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The Revolutionaries in Our Midst November 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: as with many of the articles I read on the Internet, readers’ comments are often a valuable source of opinion and ideas.  For the comments on this article, you can go to the source at:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/11/11-0.

 

 

NEW YORK—Jeremy Hammond sat in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center last week in a small room reserved for visits from attorneys. He was wearing an oversized prison jumpsuit. The brown hair of the lanky 6-footer fell over his ears, and he had a wispy beard. He spoke with the intensity and clarity one would expect from one of the nation’s most important political prisoners.

Jeremy Hammond is shown in this March 5, 2012 booking photo from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in Chicago. (Photo: AP Photo/Cook County Sheriff’s Department))

On Friday the 28-year-old activist will appear for sentencing in the Southern District Court of New York in Manhattan. After having made a plea agreement, he faces the possibility of a 10-year sentence for hacking into the Texas-based private security firm Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, which does work for the Homeland Security Department, the Marine Corps, the Defense Intelligence Agency and numerous corporations including Dow Chemical and Raytheon.

Four others involved in the hacking have been convicted in Britain, and they were sentenced to less time combined—the longest sentence was 32 months—than the potential 120-month sentence that lies before Hammond.

Hammond turned the pilfered information over to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications. The 3 million email exchanges, once made public, exposed the private security firm’s infiltration, monitoring and surveillance of protesters and dissidents, especially in the Occupy movement, on behalf of corporations and the national security state. And, perhaps most important, the information provided chilling evidence that anti-terrorism laws are being routinely used by the federal government to criminalize nonviolent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations. Hammond sought no financial gain. He got none.

The email exchanges Hammond made public were entered as evidence in my lawsuit against President Barack Obama over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Section 1021 permits the military to seize citizens who are deemed by the state to be terrorists, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities. Alexa O’Brien, a content strategist and journalist who co-founded US Day of Rage, an organization created to reform the election process, was one of my co-plaintiffs. Stratfor officials attempted, we know because of the Hammond leaks, to falsely link her and her organization to Islamic radicals and websites as well as to jihadist ideology, putting her at risk of detention under the new law. Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled, in part because of the leak, that we plaintiffs had a credible fear, and she nullified the law, a decision that an appellate court overturned when the Obama administration appealed it.

Freedom of the press and legal protection for those who expose government abuses and lies have been obliterated by the corporate state. The resulting self-exile of investigative journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras, along with the indictment of Barret Brown, illustrate this. All acts of resistance—including nonviolent protest—have been conflated by the corporate state with terrorism. The mainstream, commercial press has been emasculated through the Obama administration’s repeated use of the Espionage Act to charge and sentence traditional whistle-blowers. Governmental officials with a conscience are too frightened to reach out to mainstream reporters, knowing that the authorities’ wholesale capturing and storing of electronic forms of communication make them easily identifiable. Elected officials and the courts no longer impose restraint or practice oversight. The last line of defense lies with those such as Hammond, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who are capable of burrowing into the records of the security and surveillance state and have the courage to pass them on to the public. But the price of resistance is high.

“In these times of secrecy and abuse of power there is only one solution—transparency,” wrote Sarah Harrison, the British journalist who accompanied Snowden to Russia and who also has gone into exile, in Berlin. “If our governments are so compromised that they will not tell us the truth, then we must step forward to grasp it. Provided with the unequivocal proof of primary source documents people can fight back. If our governments will not give this information to us, then we must take it for ourselves.”

“When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged,” she went on. “When they are gagged, we must be their voice. When they are hunted, we must be their shield. When they are locked away, we must free them. Giving us the truth is not a crime. This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it. Courage is contagious.”

Hammond knows this contagion. He was living at home in Chicago in 2010 under a 7-a.m.-to-7-p.m. curfew for a variety of acts of civil disobedience when Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was arrested for giving WikiLeaks secret information about military war crimes and government lies. Hammond at the time was running social aid programs to feed the hungry and send books to prisoners. He had, like Manning, displayed a remarkable aptitude for science, math and computer languages at a young age. He hacked into the computers at a local Apple store at 16. He hacked into the computer science department’s website at the University of Illinois-Chicago as a freshman, a prank that saw the university refuse to allow him to return for his sophomore year. He was an early backer of “cyber-liberation” and in 2004 started an “electronic-disobedience journal” he named Hack This Zine. He called on hackers in a speech at the 2004 DefCon convention in Las Vegas to use their skills to disrupt that year’s Republican National Convention. He was, by the time of his 2012 arrest, one of the shadowy stars of the hacktivist underground, dominated by groups such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks in which anonymity, stringent security and frequent changes of aliases alone ensured success and survival. Manning’s courage prompted Hammond to his own act of cyber civil disobedience, although he knew his chances of being caught were high.

“I saw what Chelsea Manning did,” Hammond said when we spoke last Wednesday, seated at a metal table. “Through her hacking she became a contender, a world changer. She took tremendous risks to show the ugly truth about war. I asked myself, if she could make that risk shouldn’t I make that risk? Wasn’t it wrong to sit comfortably by, working on the websites of Food Not Bombs, while I had the skills to do something similar? I too could make a difference. It was her courage that prompted me to act.”

Hammond—who has black-inked tattoos on each forearm, one the open-source movement’s symbol known as the “glider” and the other the shi hexagram from the I Ching—is steeped in radical thought. As a teenager, he swiftly migrated politically from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to the militancy of the Black Bloc anarchists. He was an avid reader in high school of material put out by CrimethInc, an anarchist collective that publishes anarchist literature and manifestos. He has molded himself after old radicals such as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman and black revolutionaries such as George Jackson, Elaine Brown and Assata Shakur, as well as members of the Weather Underground. He said that while he was in Chicago he made numerous trips to Waldheim Cemetery to visit the Haymarket Martyrs Monument, which honors four anarchists who were hanged in 1887 and others who took part in the labor wars. On the 16-foot-high granite monument are the final words of one of the condemned men, August Spies. It reads: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voice you are throttling today.” Emma Goldman is buried nearby.

Hammond became well known to the government for a variety of acts of civil disobedience over the last decade. These ranged from painting anti-war graffiti on Chicago walls to protesting at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York to hacking into the right-wing website Protest Warrior, for which he was sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institute at Greenville, Ill.

Hammond spent months within the Occupy movement in Chicago. He embraced its “leaderless, non-hierarchical structures such as general assemblies and consensus, and occupying public spaces.” But he was highly critical of what he said were the “vague politics” in Occupy that allowed it to include followers of the libertarian Ron Paul, some in the tea party, as well as “reformist liberals and Democrats.” Hammond said he was not interested in any movement that “only wanted a ‘nicer’ form of capitalism and favored legal reforms, not revolution.” He remains rooted in the ethos of the Black Bloc.

“Being incarcerated has really opened my eyes to the reality of the criminal justice system,” he said, “that it is not a criminal justice system about public safety or rehabilitation, but reaping profits through mass incarceration. There are two kinds of justice—one for the rich and the powerful who get away with the big crimes, then for everyone else, especially people of color and the impoverished. There is no such thing as a fair trial. In over 80 percent of the cases people are pressured to plea out instead of exercising their right to trial, under the threat of lengthier sentences. I believe no satisfactory reforms are possible. We need to close all prisons and release everybody unconditionally.”

He said he hoped his act of resistance would encourage others, just as Manning’s courage had inspired him. He said activists should “know and accept the worst possible repercussion” before carrying out an action and should be “aware of mass counterintelligence/surveillance operations targeting our movements.” An informant posing as a comrade, Hector Xavier Monsegur, known online as “Sabu,” turned Hammond and his co-defendants in to the FBI. Monsegur stored data retrieved by Hammond on an external server in New York. This tenuous New York connection allowed the government to try Hammond in New York for hacking from his home in Chicago into a private security firm based in Texas. New York is the center of the government’s probes into cyber-warfare; it is where federal authorities apparently wanted Hammond to be investigated and charged.

Hammond said he will continue to resist from within prison. A series of minor infractions, as well as testing positive with other prisoners on his tier for marijuana that had been smuggled into the facility, has resulted in his losing social visits for the next two years and spending “time in the box [solitary confinement].” He is allowed to see journalists, but my request to interview him took two months to be approved. He said prison involves “a lot of boredom.” He plays chess, teaches guitar and helps other prisoners study for their GED. When I saw him, he was working on the statement, a personal manifesto, that he will read in court this week.

He insisted he did not see himself as different from prisoners, especially poor prisoners of color, who are in for common crimes, especially drug-related crimes. He said most inmates are political prisoners, caged unjustly by a system of totalitarian capitalism that has snuffed out basic opportunities for democratic dissent and economic survival.

“The majority of people in prison did what they had to do to survive,” he said. “Most were poor. They got caught up in the war on drugs, which is how you make money if you are poor. The real reason they get locked in prison for so long is so corporations can continue to make big profits. It is not about justice. I do not draw distinctions between us.”

“Jail is essentially enduring harassment and dehumanizing conditions with frequent lockdowns and shakedowns,” he said. “You have to constantly fight for respect from the guards, sometimes getting yourself thrown in the box. However, I will not change the way I live because I am locked up. I will continue to be defiant, agitating and organizing whenever possible.”

He said resistance must be a way of life. He intends to return to community organizing when he is released, although he said he will work to stay out of prison. “The truth,” he said, “will always come out.” He cautioned activists to be hyper-vigilant and aware that “one mistake can be permanent.” But he added, “Don’t let paranoia or fear deter you from activism. Do the down thing!”

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

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High v. low-level leaking July 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
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Friday, Jul 20, 2012 07:18 AM EST, www.salon.com

 

Today brings more high-level classified disclosures from an administration fixated on punishing whistleblowers

By

 

High v. low-level leakingArmy Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011, after a military hearing that will determine if he should face court-martial for his alleged role in the WikiLeaks classified leaks case went on recess for the day. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)(Credit: AP)

The Obama administration’s war on whistlebowers continues unabated this week on two fronts. First, several hearings were held in the court-martial prosecution of Bradley Manning, during which military prosecutors argued that evidence that Manning’s alleged leaks did no harm to national security, as well as evidence of his inhumane pre-trial detention conditions, should both be completely suppressed (in contrast to most American media outlets, which have ignored the proceedings entirely, Firedoglake’s superb young writer, Kevin Gosztola, is providing typically comprehensive coverage). Meanwhile, in a federal court in Virginia this morning, former CIA official John Kiriakou is seeking dismissal of most of the criminal charges brought against him by the DOJ for allegedly leaking details of the Bush era torture program; Kiriakou is claiming he is the victim of vindictive prosecution (as former NSA official Thomas Drake, who himself was prosecuted (unsuccessfully) by the Obama DOJ for whistleblowing, put it this morning: “Commit torture: receive exec branch/DoJ protection. Whistleblow on torture w/lawful disclosures: become criminal defendant like John Kiriakou” [Twitter typos corrected]).

But the worst part of this whistleblower war, beyond the obvious threats it poses to transparency and a free press, is how purely selective it is. Just as Lynndie England went to prison for her detainee abuse while Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and John Yoo went on lucrative book tours for theirs, it is only low- to mid-level leakers who are punished by the Obama DOJ, and then only for the crime of embarrassing the U.S. Government rather than glorifying it. High-level Obama administration leakers disclose classified information at will, without the slightest fear of punishment. One can pick up a newspaper or listen to a television news broadcast almost every day and find examples of leaks from Obama’s high-level officials far more serious than those allegedly committed by the Bradley Mannings and Thomas Drakes of the world. From today’s New York Times article on Syria:

In Washington, a senior American official who is tracking Syria closely said Thursday that American intelligence reports had concluded that Syrian forces were moving some parts of their chemical weapons arsenal to safeguard it from falling into rebel hands, not to use it. “They’re moving it to defend it in some of the most contested areas,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified intelligence reports.

Quoting classified American intelligence reports on Syria to The New York Times is a more serious leak than any of those serving as the basis for the multiple espionage prosecutions brought by the Obama DOJ. The difference is that this is a “senior official” rather than a low-level one, and it’s not done with the intent to expose high-level corruption, deceit or illegality. Therefore, like all the other high-level crimes shielded from accountability by the Obama administration, it will be protected. Therein lies the clear lesson about the real purpose of the Obama war on whistleblowers.

* * * * *

New York Times columnist David Brooks carefully cultivates a centrist demeanor on domestic political questions, but on foreign policy, the former Weekly Standard writer and full-fledged Iraq War advocate is as neoconservative as it gets. Today, following in the footsteps of the progressive Center for American Progress, Brooks devotes his column to hailing the grand success of President Obama’s foreign policy. Entitled “Where Obama Shines,” the column argues: “it should be noted that Barack Obama has been a good foreign policy president.” Deeming this record “impressive,” he gushes: “Obama has moved more aggressively both to defeat enemies and to champion democracy. He has demonstrated that talk of American decline is hooey. The U.S. is still responsible for maintaining global order, for keeping people, goods and ideas moving freely.” Brooks concludes:

And, partly as a result of his efforts, the world of foreign affairs is relatively uncontentious right now. Foreign policy is not a hot campaign issue. Mitt Romney is having a great deal of trouble identifying profound disagreements. If that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what is.

Again we see a prime legacy of the Obama presidency: the transformation of what had been contentious disputes into harmonious bipartisan consensus. And we also see again that one of the biggest myths of American political discourse is that bipartisanship is so terribly and tragically rare.

Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@salon.com) is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of three New York Times Bestselling books: two on the Bush administration’s executive power and foreign policy abuses, and his latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, an indictment of America’s two-tiered system of justice. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive detention of Bradley Manning.



Assange asks Ecuador for asylum June 19, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Ecuador, Human Rights.
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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012 02:40 PM EST

 

The WikiLeaks founder is motivated by one thing: a desire to avoid extradition to the U.S. Can anyone blame him?

By

(updated below)

Julian Assange was scheduled within days to turn himself over to British authorities for extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case in which he has never been charged. Instead, Assange earlier today went to the Embassy of Ecuador in London and sought asylum from that country under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, issued a statement indicating that his government is “evaluating the request” and that Assange will remain under protection at the Embassy pending a decision.

Ecuador may seem like a random choice but it’s actually quite rational. In 2010, a top official from that country offered Assange residency (though the Ecuadorian President backtracked after controversy ensued). Earlier this month, Assange interviewed that nation’s left-wing President, Rafael Correa, for his television program on RT. Among other things, Correa praised the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables as being beneficial for Ecuador (“We have nothing to hide. If anything, the WikiLeaks [releases] have made us stronger”). President Correa also was quite critical of the U.S., explaining the reason he closed the American base in his country this way: “Would you accept a foreign military base in your country? It’s so simple, as I said that at the time, there is no problem in having a U.S. military base in Ecuador but ok, perfect – we can give permission for the intelligence base only if they allow us to install an Ecuadorian base in the United States, a military base. That’s it, no more problem.”

Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden for a year-and-a-half now, during which time he has been under house arrest. He has never been charged with any crime in Sweden, but a prosecutor from that country is seeking his extradition to question him. After the British High Court ruled against him by a 5-2 vote earlier this month, and then refused to re-hear the case last week, his appeals in Britain contesting the extradition are exhausted.

Assange’s resolve to avoid extradition to Sweden has nothing to do with a reluctance to face possible sex assault charges there. His concern all along has been that once he’s in Swedish custody, he will far more easily be extradited to the U.S.

In general, small countries are more easily coerced and bullied by the U.S., and Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of aceeding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security. In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt. A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures — allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.

Can anyone claim that Assange’s fear of ending up in American custody is anything other than supremely reasonable and rational? Just look at what has happened to people — especially foreign nationals — over the last decade who have been accused of harming the national security of the United States.

They’re imprisoned — still — without a whiff of due process, and President Obama just last year signed a new indefinite detention bill into law. Moreover, Assange need merely look at what the U.S. has done to Bradley Manning, accused of leaking documents and other materials to WikiLeaks: the Army Private was held for almost a year in solitary confinement conditions which a formal U.N. investigation found were “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and he now faces life in prison, charged with a capital offense of aiding Al Qaeda.

Beyond that, the Obama administration has been uniquely obsessed with punishing whistleblowers and stopping leaks. Worse still, the American federal judiciary has been staggeringly subservient to the U.S. Government when it comes to national security cases, rendering defendants accused of harming national security with almost no chance for acquittal. Would you have any confidence in obtaining justice if you were accused of harming U.S. national security and came into the clutches of the American justice system?

Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with numerous individuals who were once associated with WikiLeaks or who still are. Of those who no longer are, many have said that they stopped even though they believe as much as ever in WikiLeaks’ transparency cause, and did so out of fear: not fear that they would be charged with a crime by their own government (they trust the judicial system of their government and are confident they would not be convicted), but out of fear that they would be turned over to the United States. That’s the fear people have: ending up in the warped travesty known as the judicial system of the Land of the Free. That is what has motivated Assange to resist extradition to Sweden, and it’s what has undoubtedly motivated him to seek asylum from Ecuador.

 

UPDATE: Just to address some media chatter I’m seeing around: Assange has not “fled” anything, is not a fugitive, and did not concoct some new and exotic procedure to evade legal process. Everyone knows exactly where he is: at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Seeking asylum based on claims of human rights violations (such as unjust extradition) is a widely recognized and long-standing right, as Foreign Policy documented during the recent Chen Guangcheng drama. It’s a right that Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to invoke. If Ecuador refuses his asylum request, then he’ll be right back in the hands of British authorities and presumably extradited to Sweden without delay. He has a lot at stake, and — like anyone else accused of serious crimes (though he’s not been charged with anything) — he has every right to invoke all legal procedures available to him.

The killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son October 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 5:21 AM 21:23:15 CDT

 

Extreme secrecy, as usual, shrouds this act, but it underscores how often the U.S. uses violence around the world

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com
 

 (Credit: Reuters/AP)

 

(updated below)

Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people. News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki’s son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: “anyone killed by the U.S.”), but a birth certificate published by The Washington Post proved that he was born only 16 years ago in Denver. As The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson wrote: “Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government’s evidence — or the honesty of its claims — and about our own capacity for self-deception.” The boy’s grandfather said that he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when the U.S. attacked them by air and ended their lives. There are two points worth making about this:

(1) It is unknown whether the U.S. targeted the teenager or whether he was merely “collateral damage.” The reason that’s unknown is because the Obama administration refuses to tell us. Said the Post: “The officials would not discuss the attack in any detail, including who the target was.” So here we have yet again one of the most consequential acts a government can take — killing one of its own citizens, in this case a teenage boy — and the government refuses even to talk about what it did, why it did it, what its justification is, what evidence it possesses, or what principles it has embraced in general for such actions. Indeed, it refuses even to admit it did this, since it refuses even to admit that it has a drone program at all and that it is engaged in military action in Yemen. It’s just all shrouded in total secrecy.

Of course, the same thing happened with the killing of Awlaki himself. The Executive Branch decided it has the authority to target U.S. citizens for death without due process, but told nobody (until it was leaked) and refuses to identify the principles that guide these decisions. It then concluded in a secret legal memo that Awlaki specifically could be killed, but refuses to disclose what it ruled or in which principles this ruling was grounded. And although the Obama administration repeatedly accused Awlaki of having an “operational role” in Terrorist plots, it has — as Davidson put it — “so far kept the evidence for that to itself.”

This is all part and parcel of the Obama administration’s extreme — at times unprecedentedfixation on secrecy. Even with Senators in the President’s own party warning that the administration’s secret interpretation of its domestic surveillance powers under the Patriot Act is so warped and radical that it would shock the public if they knew, Obama officials simply refuse even to release its legal memos setting forth how it is interpreting those powers. As EFF’s Trevor Timm told The Daily Beast today: “The government classified a staggering 77 million documents last year, a 40 percent increase on the year before.” And as I wrote about many times, the Obama administration even tried — and failed — to force The New York Times‘ James Risen to reveal his source for his story about an inept, disastrous CIA effort to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, but as Politico‘s Josh Gerstein reports today, the Obama DOJ is now appealing the decision in Risen’s favor. Gerstein writes:

The executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, said the appeal was troubling for First Amendment advocates, but not unexpected.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Dalglish said “The Obama administration has made it absolutely clear they detest leakers and they are going to be very aggressive against leakers.”

Since Obama took office, his administration has initiated five prosecutions of alleged leakers under the Espionage Act — a sum roughly equal to the total number of such prosecutions in all prior administrations combined. . . .

“It’s really looking like they want to put Risen in prison,” [the defendant’s lawyer Edward] MacMahon said in a brief interview. . . . “For the journalists in the world, it’s quite a significant First Amendment appeal.”

You can offer the ability to citizens to choose from one of the two parties and elect their leaders as much as you want. But “democracy” is an illusion — a sham — if the most significant acts taken by those leaders are kept concealed from the citizenry. Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote a multi-part series, and followed it up with a book, describing “Top Secret America”: the sprawling, secret government/private-sector apparatus accountable to nobody. Leaks and whistleblowers are the only real avenue remaining for citizens to know what their government does, and it’s why the Obama administration is so obsessed with persecuting whistleblowers, crushing WikiLeaks, and now even trying to imprison one of the nation’s best investigative journalists.

For many people, this type of secrecy is not bothersome because — when their party controls the White House — they trust their leader to be honest and act properly; that’s what Bush followers who viewed Bush as a good, earnest Christian constantly said in response to objections over radical secrecy, and it’s what many Obama followers say now (if Obama says someone is a Terrorist, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure he is – if Obama says Iran is behind a Terrorist plot, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure they are). But that obviously isn’t a healthy mindset when forming expectations of political leaders. More so, you can’t have a functioning democracy if the government refuses even to discuss its most radical and significant acts. The Obama administration is just off waging a secret war in Yemen, killing its own citizens from the sky, and refusing to account to anyone for what it’s doing. If you accept that level of secrecy, what don’t you accept?

(2) Every now and then it’s worth pausing to reflect on how often we talk about the killing of people by the U.S. Literally, the U.S. government is just continuously killing people in multiple countries around the world. Who else does that? Nobody — certainly nowhere near on this scale. The U.S. President expressly claims the power to target anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, for death, including his own citizens; he does it in total secrecy and with no oversight; and this power is not just asserted but routinely exercised. The U.S., over and over, eradicates people’s lives by the dozens from the sky, with bombs, with checkpoint shootings, with night raids — in far more places and far more frequently than any other nation or group on the planet. Those are just facts.

What’s most striking about this is how little effort is needed to induce America’s political and media elites to acquiesce to it. The government need do nothing more than utter empty nationalistic phrases such as “we’re at war” and “Terrorist!” and this unparalleled, endless state violence all becomes instantly justified. Yesterday, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen wrote about the Awlaki killings: “Many Yemenis can understand (if disagree) killing the father, few can understand killing the son,” and pointed to this Facebook entry from a young Yemeni as illustration of what he meant; read the text:

I have no doubt that many Americans, probably most, would consider this comparison to be outrageous hyperbole, even offensive and slanderous. I have just as little doubt that many Americans, probably most, would be saying things quite similar to this if it were another country, engaging in far more violence than all others, routinely zapping innocent teeangers, children, women and men out out of existence on American soil using sky robots and cluster bombs (just look at America’s ongoing reaction to a single, one-day attack on its soil a full decade ago). But the U.S. does this so often, and has for so long, that most of the citizenry has either concocted or ingested mental and intellectual strategies for pretending this doesn’t happen or justifying it when they can’t. So we just killed an American teenager and his teenage cousin by drone-bombing them to death? They merely join a very long list of similar recent victims — a list that, paradoxically, makes less of an impact the longer it becomes.

UPDATE: Those who believe evidence and transparency in such matters are unnecessary because the government under Obama — unlike under Bush — would never issue false claims about such things and can be trusted without accountability should review this and this.

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.