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Civil Rights / Liberties
By Dave Lindorff
Most Americans living in the northeastern and Midatlantic region of the country probably didn't realize that for the last year or so they've been being spied on from the sky by a sophisticated 'eye-in-the-sky' blimp tethered to the ground in Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground.
By Alfredo Lopez
The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, initialed by the delegations of the 12 participating countries in early October, is one of the most talked-about mysteries of our time. The moment the treaty was announced, there was a tidal wave of commentary and criticism: most of it based on previous versions, speculation and a few leaks. Because it won't be published for months (even years perhaps), nobody really knew what the document actually said.
By Dave Lindorff
The police slaying of musician Corey Jones in South Florida highlights one of the most reprehensible aspects of law enforcement in America -- the ubiquitous undercover cop.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Protests against rampant police brutality occurred recently in the respective capitals of France and the United States – two nations that proclaim strict fidelity to the rule of law yet two professed democracy-loving nations where officials routinely condone rampant lawlessness by law enforcers.
By Alfredo Lopez
As expected, the European Union court has thrown out an agreement, forged in 2000, that allows virtually uninhibited data sharing and transfer between the United States and EU countries and is the legal basis for National Security Agency's on-line surveillance and data capture programs.
In an online discussion I asked Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, a fairly straightforward question:
"Will Amnesty International recognize the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact and oppose war and militarism and military spending? Admirable as it is to go after many of the symptoms of militarism, your avoidance of addressing the central problem seems bizarre. The idea that you can more credibly offer opinions on the legality of constituent elements of a crime if you avoid acknowledging the criminality of the whole seems wrong. Your acceptance of drone murders as possibly legal if they are part of wars immorally and, again, bizarrely avoids the blatant illegality of the wars themselves."
Shetty replied without so much as hinting at whether or not Amnesty International would recognize the UN Charter or the Kellogg Briand Pact. In fairness, probably eight people on earth recognize the Kellogg Briand Pact, but the UN Charter is almost universally considered worthy of at least pretended respect and manipulation. And Shetty's last job before this one was for the United Nations. He did not address in any way my suggestion that many human rights abuses are symptoms of militarism. He did not explain how Amnesty can have more credibility speaking on the illegality of war's constituent parts by avoiding speaking to the illegality of war itself (a common contention of his colleagues when I've questioned them). I pointed fairly directly, in the limited number of characters permitted for the above question, to Amnesty's recent report on drones, but rather than answering my question about it, Shetty just pointed out the report's existence. Here is his full "response" to the question above:
"As a human rights organization, Amnesty International's main goal will always be to take that course of action which practically does the most to ensure protection for human rights and respect for international law. We strongly condemn opportunities which have been missed to take effective measures to protect human rights and civilians. We treat the fundamental human right to life with utmost importance -- hence the importance and status we give to our global death penalty campaign. We also believe that governments must not be allowed to use 'security' as an excuse to carry out human rights violations against their citizens. We know, for example, that the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Syria did not develop overnight. For the last few years, the states involved and the international community as a whole have manifestly failed to take effective action to stem the crisis, protect civilians, and hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to account. For several years now, Amnesty International's calls for targeted sanctions, an arms embargo and a referral of the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court have gone largely unheeded despite the mounting toll on civilians. On drones: we find the use of drone aircraft deeply troubling, and we have published reports on the terrible suffering they have caused, for example in Pakistan, where the title speaks for itself 'Pakistan: Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan'. amnesty.org/en/documents/...13/en/ The current status quo is absolutely unacceptable, as is the handwashing of the US administration on this theme."
Needless to say, Amnesty's proposal to refer "the situation in Syria" to the ICC is not actually anything of the sort. You can't refer a situation to the ICC. You refer an individual to the ICC. In this case, the individual whom Amnesty wants prosecuted is the individual whom the United States wants overthrown: Bashar al Assad. In other words, in replying to a demand to start opposing war, Shetty offers an example of one of the ways in which his and other human rights groups commonly facilitate wars in places like Syria and Libya, namely by giving war the aura of law enforcement by demanding international accountability for the crimes of one party, the party targeted by the West.
This doesn't mean Amnesty International is pro-war. This doesn't mean Amnesty International does more harm than good. An arms embargo is exactly what's needed. It does mean that Amnesty International falls far short of the role of good global citizen and maintains a radically different relationship to war than many of its supporters imagine.
Split between Europe and the U.S. just got wider!: EU Court Advocate General Deals Severe Blow to NSA Surveillance
By Alfredo Lopez
A legal case, virtually unreported in the U.S., could very well unhinge a major component of this country's surveillance system. In any case, it certainly challenges it.
Apartheid law enforcement in the US: Standing While Black in New York Can Get You Attacked by NYPD Thugs
By Dave Lindorff
If tennis great James Blake had done the obvious thing and resisted being tackled by an apparent thug on a New York sidewalk who didn’t identify himself as a cop before attacking him, he would probably be dead today like Eric Garner, or at least seriously injured or tased.
By Dave Lindorff
President Barack Obama is on track to go down in history as one of the, or perhaps as the worst and most criminal presidents in US history.
By Dave Lindorff
Americans got a glimpse of what policing is like in a more humane and civilized society last year when four young Swedish cops, on vacation in New York City and riding on a subway, found themselves faced with a bloody fight in the aisle by two angry black men.
If someone has had the good fortune not to encounter the world of U.S. police and prisons, and the misfortune to learn about the world from U.S. schools, entertainment, and "news" media, a great place to start understanding one of the worst self-inflicted tragedies of our era would be with James Kilgore's short new book, Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time, followed up by Radley Balko's longer Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.
Both books tell a story of gradual change over the past half-century that has resulted in the police going to war against people they were supposed to serve (call it a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror, it's always in fact a war on people). And what do you do with people captured alive during a war? You lock them away as prisoners of war until the war ends. And if the war never ends? Well, then you bring back the death penalty, create life sentences for lots of crimes including for kids, impose mandatory minimums and three-strikes, and transform parole and probation from rehabilitation to reincarceration services.
The story of this gradual change is one of legal changes (court rulings and legislation), behavior, and popular belief -- with each of these influencing the other two in a vicious cycle. You can't quadruple a prison population in 40 years without instituting a different belief system. You can't ship black prisoners to be guarded by rural whites employed by for-profit companies, or lock up immigrants indefinitely while they await hearings, and not alter the belief system further. You can't run several successive election campaigns as contests in meanness and not see changes in policy and behavior. You can't give police military weapons and not expect them to adopt military attitudes, or give them military training and expect them not to want military weapons. You can't give crime 10 times the coverage on the "news" and not expect people to imagine crime is increasing. You can't start smashing in doors without alienating the police and the people from each other.
Kilgore reminds us that the popular movements of the 1960s had an impact on popular thought. Opposition to the death penalty peaked in 1965 and was over 50% from 1957 to 1972, dropping to 20% in 1990. In 1977 only 37% of people polled rated police officers' ethics as high, a number that rose to 78% in 2001 for no apparent substantive reason. As late as 1981 most Americans thought unemployment was the main cause of crime. We've since learned of course that crime is caused by evil demonic forces that possess the bad people of the earth.
The creation of the world's largest ever collection of permanent prisoners of war -- a trend that would translate perfectly to the war "on terror" abroad -- developed through cycles, including partisan cycles. That is to say, Nixon had a horrible impact, Carter briefly slowed the mad rush to prisonville, and Reagan and Bush built on Nixon's policies. The war on drugs was created as a means to militarize the police and involve the federal government in more local law enforcement, not the other war around. Reagan's attorney general announced early on that, "the Justice Department is not a domestic agency. It is the internal arm of the national defense." The end of the Cold War saw the military looking for new excuses to exist, and one of them would be the war on drugs.
When Clinton came along it again made a difference to have a Democrat in the White House, only this time for the worse. Bill Clinton and his would-be president wife and allies such as would-be president Joe Biden accelerated the march to suburban Siberia rather than slowing it. Under Clinton it became possible to throw people out of public housing for a single drug offense of any kind by anyone in the house. And yet Clinton was never evicted from his public housing despite the near certainty that someone in the White House used some kind of drug. Clinton brought us huge increases in incarceration, war weapons for police, and the shredding of social supports.
When the War on Terra began in 2001 whole new pathways to profit and police militarization opened up, including the beloved Fatherland's Department of Homeland Security, which has handed out tens of billions of dollars in "terror grants" that fund the terrorizing of the U.S. public. In 2006 the Buffalo, NY, police staged a series of drug raids they called "Operation Shock and Awe." Adding truly military grade incompetence to meanness, the New York Police Department raided an elderly couple's home over 50 times between 2002 and 2010 because their address had randomly been used as a placeholder in a computer system and remained in any report that had failed to include an address.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue continued the trends and added an escalation of the war on immigrants, as well as of the war weapons for the police programs.
But the partisan cycles are more subtle as well. As Balko recounts, Congress members and others opposed police militarization when the president was of the other party and supported it when he was from theirs, or opposed it when the discussion focused on drugs but supported it in matters of gun-control (or vice versa). Yet, each acceptance was two steps forward and each resistance one step back, so that what was outrageous one decade became the norm in the next.
National partisan tides and vicious cycles of ever increasing militarization interacted over the years with local advances. Los Angeles, and the leadership of Darryl Gates, brought SWAT teams to U.S. policing. The name originally stood for Special Weapons Attack Teams and the tactics were literally a bringing of the war on Vietnam home as Gates consulted with the military to learn what was supposedly working in Vietnam.
Let me close with the question with which Balko begins his book: Are police constitutional? The police, prisons, parole, and probation did not exist when the U.S. Constitution was created any more than did drones or the internet. The first thing in the United States like police was the slave patrol. The first modern police force in the United States was begun in New York City in 1845. I've argued at length elsewhere that drones are incompatible with the Bill of Rights. What about police?
The Third Amendment grew out of resistance to allowing soldiers to engage in any of the abuses that constitute the work of police. Need we accept those abuses? I think we can at the very least radically reduce them. To do so we will have to declare an end to the wars abroad and the wars at home. Balko quotes former Maryland police officer Neill Franklin on what changing police attitudes will require:
"Number one, you've signed on to a dangerous job. That means that you've agreed to a certain amount of risk. You don't get to start stepping on others' rights to minimize that risk you agreed to take on. And number two, your first priority is not to protect yourself, it's to protect those you've sworn to protect." But that would mean not being at war with people.
By Norman Solomon, Al Jazeera
The U.S. government is trying to destroy Chelsea Manning.
Five years after the arrest of Manning, an Army private, for providing classified information to WikiLeaks, the government’s cruelty is taking another turn — part George Orwell, part Lewis Carroll. But Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning did not fall down the rabbit hole. She’s locked up at Fort Leavenworth, five years into a 35-year sentence — and the fact that she is not scheduled for release until 2045 isn’t enough of a punishment. Prison authorities are now brandishing petty and bizarre charges to threaten her with indefinite solitary confinement.
Why? The alleged transgressions include the possession of toothpaste past its expiration date and an issue of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover. Even if all the charges of minor violations of prison rules are found to be true at her closed hearing today, the threatened punishment is cruelly disproportionate.
WikiLeaks whistleblower Manning faces possible indefinite solitary confinement for minor “infractions”, was denied access to prison legal library
WASHINGTON, DC––Advocacy groups supporting imprisoned WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning plan to deliver a petition signed by more than 75,000 people to the Army Liason office tomorrow morning, Tuesday, August 18th, at 11:00 am at Rayburn House Building Room B325. Supporters are available to speak to media before and after the delivery.
The petition at FreeChelsea.com was initiated by digital rights group Fight for the Future and supported by RootsAction.org, Demand Progress, and CodePink. It calls for the U.S. military to drop the new charges against Chelsea, and demands that her disciplinary hearing on Tuesday be open to the press and the public.
Chelsea faces possible indefinite solitary confinement, which is widely recognized as a form of torture, for four “charges,” which include possession of LGBTQ reading material like the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair, and having a tube of expired toothpaste in her cell. The charges were first revealed at FreeChelsea.com, and Manning has since posted the original charging documents to her twitter account here and here. She has also posted the complete list of confiscated reading materials here.
On Saturday, Chelsea called supporters to alert them that military correctional staff denied her access to the prison legal library. This development comes just two days before she must present a defense (without her lawyers present) before the disciplinary board that could sentence her to potentially indefinite solitary confinement.
Chase Strangio, Chelsea’s attorney at the ACLU, said: “During the five years she has been incarcerated Chelsea has had to endure horrific and, at times, plainly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. She now faces the threat of further dehumanization because she allegedly disrespected an officer when requesting an attorney and had in her possession various books and magazines that she used to educate herself and inform her public and political voice. I am heartened to see the outpouring of support for her in the face of these new threats to her safety and security. This support can break down the isolation of her incarceration and sends the message to the government that the public is watching and standing by her as she fights for her freedom and her voice.”
Evan Greer, Campaign Director of Fight for the Future, said: “The U.S. government has a terrifying track record of using imprisonment and torture to silence free speech and dissenting voices. They’ve tortured Chelsea Manning before and now they’re threatening to do it again, without any semblance of due process. Perhaps the military thought that now that Chelsea is behind bars she’s been forgotten, but the tens of thousands who signed this petition are proving them wrong. Chelsea Manning is a hero and the whole world is watching the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of whistleblowers, transgender people, and prison inmates in general.”
Nancy Hollander, one of Chelsea’s criminal defense attorneys, said: “Chelsea is facing serious repercussions and punishment if these charges are upheld, yet the prison has denied her the right to legal counsel, even legal counsel at her own expense. Now we have learned the prison authorities have denied her the use of the prison library to prepare for her hearing. The whole system is rigged against her. She cannot have a lawyer to assist her; she cannot prepare her own defense; and the hearing will be secret. This harassment and abuse must end and we are grateful for the support from the public to demand justice for Chelsea Manning.”
Sara Cederberg, Campaign Director of Demand Progress, said: "The charges against Chelsea Manning set a dangerous precedent for anyone who exercises their civil liberties to speak out against the abuses of our government. Long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture, and no one deserves this cruel and unusual psychological punishment. Today, and every day, thousands of Demand Progress members are standing with Chelsea, democracy and free speech."
David Swanson, Campaign Coordinator at RootsAction.org, said: "Our petition demanding relief from this latest injustice for Manning has been the fastest-starting petition we've ever had, and it's full of eloquent comments from thousands of people who by all rights should have been past the point of outrage overload. Here is a straightforward case of a whistleblower of the sort that candidate Obama in 2008 said he would reward, and she's being punished not only unjustly but in violation of laws back at least to the Eighth Amendment. President Obama has long claimed to have ended torture. The U.S. military in effect is threatening to torture a young woman for having the wrong toothpaste and magazine."
Nancy Mancias, of the peace group CODEPINK, said: "The recent charges are inappropriate, extreme and ridiculous, Chelsea Manning has done a great service by leaking US war crimes in Iraq. Manning should have a right to legal counsel when requested, and threatening to her isolate from community is inhumane."
By Alfredo Lopez
How much noise does the other shoe make when it drops? If the shoe is a law that would complete the development of a police surveillance state in the United States, it's almost silent.
Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service & Cold Case Justice Initiative Syracuse U College of Law writes:
A plane just left Mississippi carrying the body of Rexdale Henry. His family has asked for an independent autopsy by a Florida board certified pathologist. Mr. Henry was found dead in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in a Neshoba County jail cell on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 just two days after the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail. A lifelong community activist and member of the Choctaw tribe, Mr. Henry was arrested July 9 allegedly for failure to pay an old fine.
By Alfredo Lopez
The Internet -- always ablaze with controversy -- is a wildfire these days with revelations about more pernicious government spying, deals between governments and corporate "hacker companies", and Ellen Pao's resignation as head of Reddit.
From the Washington Post comes this story of not only another instance of TSA abuse, but the TSA's bragging about said abuse.
A victory for common sense and decency: 5 Cheers and 4 Raspberries for the SCOTUS as it Bars States from Blocking Gay Marriage
By Dave Lindorff
The pig-headed small-mindedness and intellectual dishonesty of most fundamentalists of whatever religion knows no bounds.
By John Grant
“Our ancestors were literally fighting to keep human beings as slaves and to continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of this heritage.”
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Does the intense news coverage examining the tragic massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. and coverage exposing the travesty of the white woman who claims she’s actually black mean the mainstream media has finally ‘got it right’ regarding reporting on race and racism?
By Dave Lindorff
A few weeks ago, I got a vivid comparative look at how far this country has moved towards becoming a police state. The occasion was a brief visit to Montreal, where my wife was to give a harpsichord recital at an early keyboard music conference.
Killing prisoners through medical neglect: Mumia Attorneys Sue in Federal Court for Prisoners’ Right to Medical Care
By Dave Lindorff
Attorneys from the Abolitionis Law Center in Pennsylvania, an organization defending prisoner rights and challenging the state's penal system, have filed suit in federal court demanding that Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections stop preventing them from even seeing their client, journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, on occasions when he has to be hospitalized for a critical diabetes condition.
There has been much talk of late about the courage of Caitlyn Jenner. A recent Vanity Fair cover showed the transformation of former 65-year-old Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn, an attractive woman who appears to be in her thirties.
But let us look for a moment at the definition of courage. Merriam-Webster defines it thusly: “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”.
By Alfredo Lopez
To get to the point: there is nothing -- nothing at all -- in any recent law or legislative action that will in any way weaken the police state structure our government has put into place for rapid deployment. You are not any more free than you were last week and, no matter what the Congress has done with the expired provisions of the Patriot Act or the newly developed and Orwellian-named "USA Freedom Act", you are not going to be any more free next week.