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Civil Rights / Liberties
A month ago, when the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony on “legal issues regarding military commissions and the trial of detainees for violations of the law of war”, and the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on “Legal Issues Surrounding the Military Commissions System,” the Obama administration’s proposed revival of the much-criticized Military Commission system of trials for “terror suspects” at Guantánamo attracted a decent amount of media attention.
Last week, however, when the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee convened to hear further testimony about the Military Commissions, few media outlets noticed. This was a great shame, as one of the speakers was Lt. Col. (formerly Maj.) David Frakt of the US Air Force Reserves, whose testimony (PDF) was at least as riveting as that of his former adversary in the Military Commissions, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, the ex-prosecutor who resigned in September 2008.
By Dave Lindorff
OMG! Those protesters showing up at Democratic “town meetings” to promote the president’s health care “reform” program are being bused in from out of town?
Scandal! Que horrible! (Gasp)
But wait! That’s exactly what we on the left always did when we held demonstrations—at least if we could. Who in the trade union movement hasn’t called on fellow workers in other unions to join them in rallies during struggles with an employer, or asked them to join sparse picket-lines? Who hasn’t pulled out the stops trying to get people from other cities to attend a local protest?
by Linda Milazzo
On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, an American Evergreen College student and member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was run down by a Caterpillar D9R armored bulldozer. The American made bulldozer that crushed and killed Rachel Corrie was operated by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Rachel died while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip of Palestine.
Just twenty-three at the time of her death, Rachel was an avid diarist who vividly chronicled her peace and justice actions in Palestine up to the time she died. The play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, sponsored by Winograd For Congress this Saturday, August 8th in Los Angeles, is a powerful rendering of Rachel's writings depicting the plight of Palestinians and Rachel's lifelong passion for peace.
Conservative activists are vowing to keep up their fight against President Barack Obama's health care plans, even as the Democratic Party pushes back hard, accusing Republicans of organizing angry mobs.
Democrats and the White House are claiming that the sometimes rowdy protests that have disrupted Democratic lawmakers' meetings and health care events around the country are largely orchestrated from afar by insurers, lobbyists, Republican Party activists and others.
"This mob activity is straight from the playbook of high-level Republican political operatives," the Democratic National Committee says in a new Web video. "They have no plan for moving our country forward, so they've called out the mob."
Some of the activists who've shown up at town hall meetings held recently by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis., and others are affiliated with loosely connected right-leaning groups, including Conservatives for Patients' Rights and Americans for Prosperity, according to officials at those groups. Some of the activists say they came together during the "Tea Party" anti-big-government protests that happened earlier this year, and they've formed small groups and stayed in touch over e-mail, Facebook and in other ways. Read more.
When you hear that the National Guard has been called in, the first thing that comes to mind is – where’s the natural disaster? Jefferson County, Alabama isn’t facing a natural disaster; it’s facing a fiscal one. Now the sheriff there says he needs help and he’s calling for backup.
Sheriff Mike Hale says there won’t be enough cops to patrol the streets in his county and the National Guard may be needed to protect the community. He spoke to Joe Johns on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday.
Joe Johns: When you look at this thing, the first thing that comes to mind is the county’s image. And I wonder if people are speaking to you this morning about whether this is a good PR move so to speak.
Mike Hale: It’s not about a PR move. The folks in Jefferson County elected me to keep neighborhoods and communities safe. The only thing I have failed to do is have the local government understand what their first responsibility is – and that’s to keep neighborhoods and communities safe. They’ve broken a contract with the people of Jefferson County and my job and my plan is to make sure that the governor will give us some funds to keep the deputies rolling. And if funds are unavailable, I need some force multipliers to work with my deputy sheriffs to keep this community safe.
Johns: Give us an idea of what would happen on the streets of the county if you didn’t ask for the National Guard and if this whole thing went into effect.
Hale: I think you can take a look at the night before that the court ruled against us. I had a homicide in one sleepy community; I had a homicide in another town. And in a very sleepy town, I had a burglary right there at one of the main businesses. The criminals are looking out and seeing how this county commission is funding law enforcement and I’ve just got a plan to – you know what? If the county commission won’t fund me, and I’ve got to go to the state for help, the Jefferson County deputies and myself, we’re going to get the job done and Jefferson County’s going to be safe. Read more.
By Chris Floyd
We have often talked here about the American gulag -- not the far-flung prisons and "intense interrogation" chambers of the global militarist empire, where tens of thousands of captives languish, often without the slightest pretense of even a modicum of rights or legal process -- but the countless human holding pens that glut the highways and byways of the sacred Homeland itself, where not thousands but literally millions of people are incarcerated in a brutal system of retribution, abuse and moral atrocity: a system increasingly geared to corporate profit; a seedbed and training ground for gangs and extremists; a breaker and stigmatizer of generation after generation of Americans.
Yes, once again, the latest annual rankings of the world's prison population are in, and, once again, 2008 found the good old US of A the winners by a country mile. No other nation in the world comes close to imprisoning more of its own people -- not in terms of raw numbers or by proportion of the population.
The right to vote today. The right to vote tomorrow. The right to vote forever.
By Redeye | Left in Alabama | Tue Aug 04, 2009
On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (D. Texas) signed the National Voting Rights Act. For my fellow Americans who've always had the right and the priviledge to vote today may not be a big deal to you, but to me and mine it's a very big deal.
The right to vote is sacred to African Americans. I know it sounds cliche, but it's steeped in blood, sweat, tears, courage and sacrifice. That's why we don't think Voter Suppresion with the State Seal of Approval is funny. It's why we shake our heads at The Tough Voter ID Laws. It's why we get weep silently when the real voter suppression gets a slap on the wrist and the imagined voter fraud is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It's like pre 1965 alll over again.
My paternal grandparents were allowed to vote in the 1940's because they were educated and educators. They were teachers at what was known then as the Veterans Continuation School (pre GI Bill), a federal program designed for veterans returning home from the war to continue their education. They attended classes at night and received a stipend. One of the classes was how to pass the Literacy test. My grandparents were exempt from paying the $2.00 poll tax because they taught at the school. So you see, even though they were veterans returning home from war, they didn't have the full rights and privileges they were fighting for overseas.
Harvard Prof Gates Is Half-Irish, Related to Cop Who Arrested Him
Two Men at Center of Controversy Linked by Irish Heritage
By Niall O'Dowd | IrishCentral.com Publisher via ABCNews.com
Henry Louis Gates Jr., the black professor at the center of the racial story involving his arrest outside his Harvard University-owned house, has spoken proudly of his Irish roots.
Strangely enough, he and the Cambridge, Mass., police officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, both trace their ancestry back to the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages.
In a PBS series on African-American ancestry that he hosted in 2008, Gates discovered his Irish roots when he found he was descended from an Irish immigrant and a slave girl.
He went to Trinity College in Dublin to have his DNA analyzed. There he found that he shared 10 of the 11 DNA matches with offspring of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the fourth century warlord who created one of the dominant strains of Irish genealogy because he had so many offspring. Read more.
After federal border agents detained several Mexican immigrants in western New York in June, an article about the incident in a local newspaper drew an onslaught of vitriolic postings on its Web site. Some were racist. Others attacked farmers in the region, an apple-growing area east of Rochester, accusing them of harboring illegal workers. Still others made personal attacks about the reporter who wrote the article.
Most of the posts were made anonymously. But in reviewing the logs of its Internet server, the paper, The Wayne County Star in Wolcott, traced three of them to Internet protocol addresses at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border protection.
Homeland Security started an investigation into the posts this month, according to the reporter, Louise Hoffman-Broach, and Richard M. Healy, the Wayne County district attorney. A spokeswoman for the federal agency’s inspector general said she could neither confirm nor deny an investigation; department rules prohibit the use of office equipment for the personal transmission of material that could offend fellow employees or the public. Read more.
It’s truly stupefying that today, in the midst of the Obama era, that legions of Americans continue to find it so easy to rationalize and doggedly defend the Bush administration’s torture program.
As more details are revealed it’s clear that never before in human history has such a complex system of abduction, international rendition, and judicial and legislative manipulations been employed to advance and empower an extremely narrow yet far reaching political agenda.
Bush and Co. have turned American democracy on its head and redefined political criminality and neo-fascistic hubris while injecting their poison into the minds of untold millions of Americans via a compliant and self-serving media system. They have rendered Orwell’s horrific vision for the future of humanity in ‘1984’, quaint. But above all, what is most astonishing to me is how they have made my 86 year old Italian-Catholic, Jesus loving mother, embrace torturers and denounce Peace Makers.
My two brothers and I used to have a good laugh when my parents would talk about the ‘good’ Mussolini brought to Italy. For my entire adult life, spirited political hyperbole and great food have always been a part of my family’s dinner table experience. ‘Pass the ravioli – the Japs deserved two nuclear bombs!’ ‘How could you say such a thing I thought you believed in Jesus?’
A study released in April by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates the more often people attend church, the more likely they are to support torture. Sadly, the sobering data supports my own personal struggle growing up in an extremely conservative, Italian Catholic family. I will always remember my parents’ deep-seated belief that the biggest mistake ‘Il Duce’ ever made was aligning himself with Hitler (I think Hitler saw it the other way around) and how amazing my mother’s gnocchi were.
"How cute!" my adults would say when they passed a black baby or a small black child. They'd grin approvingly at the baby and smile their acceptance at the baby's mom. Sometimes they'd extend a hand to brush the baby's cheek to prove their gentility. And then they'd walk a bit further, lean into each other and snark the zinger that angered me then and now, "yeah, they're cute now but wait till they get older." There it was. There it is. The not so subtle prejudice I witnessed in my family that millions of impressionable children witnessed in theirs.
As far back as I can remember I was offended by this language. But others in my family, in my generation, were not. Many assumed the attitudes and language of our adults and continued these prejudices into their adulthoods. Some more strongly than others. Some used the "N word." Some used "ditsoon," the Italian pejorative for blacks. In my large extended family, that includes several police, racial insensitivity was the norm.
By Dave Lindorff
Agent Orange, the herbicide used as a weapon by US military forces in Vietnam for nearly a decade to defoliate vast stretches of inhabited forest and jungle in an effort to deprive the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces of both cover and a supportive populace, has long been known to have caused a large number of serious and debilitating diseases, many of them passed on to children of those exposed. But now it also appears to cause a peculiar blindness among American journalists.
You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal
Federal law now criminalizes activities that the average person would never dream would land him in prison. Consequently, every year, thousands of upstanding, responsible Americans run afoul of some incomprehensible federal law and end up serving time in federal prison.
By Brian Walsh | Fox News
With all the attention that's been paid lately to long federal sentences for drug offenders, it's surprising that a far more troubling phenomenon has barely hit the media's radar screen. Every year, thousands of upstanding, responsible Americans run afoul of some incomprehensible federal law or regulation and end up serving time in federal prison.
What is especially disturbing is that it could happen to anyone at all -- and it has.
We should applaud Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), then, for holding a bipartisan hearing today to examine how federal law can make a criminal out of anyone, for even the most mundane conduct. Read more.
The Bush administration in 2002 considered sending U.S. troops into a Buffalo, N.Y., suburb to arrest a group of terror suspects in what would have been a nearly unprecedented use of military power, The New York Times reported.
Vice President Dick Cheney and several other Bush advisers at the time strongly urged that the military be used to apprehend men who were suspected of plotting with al Qaida, who later became known as the Lackawanna Six, the Times reported on its Web site Friday night. It cited former administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The proposal advanced to at least one-high level administration meeting, before President George W. Bush decided against it.
Dispatching troops into the streets is virtually unheard of. The Constitution and various laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley has gone whining to his professional organization, the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Assn., asking for support in calling for President Obama to apologize for saying he acted "stupidly" in arresting Harvard Prof. Henry Gates after first suspecting the prominent African-American scholar of being a burglar caught breaking into Gates' own home.
Sgt. Crowley claims he was totally justified in making the arrest on a charge of "disorderly conduct" (later dropped by the police), because Gates, who actually had been forced to break into his own home during a return from a speaking tour in China when the front door was stuck, had allegedly become "enraged" when the officer confronted him and asked for identification. Crowley claims that Gates called him names, called him a racist, and threatened to file a complaint against him, and that as a result he arrested him.
By Dave Lindorff
The point about the arrest Monday by a Cambridge Police sergeant of Harvard Distinguished Professor Henry “Skip” Gates is not that the police initially thought the celebrated public intellectual, PBS host and MacArthur Award winner might have been a crook who had broken into Gates’ rented home. Anyone capable of seeing a 58-year-old man with a cane accompanied by a man in a tux as a potential burglar might make the same mistake, given that a neighbor had allegedly called 911 to report seeing two black men she thought were breaking into the house.
But after Prof. Gates had shown the cops his faculty ID and his drivers’ license, and had thus verified his identity, and after he had explained that he had just returned home on a flight from China and had been getting help from his limo driver in opening a stuck door, the cops should have been extremely polite and apologetic for having suspected him and for having insisted on checking him out.
VIPS Member Ray McGovern and Dallas Peace Center member Hadi Jawad organized and participated in the “Dallas Delegation,” a march in George W. Bush’s Dallas neighborhood. Marchers reminded Bush neighbors that they had living among them a criminal who repeatedly and notoriously broke federal and international laws.
Ray McGovern wrote:
In front of Bush house; we stopped long enough to refresh, in a very serious way, memories—by reading the Declaration of Independence regarding the usurpation of our foremothers' and forefathers' rights by another George.
Then we began to read the sections of our beloved Constitution that were trampled by George W. Bush. There are, though, so many such sections that we were not able to finish reading them all in the hot sun.
We did the sensible thing and began to march slowly and solemnly out of the neighborhood...at which point the Dallas police arrived and gave us an armed escort! Our bannering over the nearby Interstate was cut short by the same police, who told us, in effect, this is not Minnesota. In Texas, they said, It is illegal to banner because a distraction could cause a car wreck. We had no Coleen Rowley with us to give us good legal advice, so we drove off (again with police escort) to that major intersection and witnessed for a good while more. Great use was made of those wonderful banners and orange suits. The banners included "WHAT NOBLE CAUSE?" -- Cindy Sheehan's gutsy question of W four long years ago, as she left Dallas accompanied by some of the women of Code Pink and some Veterans for Peace to set up Camp Casey, in honor of her son Casey, killed on April 4, 2004. A year later, Bush made the glib comment that such deaths were "worth it," for folks like Casey died for what noble cause! Cindy, to her great credit, was not going to sit still for that.
NONE OF US SHOULD. And none of us can keep silent when abuses like torture take place in our name. Otherwise, we are all guilty—like those well mannered, obedient Germans of the Thirties.
It was an invigorating experience. I recommend it, or something like it, to all!
The march was facilitated with the help of the Dallas Peace Center. Pictures of the event are below the fold. Click “Read more” to see them.
Today, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Asian Law Caucus, and a coalition of 10 other civil rights and liberties defense organizations submitted to the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a letter raising concerns about the performance of DHS' Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). The position leading CRCL has remained vacant for seven months, giving rise to a range of issues.
During the time it has been run by holdovers from the Bush administration, CRCL has often appeared unresponsive to substantive concerns raised by individuals and organizations concerned about civil rights violations. In addition, recent events have raised concerns about potentially politicized hiring & firing decisions.
Autistic Marine Court Martialed and Given Bad Conduct Discharge
Joshua Fry Was Recruited Out of Group Home for Mentally Disabled
By Sarah Netter | ABCNews
A Marine whose recruitment is under investigation because he is autistic was sentenced to four years in prison at his court martial Monday, but in a plea deal he will be released for time already served and receive a bad conduct discharge.
Pvt. Joshua Fry, 21, has been confined since July 2008 when he was found to have child pornography on his cell phone and computer despite being previously warned by his Marine commanders that it was forbidden. Fry also pleaded guilty to disciplinary charges, including unauthorized leave.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Fry was sentenced to four years and a bad conduct discharge, according to Marine Lt. Col. Sean Gibson. The sentence was reduced to 12 months and Fry received credit for the 359 days already served since his arrest, Gibson said.
The conclusion of Fry's court martial turns the attention to suggestions by Fry's family and members of Congress that he should never have been recruited into the elite force that bills itself as "The Few. The Proud. The Marines." Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
Let me say from the outset that I have the greatest sympathy for 23-year-old Bowe R. Bergdahl, the US soldier in Afghanistan who was captured and is being held by Taliban forces, and for his family, who must be going through a living hell worrying about what is going to happen to him.
But I’m willing to bet you that all of them are wishing, right now, that the US had not decided back in 2001 to begin a campaign of torture and murder against the Taliban fighters that it was capturing in Afghanistan, and against others that it has rounded up in the so-called War on Terror.
“Government must operate through public laws and regulations” and not through “secret law,” a federal appellate court declared in a decision last month. When our government attempts to do otherwise, the court said, it is emulating “totalitarian regimes.”
The new ruling (pdf) overturned the conviction of a defendant who had been found guilty of exporting rifle scopes in violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The court said that the government had failed to properly identify which items are subject to export control regulations, or to justify the criteria for controlling them. It said the defendant could not be held responsible for violating such vague regulations.
Accepting the State Department’s claim of “authority to classify any item as a ‘defense article’ [thereby making it subject to export controls], without revealing the basis of the decision and without allowing any inquiry by the jury, would create serious constitutional problems,” wrote Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. “It would allow the sort of secret law that [the Supreme Court in] Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935), condemned.”Read more.
Pentagon Reclassifying Documents Already in the Public Domain
By The Public Record Staff | The Public Record
From George Washington University’s National Security Archive:
Pentagon classification authorities are treating classified historical documents as if they contain today’s secrets, rather than decades-old information that has not been secret for years. On Friday, the National Security Archive posted multiple versions of the same documents—on issues ranging from the 1973 October War to anti-ballistic missiles, strategic arms control, and U.S. policy toward China—that are already declassified and in the public domain.
What earlier declassification reviewers released in full, sometimes years ago, Pentagon reviewers have more recently excised, sometimes massively. The overclassification highlighted by these examples poses a major problem that should be addressed by the ongoing review of national security information policy that President Obama ordered on May 27, 2009. New presumptions against classification that may be added to an executive order on national security information will not, in isolation, end overclassification. Rigorous oversight, accompanied by improved training and consequences for improper classification are essential. Read more.
WHEN WE SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER, DOES ANYONE LISTEN?
By Max Obuszewski | No Good War
In late June Holder asked an aide for a copy of the CIA inspector general's thick classified report on interrogation abuses. He cleared his schedule and, over two days, holed up alone in his Justice Depart ment office, immersed himself in what Dick Cheney once referred to as ‘the dark side.’ He read the report twice, the first time as a lawyer, looking for evidence and instances of transgressions that might call for prosecution. The second time, he started to absorb what he was reading at a more emotional level. He was ‘shocked and saddened,’ he told a friend, by what government servants were alleged to have done in America's name. When he was done he stood at his window for a long time, staring at Constitution Avenue.” Independent’s Day, Daniel Klaidman, NEWSWEEK dated Jul. 20, 2009
For several years, members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR] have tried to speak truth to power. For example, after an exuberant rally in Washington, D.C.’s John Marshall Park on June 25, Torture Accountability Action Day, NCNR led a march to the Department of Justice to seek a meeting to discuss the indictment of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney.
A letter had been sent on May 11 to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting a meeting. He never responded, so we marched to the DOJ entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue with banners calling for the prosecution of members of the Bush Administration for war crimes.
Last year, we sent a similar letter to then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Since he did not respond, we rallied on November 10 outside the DOJ’s Constitution Avenue entrance. A public relations person came out and said he would only deliver our letter. Since we were denied a meeting, sixteen of us did a die-in on the sidewalk. The police declined to arrest us.
The same PR person came out on June 25 and took a copy of the Holder letter. This time he claimed we would receive a response, but said nothing about a meeting. So again we did a die-in, and twelve of us got on the sidewalk to express our disgust. First, representatives of the DOJ were refusing to meet with concerned citizens, and second, it seemed the illegal machinations of the Bush administration were not going to be investigated.
A family vacation over Independence Day offered a poignant reminder of why, over 30 years ago, my parents sought refuge in the U.S. Fleeing the racial hostility they encountered in Britain after escaping the brutality of the Indian Subcontinent's Partition, they found in rural Missouri economic opportunity, political freedom, and small town Midwestern hospitality. Today, the specter of preventive detention calls into question whether my parents' grandchildren will enjoy the same freedom.
Warrantless domestic spying, detention without trial, torture, and excessive secrecy raised concerns across the political spectrum and fueled recent change in the White House. These policies, however, remain equally noxious under the new administration, which currently entertains proposals beyond even its predecessors' wildest plans.
We should begin by removing the beltway spin. Whether called "preventive," "indefinite," or simply "prolonged," prevention detention schemes are essentially lawless, unconstitutional, and un-American. And whether established through an executive order or an act of Congress, they would undermine—not enhance—our national security.
Here's a post at AmericaBlog that complains that Obama refuses to throw out Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell on the grounds that it is a "Constitutional" law, even though Obama trashes other laws with signing statements. Now, this blog post does not exactly ask Obama to throw out DADT, but it does fail to state clearly that activists for peace and justice who possess any sort of foresight oppose presidents operating as dictators even when done benevolently, because of the danger it creates. And the blog fails to say one word about demanding that Congress change the law. This is the problem with our obsession with the emperor even when our motives are good.
Veronza Bowers, Jr. - Another Victim of America's Criminal Justice System
by Stephen Lendman
On September 15, 1973, Veronza Bowers, Jr. was arrested in Mill Valley, California and charged with robbery and possession of stolen property. After state charges were dropped for lack of probable cause to obtain a search warrant, the FBI arrested Bowers and charged him with the first-degree murder of National Park Service ranger Kenneth Patrick on August 5, 1973 at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco.
At trial, testimonies from two government informants, Alan Veale and Jonathan Shoher, proved crucial. Both were also charged with the killing. Yet there were no independent eye-witnesses, and no evidence incriminated Bowers besides the word of these two men who had every incentive to cooperate with the Department of Justice.