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By Senator Jim Webb, Huffington Post
America's criminal justice system is broken.
How broken? The numbers are stark:
• The United States has 5% of the world's population, yet possesses 25% of the world's prison population;
• More than 2.38 million Americans are now in prison, and another 5 million remain on probation or parole. That amounts to 1 in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release;
• Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980, up from 41,000 to 500,000 in 2008; and
• 60% of offenders are arrested for non-violent offensives--many driven by mental illness or drug addiction.
Numbers only tell part of the story.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the nation’s largest Arab-American civil and human rights organization, is appalled by the shooting that took place earlier today at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Federal law enforcement sources have confirmed that the suspect, James von Brunn, is a known white supremacist.
ADC National Executive Director Kareem Shora said, “This act of hate against the Holocaust Museum in our nation’s capital is revolting. Once again, ADC is consistent in condemning hate-motivated crimes and any attacks aimed at civilians no matter who the victims or the perpetrators may be. We commend the many law enforcement agencies that responded to this attack and glad to see the suspect apprehended in quick fashion.”
US President Barack Obama risks creating "future Guantanamos" by continuing his predecessor's policy of indefinitely holding Al-Qaeda suspects, a prominent Democrat warned on Tuesday.
Senator Russ Feingold said he was "troubled" by Obama's policies, warning the practice of holding some suspected terrorists indefinitely risked being "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice."
Feingold warned the current administration risked mimicking the policies of the Bush administration, which "claimed the right" to detain anyone, anywhere, he said.
During a major security speech at the National Archives in May, Obama acknowledged for the first time that a legal framework could be established to hold the most dangerous US detainees indefinitely without trial.
Speaking during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the consequences of "prolonged detention," Feingold said that could set "the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with potentially disastrous consequences for our national security."
If Obama follows through on the proposal for establishing "a new legal regime for prolonged detention to deal with a few individuals at Guantanamo," Feingold said "he runs the very real risk of establishing policies and legal precedents."
Feingold said it would be worse if these policies were "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by a largely discredited administration, but by a successive administration with a greatly contrasting position on legal and constitutional issues."
Also at the hearing, former White House lawyer Richard Klingler warned prolonged detention was "already widespread" and set to continue "on a wide scale." Read more.
Wartime Contracting Report: We Have Big, Costly Problems
By Robert O'Harrow, Jr. | Government, Inc. Blog
As promised, here's the new report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the organization formed by Congress to examine where all the money went.
It's a sad reminder about just how bad the contracting system has been in recent years, and all the billions that have been wasted because of poor oversight, poor planning and plain old corruption.
"The environment in Iraq and Afghanistan has been and continues to be susceptible to waste, fraud, and abuse," the report said.
The report, called "At What Cost? Contingency Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan," contains the interim findings of the commission, which will issue a final report next year. It underscores the gloomy finding about the troubled federal procurement system from a host of other analysis in recent years.
It'll be the subject of a hearing today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's national security and foreign affairs subcommittee. Read more.
By CODEPINK/Linda Milazzo
The women inspired peace group, CODEPINK, in alliance with Israeli feminist group, Coalition of Women For Peace, will host continued human rights protests from June 8th through June 14th at Erez Crossing checkpoint at the Gaza Border in Israel.
EREZ, ISRAEL -- More than three dozen Americans and Israelis rallied today at the border checkpoint here into Gaza, hoping to be let through into the war-torn area with playground building materials, food and other products to delivered to the Gazan people, after Israel authorities barred them from entering.
If you're a blogger, this page is for you.
One of EFF's goals is to give you a basic roadmap to the legal issues you may confront as a blogger, to let you know you have rights, and to encourage you to blog freely with the knowledge that your legitimate speech is protected.
To that end, we have created the Legal Guide for Bloggers, a collection of blogger-specific FAQs addressing everything from fair use to defamation law to workplace whistle-blowing.
In addition, EFF continues to battle for bloggers' rights in the courtroom:Read more.
Judge Rules Telecoms Have Immunity Under Unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act | Press Release
EFF and ACLU Planning to Appeal Dismissal of Dozens of Spying Cases
A federal judge today dismissed dozens of lawsuits over illegal domestic surveillance of American citizens, ruling that telecommunications companies had immunity from liability under the controversial FISA Amendments Act (FISAAA). The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) California and Illinois affiliates are planning to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that FISAAA is unconstitutional.
"We're deeply disappointed in Judge Walker's ruling today," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "The retroactive immunity law unconstitutionally takes away Americans' claims arising out of the First and Fourth Amendments, violates the federal government's separation of powers as established in the Constitution, and robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law."
Signed by President Bush in 2008, the FISAAA allowed for the dismissal of the lawsuits over the telecoms' participation in the warrantless surveillance program if the government secretly certifies to the court that the surveillance did not occur, was legal, or was authorized by the president. Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey filed that classified certification with the court in September and demanded that the cases be dismissed.
Hillary Clinton demands China investigate and disclose its past abuses
On behalf of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement this week regarding the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, and demanded that China do the following (h/t sysprog):
A China that has made enormous progress economically, and that is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership, should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal.
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SEEKS SUPREME COURT REVIEW OF DECISION DECLARING PATRIOT ACT PROVISION UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Lower Courts Unanimously Declared Law Unconstitutionally Vague
From the Center for Constitutional Rights
Washington, DC, June 4, 2009 - The Obama administration today sought Supreme Court review of a decision declaring a USA Patriot Act provision unconstitutional. The case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, originally brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in 1998, challenges the constitutionality of the law that makes it a crime to provide “material support” to groups the administration has designated as “terrorist.” The lower courts have unanimously declared several provisions of the law – including one added by the USA Patriot Act – unconstitutionally vague.
Time to Look Past Obama’s Words and Face-up to His Actions
U.S. Foreign Policy Continues Rapidly in the Wrong Direction
The Peace Movement Needs to Escalate Anti-War Actions
By Kevin Zeese | Voters for Peace, Prosperity Agenda.US
There is long-time saying about politicians: you cannot trust their words, but must judge them by their actions.
President Obama is very good with words, perhaps the best communicator we have seen in the White House in a generation. But now he has been in office long enough that he should be judged on his actions.
The direction of U.S. foreign policy is moving rapidly in the wrong direction on many fronts. It is time for the peace movement to step up its activities throughout the country and demand a change in course.
America has lost her soul, and so has her president.
A despairing country elected a president who promised change. Americans arrived from every state to witness in bitter cold Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. The mall was packed in a way that it has never been for any other president.
The people’s good will toward Obama and the expectations they had for him were sufficient for Obama to end the gratuitous wars and enact major reforms. But Obama has deserted the people for the interests. He is relying on his non-threatening demeanor and rhetoric to convince the people that change is underway.
The change that we are witnessing is in Obama, not in policies. Obama is morphing into Dick Cheney.
Obama has not been in office four months and already a book could be written about his broken promises.
Washington Didn't Want You to See this Guantanamo Photo
Star journalist captures landmark protest hours before a suicide puts heat on Obama
by Michelle Shephard | Common Dreams
A Guantanamo Bay detainee committed suicide late Monday just hours after two Chinese Muslim captives staged the detention centre's first public protest, increasing the pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama to outline his plan of how he will close the offshore prison.
Yemeni Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih, 31, is the first prisoner to die since the White House changed hands four months ago. His suicide follows weeks of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum over the fate of the remaining 240 Guantanamo detainees.
News of the suicide was emailed to the media just as a flight bringing journalists from Guantanamo landed in Maryland. The press had been at the U.S. naval detention centre for the war crimes court hearing of Canadian Omar Khadr.
Khadr, 22, is accused of war crimes, including the murder of a U.S. soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002.
Hours after Khadr's brief hearing Monday, fewer than a dozen journalists on the trip, including a Toronto Star reporter, witnessed a rare unscripted moment on the base when two Uighur (pronounced Wee-gur) detainees managed to hold an impromptu protest.
The group was at an Oceanside prison known as "Camp Iguana," where 16 Uighur and one Algerian detainee are imprisoned. Read more.
A federal judge ordered the United States on Monday to publicly reveal unclassified versions of its allegations and evidence justifying the continued imprisonment of more than 100 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.
The Justice Department had been filing unclassified versions of its legal documents under seal, so that they could only be seen by judges, attorneys and government officials. Attorneys for the detainees were able to share the documents with their clients and witnesses who would agree to rules restricting the information's disclosure.
Department officials said the practice was necessary to protect national security after they discovered that some unclassified records mistakenly contained some classified information. The department had said the documents were only sealed temporarily while they could be more carefully reviewed for classified information.
Attorneys for the detainees said the secrecy made it harder for them to prepare for upcoming hearings and that some witnesses would not agree to the court's secrecy rules. The Associated Press, The New York Times and USA Today had joined the fight, arguing that the government was keeping valuable information from the public that has a right to monitor the legal process.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan sided with the detainees' attorneys and the media, saying the public has a right to access the records. Read More.
By Linda Milazzo
The following is an excerpt of an article I published after attending a Sarah Palin rally in Southern California where I witnessed reinvigorated anti-abortion fanatics spurred on by Palin's inflammatory rhetoric. At that time, as evidenced by the text of my earlier article (below), it was clear to me that a similar threat of domestic terrorism to that inflicted on this nation by convicted anti-abortion murderer Eric Rudolph, was probable and undeterred by Sarah Palin -- the latest charismatic leader in the anti-abortion movement.
The Obama Administration told the Supreme Court Friday that 17 Uighur men forcibly brought to Guantanamo Bay by the American military seven years ago are "free to leave" but have no right to come to the United States.
The Uighurs are Muslims from western China, though they allegedly attended training camps in Afghanistan affiliated with the East Turkestan Indpenendence Movement, a group which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and denies China's sovereignty over the largely Muslim region of Xinjiang.
In a brief urging the high court not to hear an appeal from the 17 men, the Justice Department said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit acted correctly earlier this year when it overturned a district court judge's order that the men be brought to the U.S. for release.
"Petitioners would like the federal courts to order that they be brought to the United States, because they are unwilling to return to their home country. But they have no entitlement to that form of relief," the brief submitted by Solicitor General Elena Kagan said. "As this Court has recognized repeatedly, the decision whether to allow an alied abroad to enter the United States, and if so, under what terms, rests exclusively in the political Branches."
To persuade the justices to reject the case, the Obama Administration cited appropriations legislation passed in both the House and Senate this month seeking to restrict the administration's ability to release or transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to the U.S. The Justice Department's attempt to use the legislation to block legal relief for the Uighurs is notable because White House officials were unhappy with the measures, which could effectively tie President Barack Obama's hands if he were to sign them into law. The House and Senate bills presently await a conference committee expected to convene next week.
The brief says the U.S. Government is actively pursuing diplomatic options to resettle the Uighurs, who officials have said cannot be sent back to China because of that country's record of mistreatment of Uighur dissidents and militants. Read more.
By Linda Milazzo
On Wednesday evening, in an act of daring befitting a West Point graduate and veteran of Iraq, recently discharged New York National Guard Lieutenant Daniel Choi defied the orders of dozens of crowd control police and stepped into the 'no protest zone' street to ceremoniously salute his Commander in Chief, Barack Obama, out of site at a star-studded fundraiser at the posh Beverly Hilton Hotel.
(Photo by Linda Milazzo)
SECOND ROUND OF HOMELESSNESS FOR KATRINA VICTIMS AS FEMA PREPARES TO ENFORCE JUNE 1 EVICTION DATE | Press Release
US Human Rights Network Condemns Federal Government’s Move to Repossess Trailers and Leave Thousands Homeless
Atlanta, May 29, 2009 - In response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to repossess temporary housing from survivors of Hurricane Katrina on June 1, the US Human Rights Network issued the following statement:
The move by FEMA to enforce the June 1st eviction date for Gulf Region residents who live in temporary trailers not only lacks basic compassion but is also a derogation of the government’s responsibilities to uphold fundamental human rights. If FEMA moves forward with the Bush administration's plan to forcefully evict people living in temporary housing, it will make a mockery of the Gulf Region recovery promised by President Obama and Congress.
Earnest Hammond is a 70 year-old retired truck driver who received no assistance after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home. He took matters into his own hands and by collecting aluminum cans, raised thousands of dollars to repair his badly damaged house. He is eager to move back but can’t restore his home by the June 1st deadline, and is facing eviction. “I have nowhere to go if they take my trailer. It’s hard to believe I have to go through this again.”
New Report Casts Exclusion of Single Payer Option as a Question of Democracy and Human Rights | Press Release
NEW YORK - May 28 - At a critical moment for health care reform in the United States, The National Economic & Social Rights Initiative has published an in-depth assessment of single payer proposals, finding that a single payer system goes further towards meeting key human rights principles than market-based plans.
The question of whether national leaders will consider a single payer system as an option for health care reform has become a question of basic democracy. Despite most Americans supporting a single payer solution, the Obama Administration and congressional leaders have denied it consideration. Key stakeholders such as health care professionals, patients and single payer advocates have been excluded from hearings regarding health reform, prompting courageous civil disobedience actions by health care advocates. One of the protesters at the recent Senate Finance Hearings, Dr Margaret Flowers of PNHP Maryland, said: "We have entered a new phase in the movement for health care as a human right: acts of civil disobedience. It is time to directly challenge corporate interests. History has shown that in order to gain human rights, we must be willing to speak out and risk arrest".
In a recent article, Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association critically suggests that any health care reform bill that comes out of Washington will be falsely advertised as a "human rights victory". But what would a true human rights victory look like? NESRI's report addresses that question.
The report analyzes four bills (Conyers HR676, Sanders S703/McDermott HR1200, Vermont S99/H100 and Minnesota SF118/HF135) against key human rights principles such as universality, equity, affordability and comprehensiveness. It shows that if health care reformers are serious about achieving a system that respects human rights, single payer proposals must be given consideration as they would vastly increase access to quality care for all individuals and secure long-term financial sustainability.
NESRI's report is intended to support the efforts of human right to health care advocates by providing a serious analysis of the benefits of a single payer plan. Cathy Albisa, co-founder of NESRI, said: "We have a fundamental choice to make as a country; we can either be guided by human rights that reflect our founding values or we can continue down the path of special corporate interests. The kind of health care system our government puts in place and what weight is given to the opinion of the American people in the upcoming debate is an important barometer of the health of our democracy and our ability to move towards a more equitable society."
"A Human Rights Assessment of Single Payer Plans" is available for download (PDF).
By Dave Lindorff
I don’t know at this point whether Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a good choice for Supreme Court Justice or a bad one.
She certainly is a lousy judge for writers and other creative people, having ruled (and been overruled by an appellate court and then, when that reversal was upheld, by the US Supreme Court in a case called New York Times Inc. v. Tasini) that the Times and periodical publishers could reprint, without any additional compensation, any freelance works they contracted on the basis that they had a general copyright on each entire issue they publish.
By Dave Lindorff
You’d have to say that the American prison system is a rank failure. With two million inmates, it is the largest and at over $60 billion a year, the costliest prison system in the world, not just in the percent of the population that is kept behind bars, but in actual numbers. But it is also a failure because it doesn’t prevent crime, and might even increase it. According to a recent study, two-thirds of inmates who are released from jail after serving their time are re-arrested for new crimes within three years, and half of those so arrested end up being sent back to jail on new charges.
“My Administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the ‘State Secrets’ privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It has been used by many past Presidents - Republican and Democrat - for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrasses the government.”
Thus spoke President Obama in his national security speech last week.
CASE DISMISSED - WHY?
By Max Obuszewski
Activists from the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR] regularly try to speak truth to power. For example, seven members of the NCNR went to the Pentagon on the morning of March 17, 2009 to seek a meeting with Secretary of War Robert Gates. Within twelve minutes of getting off the Metro, we were cuffed and stuffed in Pentagon Police vehicles.
We sent a letter to Gates [see below] seeking a meeting to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since there was no response, Ellen Barfield, Michele Grise, Steve Mihalis, Max Obuszewski, Pete Perry, Manijeh Saba and Eve Tetaz went to the Pentagon on St. Patrick's Day.
By David Swanson
The United States has had 44 presidents and nobody knows who the 45th will be. For the sake of argument let’s imagine for a minute something that is a very definite possibility. Let's imagine that the 45th president will belong to a political party you detest, will espouse the opposite position from yours on matters dear to your heart, and will strike you as completely unlikeable, untrustworthy, irresponsible, and dangerous. Let's imagine that #45 will want to do everything you oppose and will speak in the most odious and arrogant way about doing so. You won't like the substance or the rhetoric. Number 45, of course, will not fit that description for every one of us, but someone between number 45 and number 50 (assuming we make it that far) will almost certainly fit that description for you, and it's as likely to be #45 as any other number.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has sent a letter (pdf) to President Barack Obama which praises many aspects of his Thursday speech but also expresses concerns about his intention to create a system of “prolonged detention” without trial for certain terrorists.
Feingold announces in the letter that he plans to hold a hearing on the matter next month and asks for top Justice Department officials to testify.
“While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime,” Feingold writes, “any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.”
Feingold goes on to note that “such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.”
“Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful,” Feingold continues. “And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not.”
A federal judge on Friday threatened to severely sanction the Obama Administration for withholding a top secret document he ordered given to lawyers suing the government over its warrantless wiretapping program.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ordered Justice Department lawyers to court on June 3 to tell him why he shouldn't award unspecified damages to the now-defunct Oregon arm of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. The group alleges that government officials eavesdropped on their telephone calls without court authorization.
The National Security Agency has also refused the judge's previous orders to provide security clearances to two of the charity's lawyers so they can view the top secret document.
The judge had issued a written order on Jan. 5 and then reinforced it during a hearing later that month. He also barred the prosecutors from appealing the order, but they asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to step in anyway. The appeals court refused to hear the case.
On May 15, government lawyers told Walker they would refuse to comply with his order.
"Enough is enough," said Jon Eisenberg, the charity's lead appellate attorney. "The DOJ has been so uncooperative for so long that this Draconian approach is now needed."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce that gay American diplomats will be given benefits similar to those that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy, U.S. officials said Saturday.
In a notice to be sent soon to State Department employees, Clinton says regulations that denied same-sex couples and their families the same rights and privileges that straight diplomats enjoyed are "unfair and must end," as they harm U.S. diplomacy.
The Obama administration's efforts to craft what it calls a "preventive detention" plan for suspected terrorists will face constitutional challenges similar to those raised against the Bush administration's policies.
Some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are deemed too dangerous to release and may not be able to put on trial, creating a quandary that President Barack Obama said Thursday poses "the toughest issue we will face."
Ian Welsh corrects President Obama, a former constitutional law professor, as to what is his most important duty. (Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with safety.) Recognizing the President's actual most important duty is pivotal to understanding how far off base he is proposing to take the nation. Read Ian Welsh's "The Thought Crimes President" here.
Human Rights Attorney Vince Warren: Obama’s “Preventive Detention” Plan Goes Beyond Bush Admin Policies
We get reaction to President Obama and Vice President Dick Cheney’s dueling speeches on torture from Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warren took part in a secret meeting Wednesday between Obama and several human rights groups. Warren says although he welcomes Obama’s willingness to hear critical views, he’s disappointed in Obama’s new support for preventive detention.
On Friday, May 15, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would restart the military commissions he halted in the first days of his presidency. BORDC strongly opposes this decision.
The use of military commissions is not, contrary to its portrayal in the media, a partisan issue. Many conservatives, including BORDC Advisory Board member Bruce Fein, are opposed to these unconstitutional trials. Military tribunals are an inherently flawed system, and regular courts are already suited to situations like this with systems set up to handle intelligence issues and classified information. This is evidenced by the successful prosecutions of terrorists—over 120 of them, including Jose Padilla and Zacharias Moussaoui—in the regular courts. Broad existing laws and regular federal courts are already more than sufficient without needing to resort to legally and practically dubious trial systems.