sympathize with the FBI. I used to train these agents, and I can understand the enormous pressure they’re under. And, of course, this is why it’s so incredibly important to get the word to the officials who are in charge of using their discretion that they should use their discretion to look for real terrorists instead of to go after peace groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Jess Sundin, what are your plans now? I mean, over the weekend I saw online the video of your mass emergency meeting—many people came out for this, rallying around—and also talked about the RNC 8, the eight people who were preemptively arrested in the lead-up to the Republican convention, all charged on terror counts. All of those terror counts have been dropped now. But it certainly was a very frightening time. What are your plans now?

JESS SUNDIN: Well, as you mentioned, in the Twin Cities we had a meeting the night that the raids happened. There were more than 200 people who gathered, and really every organization in the Twin Cities. But I’d say countless organizations across the country have contacted us to ask us how they can help. There will be, today and tomorrow, as you mentioned earlier, demonstrations in at least twenty cities around the country. We’ve had word of plans for demonstrations at embassies in other countries, as well, at US embassies.

So, one of the things we’re doing is trying to call attention to what’s happened and really make it clear to people that we have done nothing wrong. There is no basis to the claim that we’ve in any way given support to terrorist organizations. But in fact, we are being—we are being—there is attention on us because of our work in the antiwar movement, and in particular, our perspective of solidarity with people in the countries where the US war and militarism are happening.

We, following up on these demonstrations, are going to be pulling together a network of people from many of these organizations that have expressed their concern. Folks who want to get tied into that can find us through the Anti-War Committee website, which is very outdated. We’re doing our best to get it up. Of course, as we explained, all of our computers were seized. So we’re doing a lot of catch up, trying to get ourselves organized.

And, of course, we’re also very concerned with making legal plans to protect ourselves. A number of people have been called before a grand jury in Chicago. And we, you know, don’t want to be—you know, a case to be framed up around us. All of us are quite confident that nothing that was found in our homes will give substantiation to the claims against us. And there’s, in fact, no charges against us. But we want to do everything we can to both protect ourselves legally while at the same time working with the movement to call attention to what’s happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Iosbaker, I wanted to ask you about the other house that was raided. Just looking at an AP piece, FBI agents in Chicago took a laptop and documents from the home of Palestinian American antiwar activist Hatem Abudayyeh, who is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network. His attorney, Jim Fennerty, said, The government’s trying to quiet activists. The case is really is scary,” he said. Abudayyeh is an American citizen. Can you talk about your work on Israel-Palestine, who Hatem Abudayyeh is?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, I actually have to talk about my wife’s work. My wife is a longtime solidarity activist in the Palestine solidarity movement. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Stephanie Weiner.

JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. She was also subpoenaed. And really everyone in the antiwar movement in Chicago knows Hatem. You know, if you look back online at video of the protests here of thousands of people marching when Israel assaulted Gaza two years ago, Hatem was the emcee at almost every major rally. And the Arab American Action Network was the first center of the Arab community in the city, founded back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So Hatem is the most prominent Palestinian activist in the city of Chicago. It’s no surprise that they targeted him.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re organizing, Joe Iosbaker, around Colombia. In a minute we’ll be joined by Ingrid Betancourt, who was, well, as you know, held captive—

JOE IOSBAKER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —for more than six years. But what about your work around Colombia, since it seems that Israel-Palestine and Colombia were major focuses of this FBI raid?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, I actually think that I should defer that question to Jess, who has much more experience in Colombia solidarity work.

AMY GOODMAN: Jess Sundin in Minneapolis.

JESS SUNDIN: Yeah, the antiwar movement has long been concerned with places that the US funds wars abroad, and there’s a major civil war unfolding in Colombia, and it’s the third-largest recipient of US military aid, so Colombia is very much an issue for the antiwar movement. I have traveled to Colombia and understand that it’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. And, in fact, anyone involved in the social movement there is viewed by the government, as well as the paramilitary death squads, as a rebel and treated as such. And so, I know that the investigation is very interested in travel—I have traveled to Colombia—and [it] tried to establish some sort of organizational ties, which there aren’t. But that said, I do support the Colombian struggle and have been very involved in that.

AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, how do civil rights compare, what you’re seeing today under the Obama administration, to President Bush, someone you certainly blew the whistle on?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t talk for another couple hours here, because that’s how long it would take me. I actually urged the FBI from early on—I even wrote a chapter, “Civil Liberties and Effective Investigation.” And unfortunately, these warnings have just been largely—of myself and many others—have been largely ignored. Even the 9/11 Commission focused—three of their recommendations, out of forty-one, were on creating a privacy and civil liberties oversight board. And Bush pulled the rug from under that board early on. And Obama, two years later, has never appointed any people, any of the five seats to that board, which is just incredible in light of what’s gone on, even including the revelations of torture and warrantless monitoring.

What people need to do is to basically ask for more than just an IG investigation. They need to ask for Congress to actually take on something like a new Church Committee. And that’s actually been asked for. Barbara Lee, I think, actually had a proposal a year ago for something like that. So we should all contact our elected representatives and ask for Congress to take on greater oversight of this—what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to follow this case as it unfolds. I want to thank you, Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Jess Sundin and Joe Iosbaker, thanks so much for being with us. I know this is a very difficult time for you. Both of their homes were raided, computers, notes, other things taken. That happened on Friday morning. And, of course, we’ll continue to follow both these cases.

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