31 August 2008

Victory Is Pledging Allegiance to Peace

Turning the Power Off: Stars, Stripes, War and Shame
By Missy Comley Beattie / August 30, 2008

The Pentagon says “only” five civilians were killed Friday, a week ago, by US aerial bombardment. According to Afghan officials and a United Nations report, 90 Afghan civilians died, 60 of whom were children.

Just days after this carnage, the Democrats, so many dressed in red, white, and blue, opened their convention in Denver. In the wake of the barbarity in Afghanistan and the continued suicide bombings in Iraq, the revelry and flag waving in Colorado seemed inappropriate. Sure, I understand that hope was and is in the air, but I reached for the remote and powered off.

Thursday night, I tuned in to hear a sweet, young voice, pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of American. “With freedom and justice for all.”

Freedom and justice are concepts we can no longer take for granted. They aren’t guaranteed by stars, stripes, and platitudes. The truth is that George and Dick have sucked the life out of our Constitution, aided by Congressional Republicans and Democrats as well as too many among the electorate who are guilty by reason of fear or complacency.

The events of 9/11 sent masses rushing to either purchase or dust off their Bibles and reference scripture for guidance and to to justify “an eye for an eye.” Never mind that we leveled a country with no link to those who used our commercial airplanes as weapons. The attack on our soil provided the neocons the excuse they needed to implement their plan for domination of Earth’s bounties. Add to this the groupies convinced that George Bush was chosen by God to be president at this particular time of crisis. That Bush himself believed this should have been a red-flag warming that the path he demanded we follow would lead us, not to an Eden of security and prosperity but, to a miasma of endless conflict and contempt from most of the world.

The warmongers forgot the song learned in childhood:

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

The lyrics crawl through my consciousness as war rages on and candidates for the highest office in our land spar in their own war of words for the power prize, which is the authority to declare war. To John Bomb Bomb McCain, war is something about which to joke, promote, and accelerate. He reminds us repeatedly of his years as a tortured prisoner of war. Yet he never mentions the targets whose eyes he didn’t see--all those Vietnamese peasants, men, women, and children, whose bodies he melted. For Barack Obama who opposed the invasion of Iraq but, without fail, has voted to fund it, the prudent foreign policy strategy is to send more troops to the “right” hotspot, Afghanistan. Russia must love this.

Monday is the beginning of the Republican version of Denver. When McCain, who seems to have a "thing" for beauty queens, speaks, we’ll probably hear about that trip he’s going to take to the “gates of hell.” Also, he’ll offer the usual “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” and “if we leave too soon, they’ll follow us home,” and that we “must achieve victory.”

But no one is defining victory, so allow me: Victory is pledging allegiance to peace.

Imagine if we had a candidate who said:
So much of the history of our country has been sanitized. The truth is that we have battled unnecessarily, illegally, immorally. We have sent our sons and daughters to die, to return maimed, to sustain traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder while destroying the lives of those we call the enemy, the other. We have invaded for resources that we call our “interests” and for superior positioning. Just to show we can. Just to show our might. Not to defend ourselves. I say no more. Not on my watch. As your president, I pledge allegiance to the people. I pledge allegiance to peace.

Actually, we do have aspirants who have said as much. Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney certainly are transformational choices. Bob Barr, the Libertarian, gets it, too, when he says that war “should be the last rather than the first resort.” But our corporate media give them little credibility and even less airtime.

So, we wait. Some wave their flags and hope while others feel despair and shame at what continues to be done in our names.

[Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She's written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she's a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,'05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com.]

Source / CounterPunch

The Rag Blog

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Border Patrol Busts Continue on Olympic Peninsula

More Border Patrol action on the Olympic Peninsula reminds me that the permanent war on terror is simply the excuse for the permanent destruction of American democracy in favour of the Amerikkkan police state. Here is another example of innocent folks being bulldozed by the broken system. I am grateful to see that there are also those willing to protest actively against such police action.

See also this previous article on the blog about our local Olympic Peninsula Border goons.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

Demonstrators line South Forks Avenue near the transit center in Forks on Saturday to protest U.S. Border Patrol arrests and dention resulting from last week's highway checkpoint. -- Photo by Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News

60 demonstrate in Forks against Border Patrol checkpoints, detention of two youths
By Jim Casey and Leah Leach / August 31, 2008

FORKS — About 60 people protested Saturday in the wake of U.S. Border Patrol detention of Forks residents, including a recent high school honors graduate and a 16-year-old boy.

"Border Patrol Terrorizes Children!" read one sign held outside the Transit Center on South Forks Avenue.

"Honk if you support immigration," said another.

"Edgar lost his chance," said a sign held by Nenita Bocanegra.

"He was sent back to Mexico," Bocanegra said. "I got sad . . . and we made a sign for him."

Edgar Ayala, a Forks High School athlete who graduated with honors in June, was arrested during a Border Patrol checkpoint near Forks on Aug. 20, said Forks Mayor Nedra Reed.

Since then, he has been returned to his father in Mexico, she said Friday.

He had been in the United States since infancy, she added.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Carlos Bernabe was in federal detention in the Seattle area, said Border Patrol, spokesman Michael Bermudez in Seattle.

Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle, said she was not certain which facility the youth was in.

The boy could be released to a relative, Reed said, but his stepmother "would not go to pick him up because she was an illegal.

"I found out that his family, out of fear, have returned to Mexico," she said.

Bernabe's father was in Mexico, she said, and the teenager had lived in the United States.

"He's scheduled to appear before an immigration judge to determine what to do with this child," Reed said.

"What I've been trying to do for the last two days is get hold of someone and find out if they will release him to someone in town.

"I have someone who will take care of this child."

Stepped up enforcement

The Border Patrol is stepping up enforcement with checkpoints at three places on the North Olympic Peninsula, said Joseph Giuliano, deputy chief border patrol agent last week.

One is on U.S. Highway 101 at Milepost 198 between Forks and Beaver. Checkpoints reportedly were set up there on Aug. 20 and last Monday.

Another location is on state Highway 104 near the Hood Canal Bridge. Border Patrol agents ran a checkpoint there for about five hours on Aug. 22.

The third location — which had yet to be used last week — is on U.S. Highway 101 south of Discovery Bay in Jefferson County, Giuliano said.

At the checkpoints, agents are looking for terrorists and illegal immigrants, he said.

Agents also arrest people who have outstanding warrants.

Giuliano said the Peninsula is receiving additional attention from the Border Patrol because its long, remote coastline makes it difficult to secure by boat.

"When we can't cover all that ground up front, we rely on checkpoints," he said.

Said Bocanegra, "I want it to stop, because there's a lot of people who have been separated and who are scared.

"There are a lot of kids that are scared, that have seen families separated," she said.

"Some kids don't want to go to school because they are afraid."

The arrests of the two young people again brought to a head again the issue of illegal immigration to the West Ends of Clallam and Jefferson Counties.

Here, migrant workers harvest salal for florists as avidly as loggers fall trees for mills.

Tanya Ward, one of the organizers of Saturday's protest, is a member of the Hoh tribe who told Peninsula Daily News that illegal immigrants are treated with the same unfairness she said is shown to Native Americans.

"I don't think it's right for them to be taken out of their homes when their children are here and they're not doing anything wrong," she said.

Sanctuary city?

Ward said she wanted to propose that Forks declare itself a sanctuary city.

Such cities — an undetermined number of them across the country, starting with San Francisco in the 1980s — discourage municipal employees from enforcing or aiding enforcers of federal immigration laws.

To that degree, Forks already is such a city, Reed said, because city police "are not immigration officers. We are not employing any immigration activities on our own."

However, Forks officers will provide assistance and backup when asked to do so by Border Patrol officers or agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security.

"That's our mandate; that's our job; that's our role and responsibility," she said.

More poignant and perhaps more pressing, Reed said, is the fear that pervades Forks's Hispanic community as more Border Patrol officers take up duties on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Forty-five officers currently work out of the Port Angeles headquarters.

Although it is against the agency's policy to search for illegal immigrants in schools and churches, some parents are afraid to leave their homes to buy school supplies for their children, Reed said, or to send them to school when classes resume.

Others have taken to shopping for groceries in the small hours of the morning to avoid what they fear are roaming Border Patrol officers, she said.

Afraid she'll lose 'Auntie'

Reed said she'd had a 7-year-old girl in her office Friday, weeping because she feared her "Auntie" would be arrested and deported.

And while the mayor said the parents of such children place them at risk, "My God, what happens to the kids?"

Concerning declaring Forks a sanctuary city, Reed said no one officially had posed the idea to her or the city council.

"I'm not sure what our legal standing would be," she said.

But she was certain the issue of illegal immigration has divided Forks citizens.

"You have those people who are trying very hard to live up to their moral perception that they need to do something to help these folks," she said.

Other residents are in favor of deporting illegal immigrants immediately, she said.

Reed angry at Congress

As for the Border Patrol, Bermudez said agents have no choice but to arrest people they find are in the country illegally.

"We are obligated to take action," he said. "We swore an oath.

"It would be malfeasance if we did not do our job. It would subject us to punitive action."

Forks was the scene of a march by 700 people protesting immigration policies on May 1, 2006. Since then, its city council has had presentations from the Border Patrol on its policies and performance.

Reed, however, is angry — at Congress.

"We need a federal immigration policy," she said.

"Our federal government and our Congress have got to do something about illegal immigration.

"We hired them to do a job. We hired them to make the tough decisions."

As for the fate of Carlos Bernabe, Reed said Friday, "I've been waiting for a call all day and I've received nothing. It's so frustrating.

"We'll begin the process again on Tuesday."

Source / Peninsula Daily News

The Rag Blog

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Junior Has Declared a Permanent State of War (But Mostly on Democracy)

Click the image to see the entire slide show

Bush quietly seeks to make war powers permanent, by declaring indefinite state of war
By John Byrne / August 30, 2008

As the nation focuses on Sen. John McCain's choice of running mate, President Bush has quietly moved to expand the reach of presidential power by ensuring that America remains in a state of permanent war.

Buried in a recent proposal by the Administration is a sentence that has received scant attention -- and was buried itself in the very newspaper that exposed it Saturday. It is an affirmation that the United States remains at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated organizations."

Part of a proposal for Guantanamo Bay legal detainees, the provision before Congress seeks to “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”

The New York Times' page 8 placement of the article in its Saturday edition seems to downplay its importance. Such a re-affirmation of war carries broad legal implications that could imperil Americans' civil liberties and the rights of foreign nationals for decades to come.

It was under the guise of war that President Bush claimed a legal mandate for his warrantless wiretapping program, giving the National Security Agency power to intercept calls Americans made abroad. More of this program has emerged in recent years, and it includes the surveillance of Americans' information and exchanges online.

"War powers" have also given President Bush cover to hold Americans without habeas corpus -- detainment without explanation or charge. Jose Padilla, a Chicago resident arrested in 2002, was held without trial for five years before being convicted of conspiring to kill individuals abroad and provide support for terrorism.

But his arrest was made with proclamations that Padilla had plans to build a "dirty bomb." He was never convicted of this charge. Padilla's legal team also claimed that during his time in military custody -- the four years he was held without charge -- he was tortured with sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, forced stress positions and injected with drugs.

Times reporter Eric Lichtblau notes that the measure is the latest step that the Administration has taken to "make permanent" key aspects of its "long war" against terrorism. Congress recently passed a much-maligned bill giving telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for their participation in what constitutional experts see as an illegal or borderline-illegal surveillance program, and is considering efforts to give the FBI more power in their investigative techniques.

"It is uncertain whether Congress will take the administration up on its request," Lichtblau writes. "Some Republicans have already embraced the idea, with Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, introducing a measure almost identical to the administration’s proposal. 'Since 9/11,' Mr. Smith said, 'we have been at war with an unconventional enemy whose primary goal is to kill innocent Americans.'"

If enough Republicans come aboard, Democrats may struggle to defeat the provision. Despite holding majorities in the House and Senate, they have failed to beat back some of President Bush's purported "security" measures, such as the telecom immunity bill.

Bush's open-ended permanent war language worries his critics. They say it could provide indefinite, if hazy, legal justification for any number of activities -- including detention of terrorists suspects at bases like Guantanamo Bay (where for years the Administration would not even release the names of those being held), and the NSA's warantless wiretapping program.

Lichtblau co-wrote the Times article revealing the Administration's eavesdropping program along with fellow reporter James Risen.

He notes that Bush's language "recalls a resolution, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001... [which] authorized the president to 'use all necessary and appropriate force' against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks to prevent future strikes. That authorization, still in effect, was initially viewed by many members of Congress who voted for it as the go-ahead for the administration to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban, which had given sanctuary to Mr. bin Laden."

"But the military authorization became the secret legal basis for some of the administration’s most controversial legal tactics, including the wiretapping program, and that still gnaws at some members of Congress," he adds.

Source / Raw Story

The Rag Blog

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Police State Amerikkka: Minneapolis-St. Paul's Turn

Police officers watch a house that is being searched during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008. Protesters said police raided several Minneapolis homes on Saturday, just a few hours after Ramsey County sheriff's deputies raided an organizing site of a group seeking to disrupt the convention.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis
By Glenn Greenwald / August 30, 2008

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff's department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than "fire code violations," and early this morning, the Sheriff's department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning -- one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a "hippie house," where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with "peaceful kids" who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly. Posted below is the video of the scene, including various interviews, which convey a very clear sense of what is actually going on here.

In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as "Do you have Terminator ready?" as they lay on the floor in handcuffs. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.

Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild. Nestor said that last night's raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the "RNC Welcoming Committee", and that this morning's raids appeared to target members of "Food Not Bombs," which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.

Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is "conspiracy to commit riot." Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.

UPDATE: Here is the first of the videos, from the house that had just been raided:

Jane Hamsher has more here, and The Minnesota Independent has a report on another one of the raided houses, here.

Read the rest of the horror story here. / Salon

The Rag Blog

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Fontaine Maverick : John McCain is no Maverick!

Former Texas Congressman and San Antonio mayor Maury Maverick -- the real thing.

McCain's just talking 'gobbledygook'
By Fontaine Maverick
/ The Rag Blog / August 31, 2008

I just got a call from my brother, Maury Maverick, who said that if he hears that John McCain is a Maverick ONE MORE TIME, he is going to shoot the TV. Well, my brother doesn't even own a gun, but I know exactly how he feels. Every time we hear that use of our name, it is like fingernails on a blackboard times ten.

We kicked around the idea of doing a web page but good old Monkey Cage has beat us to the punch:
The Real Original Maverick

John McCain is running this new ad (see video below) touting himself as the “original maverick.”

This led Jason Zengerle and Christopher Orr over at TNR’s The Plank to debate whether Tom Cruise or James Garner is the real original maverick.

In fact, the original maverick was Maury Maverick, the grandson of Samuel Maverick, from whom the name maverick first entered the American lexicon. Maury was a radical politician from San Antonio who served two terms in Congress (1935-1939). There, he led a bloc of progressive Democrats who sought to push Roosevelt and the New Deal to the left. The press quickly labeled this group “The Mavericks.” While hugely popular with the the many poor Hispanics in his district, Maverick was far too liberal for the conservative Texas Democratic establishment. In 1938 he lost the Democratic party primary after being slandered as a communist. Maverick then went on to serve as mayor of San Antonio before once again losing in the primary after being red-baited.

During World War II, he served in various defense agencies. It was at this time that he coined the term “gobbledygook,” saying that incomprehensible government bureaucratese sounded like turkey noise.

Online Etymology Dictionary


1944, Amer.Eng., first used by U.S. Rep. Maury Maverick, D.-Texas, (1895-1954), a grandson of the original maverick (q.v.) and chairman of U.S. Smaller War Plants Corporation during World War II. First used in a memo dated March 30, 1944, banning "gobbledygook language" and mock-threateaning, "anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot." Maverick said he made up the word in imitation of turkey noise.

Online Etymological Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper.

This site has a nice description of Maverick’s congressional career along with links to the online version of his 1937 autobiography, A Maverick American.

Phil Klinkner / The Monkey Cage / August 5, 2008
John McCain ‘Maverick’ Commercial

Also see This Maverick The Real Deal by Joe Holley / The Rag Blog / March 1, 2008

The Rag Blog

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The Pursuit of Justice for Those Still Languishing in Guantanamo: Binyam Mohamed

Jackie Chase (left) of Brighton’s Save Omar campaign, with a picture of Binyam Mohamed, and Andy Worthington (right).

London's High Court Strikes a Blow at CIA: Shining a Light on the Dark Prison
By Andy Worthington / August 30, 2008

In the lawless world of Guantánamo -- and the United States’ even murkier network of secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA -- it has taken six years and four months for British resident Binyam Mohamed to secure anything resembling justice.

Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco three months later, where he was tortured on behalf of the US for 18 months, in sessions that regularly included having his genitals cut with a razor, and was then held for nine months in Afghanistan, first at the “Dark Prison,” a secret prison run by the CIA, where he was also tortured, and then at Bagram airbase. He has been held at Guantánamo since September 2004.

When justice finally came for Binyam, it was not at Guantánamo, but in London’s High Court, where, last Thursday, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones delivered a stinging rebuke to both the British and the American governments: to the British for the complicity of the UK intelligence services in the US administration’s post-9/11 policies of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and to the Americans for the lawless conduct of the trials by Military Commission that were established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to deal with “terror suspects” like Binyam (even though the judges professed in their ruling that they “did not consider it necessary to form any view about the overall fairness of the Military Commissions procedure”).

The road to the High Court opened up in May this year, when Binyam’s lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, who represent over 30 Guantánamo prisoners, teamed up with solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to sue the British government, seeking the release of information relating to British knowledge of Binyam’s rendition and torture, in preparation for his impending trial at Guantánamo.

In the event, this was prescient, as charges were leveled against Binyam on May 28, in connection with the spectral “dirty bomb” plot that was dropped years ago against US citizen Jose Padilla. It was, therefore, imperative that potentially exculpatory evidence -- which the British possessed, and which they had also handed over to the Americans -- was made available to his lawyers so that they could begin preparing a defense, and, preferably, discover evidence of torture, which would back up Binyam’s claims that the charges against him were based solely on confessions obtained through torture, and would, therefore, make the US administration call off his forthcoming trial.

It was an indication of how far removed the Military Commissions are from legal norms that, although Binyam’s lawyers contended that he had been tortured, and had discovered the records of “extraordinary rendition” flights that matched his accounts, the US administration had not only provided no information to enable them to defend him, but had also categorically refused to account for his whereabouts before his arrival at Bagram.

Whatever information they and the British possessed would, it was stated, be made available to Binyam’s military defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, at the discovery stage, should his trial go ahead, but as the trial of Salim Hamdan demonstrated last month, some evidence was withheld from the defense until the last possible moment, and other evidence -- relating, for example, to coercive interrogations of Hamdan conducted by the CIA in Afghanistan -- was ruled off-limits by the military judge presiding over the trial, and was, essentially, regarded as though it didn’t exist at all.

In Binyam’s case, his lawyers sued the British government after an earlier attempt to secure potentially exculpatory evidence from the British government was turned down, when the Treasury Solicitors, acting on behalf of the government, attempted to brush aside British complicity in Binyam’s rendition, torture and false confessions by claiming that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted,” and adding that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by his British lawyers.

Last Thursday, following a judicial review in the High Court that was triggered when Binyam’s lawyers sued the government, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones demolished the government’s defense of its actions in a 75-page judgment (PDF).

The judges made clear that, after Binyam was captured and US agents came to regard him as “a serious potential threat to the security of the United Kingdom,” the British intelligence services had “every reason to seek to obtain as much intelligence from him as was possible in accordance with the rule of law and to cooperate as fully as possible with the United States authorities to that end.” They concluded, however, that the actions of the intelligence services from May 2002, when a British agent visited Binyam in US-supervised Pakistani custody, until February 2003, when the British last received information from the US regarding his interrogations, had placed the British government in a position where it “was involved, however innocently, in the alleged wrongdoing,” which it had helped facilitate.

Regarding Binyam’s time in Pakistan, where the British agent who visited him on May 17, 2002 made it clear that the British government “would not help [him] unless he cooperated fully with the US authorities,” the judges ruled that Binyam’s detention was “unlawful” under Pakistani law, because he “was being detained by the United States incommunicado and without access to a lawyer.” Furthermore, the judges noted that the British intelligence services “provided further information to the United States and further questions to be asked of BM [Binyam]” for nine months after this visit, even though he “was still incommunicado and they must also have appreciated that he was not in a United States facility and that the facility in which he was being detained was that of a foreign government (other than Afghanistan).”

The judges noted that all of the above was particularly significant because the information obtained from Binyam was “sought to be used as a confession in a trial where the charges … are very serious and may carry the death penalty,” and that it is “a long-standing principle of the common law that confessions obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment cannot be used as evidence in any trial.” They therefore ruled that “by seeking to interview BM in the circumstances found and supplying information and questions for his interviews, the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the United States authorities went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.”

The gravity of this was brought home during the judicial review, when the agent who had interviewed Binyam in Pakistan was cross-examined for several days in closed sessions that were clearly so perilous for the agent, in terms of potential criminal liability for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act of 2001, that he brought his own legal adviser with him, and, it was revealed in the judgment, initially refused to answer the judges’ questions, fearing self-incrimination. This, of course, is in marked contrast to the position held by the US administration, which has refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court, and which, in addition, maintains that it “does not torture” and continues to do all in its power to deny that it has been responsible for gross human rights abuses.

In the second part of their ruling, the judges took as their starting point an admission by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, which took place “after the commencement of this application but before the hearing,” that he had “identified documents which he considers could be considered exculpatory or might otherwise be relevant in the context of the proceedings before the Military Commission.” After stating that David Miliband had informed Binyam’s lawyers and had “provided these documents to the United States Government,” the judges added, “It is a matter of regret that the documents have not been made available in the proceedings under the Military Commissions Act in confidence to BM’s lawyers, who have security clearance from the United States authorities to at least secret level.”

This was not the judges’ only thinly-veiled criticism of the behavior of the US authorities, but it was for three specific reasons that they proceeded to rule that the Foreign Secretary was “under a duty” to disclose “in confidence” to Binyam’s legal advisers the requested information, which was “not only necessary but essential for his defense”: firstly, because the Foreign Secretary had not made the documents available to Binyam’s lawyers; secondly, because the US authorities had also refused to do so; and thirdly, because the Foreign Secretary had accepted that Binyam had “established an arguable case” that, until his transfer to Guantánamo, “he was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by or on behalf of the United States,” and was also “subject to torture during such detention by or on behalf of the United States.”

Having demolished the cases put forward by both the British and American governments, the judges nevertheless held out a lifeline for the Foreign Secretary, pointing out that they would “make no order for the provision of the information” until he “had an opportunity to consider the interests of national security in the light of these judgments,” and set a date for a second hearing on Wednesday August 27.

On the day, what was initially regarded as a straightforward hearing for the Foreign Secretary to announce his response to the judges’ ruling turned into another long session as the government responded to the security concerns mentioned by the judges by filing a Public Interest Immunity (PII) Certificate seeking to suppress disclosure of the documents on the grounds of national security, and the US State Department attempted to strike a deal through correspondence with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

John Bellinger, the State Department’s Legal Adviser, claimed that public disclosure of the documents was “likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm existing intelligence information-sharing arrangements between our two governments.” His only concession to the judges’ ruling was to note that the Office of the Chief Prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions had agreed to provide the British intelligence documents (44 in total) to the Commissions’ Convening Authority, Susan Crawford, if she requested them, “subject only to the condition that the names of American and British government officials and the locations of intelligence facilities will be redacted from the documents prior to their being provided.” He added that, if Binyam’s trial were to go ahead, the redacted documents would be made available to his military lawyer at the “normal discovery phase” of the process.

In a separate email to the FCO, Stephen Mathias, one of John Bellinger’s deputies, offered a further concession “by way of update,” in which he stated that the Legal Adviser had now decided to present the documents to Susan Crawford, without waiting for her to ask for them. Describing this as “a significant development,” Stephen Mathias proceeded to claim, with a degree of force that appeared rather intimidating, “Ordering the disclosure of US intelligence information now would have only the marginal effects of serious and lasting damage to the US-UK intelligence sharing relationship, and thus the national security of the United Kingdom, and of aggressive and unprecedented intervention in the apparently functioning adjudicatory processes of a longtime ally of the United Kingdom, in contravention of well established principles of international comity.”

As Ben Jaffey (for Binyam) argued in court, neither the State Department’s “carefully calibrated concessions” nor the British government’s claim of Public Interest Immunity were tenable. He pointed out, as the judges did in their ruling, that the case did not involve public disclosure of the documents, but only the confidential disclosure to Binyam’s lawyers, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley and Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, who both have US security clearance. He added that the supposed concessions demonstrated merely that the US government was determined to find any method possible to prevent disclosure, and added that nothing offered by the State Department addressed the “central question” relating to Binyam’s rendition and torture. “Where,” he asked, “was Mr. Mohamed between 2002 and 2004?”

Ben Jaffey was equally dismissive of the British government’s PII claims, noting, in particular, that David Miliband had effectively conceded that the British government was going to hand over the intelligence documents to Binyam’s lawyers until the State Department intervened, and calmly dismissing the government’s national security claims. His composure was in marked contrast to that of the government’s representative, Tim Eicke, who struggled to maintain a coherent argument, despite the best efforts of the many representatives of the government and the intelligence services at the back of the court, who kept slipping him notes suggesting new twists on the spurious national security case.

On Friday, the judges delivered their second judgment on Binyam’s case (PDF). Noting that the correspondence from the State Department effected a “significant change” in the US position, they nevertheless refused to accept the British government’s position regarding its Public Interest Immunity Certificate. They were, it seemed, convinced in particular by submissions from the Special Advocates who represented Binyam in the various sessions of the court that were closed to the public when confidential material was being discussed. In the opinion of the Special Advocates, the PII Certificate, and other proposals presented in a closed session on Wednesday, “failed to address, in the light of allegations made by BM, the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Adding that this issue was something whose significance had been “accepted on behalf of the Foreign Secretary,” the judges proceeded to note that the Foreign Secretary “nevertheless contended that the issues arising out of BM’s allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were implicitly dealt with in his Certificate,” and in the documentation used in the closed session. “Having carefully considered this matter,” the judges wrote, “we do not consider that the issue arising out of the allegations made by BM is implicitly dealt with in these documents.”

Refusing to push the matter further, the judges commended the Foreign Secretary and the FCO’s Legal Adviser, Daniel Bethlehem QC, for having “gone to very considerable lengths to provide BM with assistance,” noting that it was “evident” that they had “been engaged in lengthy discussions which have led to the important changes” summarized in the second judgment. “This,” they added, “has been time-consuming and burdensome, and has rendered very real assistance to the interests of justice in this case.”

As a result, the judges concluded their second judgment by giving the Foreign Secretary another week to come up with a response to their initial ruling and the developments since. They suggested that this could be in the form of another security certificate, although I hope, of course, that, having been thrown another lifeline, the government might find it preferable, bearing in mind the Special Advocates’ description of “the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” either to give Binyam’s lawyers what they require, or, preferably, to convince the US administration that, in order to keep the door to the torture chambers firmly shut, the only available course of action is to drop the charges against Binyam and return him to the UK.

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the author of 'The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/. He can be reached at: andy@andyworthington.co.uk.

Source / CounterPunch

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Gustav: Two Million People May Be Displaced

Waiting for the bus

Another Journey Begins ... Waiting in New Orleans
By Bill Quigley / August 30, 2008

In the blazing midday sun, hot and thirsty little children walk around bags of diapers and soft suitcases piled outside a locked community center in the Lower Ninth Ward. Military police in camouflage and local police in dark blue uniforms and sunglasses sit a few feet away in their cars. Moms and grandmas sit with the children quietly. Everyone is waiting for a special city bus which will start them on their latest journey away from home.

Hundreds of buses are moving people away from the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Gustave is heading for the Louisiana coast nearly three years to the day after Hurricane Katrina destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes across the Gulf Coast. Many now face mandatory evacuation.

Dozens died in Haiti and the Dominican Republic after Gustave visited. After Katrina, few underestimate the potential of Gustave, now a Category 5 (out of a maximum of 5) storm.

Yesterday marching brass bands led commemorations for those who died and for those who lost so much in Katrina.

Today, Humvees crawl amid the thwack thwack thwack of plywood boards being nailed over windows.

Soldiers with long guns and police of all types are everywhere. Fifteen hundred police are on duty and at least that many National Guard are also here.

One estimate says two million people may be displaced.

In the lower nine, still no bus even after a wait of over two hours. Another mom clutching an infant walks up to the center with a small suitcase and adds another diaper bag to the pile. Children ask for water but nothing is provided. An African American nun named Sister Greta drives up with a few bags of ice and some water and paper cups and everyone happily shares.

This is the first step of displacement. Those with cars drive away. Those without walk to a community center with their children and wait for a bus. The first of many buses they will take in their journey to who-knows-where. The bus that people are waiting for will take them to the train station where people will get off the bus, be entered into computers, be given bar code bracelets, and then put on other buses for a trip to public shelters in places like Shreveport, Alexandria and Memphis.

New Orleans expects 30,000 people need help evacuating.

Many waiting for this bus were in the Superdome when Katrina hit. One of the men shows a picture of himself on a bridge surrounded by flood waters where hundreds waited for boats.

There are still big problems. A 311 call system for the disabled and seniors never properly functioned, crashed and has been abandoned.

Though the wait for the bus is rough, this appears to be a huge improvement. When Katrina hit, there were no buses and no way out of town for the 25 per cent of the city who had no cars. As a result, nearly 100,000 people were left behind. This time the hospitals and nursing homes are emptying, the prisoners are already moved out, and there are buses to carry out tens of thousands. There are still big problems, but people do have a chance to get out.

Seniors worry about their social security checks, due the first of the month. Others worry about leaving behind pets. (One semi-rural area announced that each person getting on the buses could bring one pet, a dog or cat, no roosters, no pigs). Others worry about the looming 24 hour curfews. St. Bernard Parish promises that those out during curfew will be arrested and immediately transported to Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Back at the community center, the bus finally pulls up. No one complains that it is late. Holding bags and children, people line up quietly in the sun to climb into their first bus. A blind man is guided into the bus. Little kids pull smaller children. Forty-three get on the bus. There are three nine-year old children, one seven-year old, one six, four three year olds, three one year olds, one infant is 11 months, a 3-month old, and a couple of young teenagers. All the moms and grandmas and kids and bags and diapers make it onto the bus and it pulls away.

Across the Gulf Coast, another journey starts.

[Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. His essay on the Echo 9 nuclear launch site protests is featured in Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland, published by AK Press. He can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.]

Source / CounterPunch

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Iraqi-US SOFA* Talks in Jeopardy

Shiite Muslims march in Najaf on Aug. 21 to denounce the presence of U.S. troops and talks with Washington. Photo: Qassem Zein / AFP/Getty Images

Agreement on U.S. withdrawal from Iraq said to be in peril as Maliki ousts negotiators
By Ned Parker / August 31, 2008

The Times is told that the prime minister has replaced the team with loyalists at the 'make-or-break' stage of talks. The two sides reportedly remain deadlocked on key issues.

BAGHDAD -- At the "make-or-break" stage of talks with the U.S. on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has swept aside his negotiating team and replaced it with three of his closest aides, a reshuffle that some Iraqi officials warn risks sabotaging the agreement.

The decision on the team negotiating the pact, which the Americans have described as the basis of a long-term strategic alliance between the United States and Iraq, remains so sensitive that it has not been announced. In disclosing the switch to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, a senior Iraqi official close to Maliki also suggested that the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues.

The shake-up comes just four months before the expiration of the United Nations mandate that authorizes the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the country recently, expectations rose that an agreement was imminent. But Iraq and the United States remain far apart on the matter of immunity for U.S. forces in Iraqi courts, the official said.

"People gave the impression we were close when Rice was here, but it's not over. We would have a serious problem if we took it to the parliament right now," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue.

The official insisted that if U.S. troops remained exempt from Iraqi rule of law, the pact would never get passed by the lawmakers.

The sides also are still negotiating a withdrawal date, the official said.

The latest version of the agreement, which was read to The Times by the Maliki confidant, says all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, unless Iraq requests otherwise. It also says the Americans will withdraw from cities in June 2009, unless the Iraqis ask them to stay.

The new wording is a departure from the White House's insistence on a conditions-based timeline for a pullout. Under the new language, Iraq, not the U.S. military, decides when the troops will leave. U.S. officials have gone back to Washington to consult on the language, the Maliki confidant said.

Some Iraqi lawmakers have reacted angrily to the dismissal of the original negotiating team.

"These are diversionary tactics to avoid a decision. It's not a question of negotiating teams. It's a matter of, do you want it or don't you?" said an Iraqi familiar with the talks. "They are avoiding the issue. They don't want a status of forces agreement. They don't want a security agreement."

Maliki's confidant defended the shake-up, saying the prime minister needs those closest to him to lead the talks because they have the authority to make decisions that the original team did not possess.

Iraqi and Western officials monitoring the talks have said Maliki is afraid of accepting terms that could brand him as an American puppet. Iran, which is fiercely opposed to an agreement, has also exerted intense pressure.

Shiite Muslim lawmakers have also said some members in the prime minister's Islamic Dawa Party believe that Iraq can survive without the Americans if the White House doesn't meet Maliki's demands.

In the reshuffle last week, Maliki dismissed the delegation headed by the Foreign Ministry and picked his national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie; his chief of staff, Tariq Najim; and political advisor Sadiq Rikabi to conduct the negotiations' final stage, the Maliki confidant said.

"The talks have reached a critical point now. They need a political decision, not a technical one," the official said. "The discussions have reached the make-or-break stage."

Rikabi, Rubaie and Najim report directly to the prime minister; Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Haj Hamoud, who led the original negotiations, has been removed, the official said. Western diplomats previously have criticized the prime minister for governing through his inner circle and shutting out other factions.

"Hamoud had to deal with too many people and then comes to a meeting with the prime minister," the official said. "It was a big process."

Iraq's politics are often turbulent, with the country's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians regularly plotting against one another. Until he took on the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, in the southern city of Basra in March, Maliki was considered politically weak and had been accused by Sunni Arab and Kurdish officials of hoarding power and executing a sectarian agenda.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh declined to comment on the shake-up, saying the Iraqi government had the right to choose the negotiators that it wanted.

A State Department spokesman in Washington told reporters last week that the United States hoped to finish an agreement by December. The sides had aimed to complete it by July. The Iraqi official close to Maliki said Iraq could always request an extension from the U.N. if they did not reach a deal before the end of the year.

Some Western and Iraqi officials blame the Americans for sending a team in the spring that demanded more than 50 long-term bases, the ability to launch operations without permission from the Iraqi government and immunity for security contractors and U.S. troops. Their opening stance played into the hands of Shiite lawmakers in Maliki's coalition, who want the Americans to leave, officials said.

Mithal Alusi, an independent Sunni lawmaker who has advised Maliki in the past, accused the prime minister of trying to wreck the talks.

"Why does he have to change the leaders of the negotiating team, and now? Why? We had reached the last part. Why does he have to change it?" Alusi asked. "He doesn't want it."

Source / Los Angeles Times

The Rag Blog

* Note: SOFA = Status of Forces Agreement

[+/-]

We Are Iraqis and No One Cares About Our Safety

Iraqi checkpoint at night

The Late Iraq
By Anwar Ali / August 30, 2008

It was only my second time out of Iraq traveling to a foreign country. It was night and from above Turkey we could see lights, like millions of colorful diamonds scattered around. When we were flying over Iraq, below we could see only a dust cloud and darkness.

Our flight to Turkey was six hours late and arrived at 3.30 a.m. I was very worried because the word “late” in Iraq means you expect to be shot. Not by terrorists, but by the Iraqi army or the Americans, unless you have a good excuse or are very lucky.

When we arrived to Istanbul, my wariness vanished as I found an entirely different world there. The airport was so fancy, the Turkish people were so nice; the streets were all surrounded by red and blue and different colors of flowers.

And although it was late we could see cars in the streets and people walking nearby, and when entering the neighborhood where we were staying, I thought it was only sunset as I saw many, many people walking around and sitting in restaurants.

Returning to Iraq, our flight was also late, by four hours. I was so worried since our arrival to Baghdad was at 10.30 p.m. and that was not safe.

The streets in Baghdad after 9 p.m. are very dangerous and full of army, police and American checkpoints. Sometimes they can’t understand why you are out late and shoot, and sometimes they understand.

It took more than an hour to land, to be searched, to have our passports stamped and to wait for our bags. I wonder why they didn’t think of the security situation for the passengers who arrived at such a late hour?

Maybe the airplane is more important than the passengers. Well, we are Iraqis and no one cares about our safety. They care more about their interests and our oil. I totally understand that, and have got used to living with this reality.

At 11.20 p.m. we finished everything and we headed to look for any means of transportation that could take us to the square where my husband and my brother were waiting.

We drove through the darkness and passed through several checkpoints. The first one was a warm greeting from two American tanks pointing their barrels at us. The others were the Iraqi army, each time asking us, ‘Where are you coming from?’ and ‘Where are you going to?’ and opening the trunk to search our bags.

The streets were empty, shops were closed. There was only us, the army and the blast walls. As we were driving in this dead city and empty neighborhood we saw a man who was only wearing shorts sitting half-naked in the middle of the road, at midnight.

Of course he was not like all the tourists that I saw that morning wearing shorts in Turkey. He was planting a bomb. And when he saw us, he ran away.

Anwar J. Ali is an Iraqi journalist who works for The New York Times in Baghdad. This is the second of two articles on her recent trip to Turkey. The first was published on Baghdad Bureau on Thursday.

Source / The New York Times Baghdad Bureau Blog

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Singin' on Sunday - Clapton and Baby Face

Eric Clapton & Babyface - Change the World

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

30 August 2008

Gustav: Another Chance for BushCo to Shine

CNN Breaking News, 6:09 PM PDT, 30 August 2008: "Mayor Ray Nagin orders New Orleans evacuated, calling Hurricane Gustav 'the mother of all storms.'"

And more CNN Breaking News, 8:14 AM PDT, 31 August 2008: "President Bush, Vice President Cheney to skip Republican convention because of Hurricane Gustav, White House says."

Blackwater Gearing Up for Hurricane Gustav
By R.J. Hillhouse / August 29, 2008

Gustav Blackwater Worldwide is currently seeking qualified law enforcement officers and security personnel to potentially deploy to provide security in the possible aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. This is the first time Blackwater has mobilized under its controversial Homeland Security contracts. Blackwater did deploy security personnel to assist New Orleans in wake of Hurricane Katrina and this resulted in great controversy since it was the first time a private military corporation had deployed on US soil.

Blackwater issued the following call for personnel late Friday afternoon:
Blackwater is compiling a list of qualified security personnel for possible deployment into areas affected by Hurricane Gustav. Applicants must meet all items listed under the respective Officer posting and be US citizens. Contract length is TBD.

Law Enforcement Officers (all criteria must apply)

1. Current sworn [may be full time, part time or reserve]

2. With arrest powers

3. Armed status (must indicate Armed and/or Semi Auto. Revolver only not accepted) expiration must be greater than 60 days out

4. Departmental credentials (not just a badge)

Armed Security Officers (all criteria must apply)

Only from the following states: OR, WA, CA, NV, NM, AZ, TX, FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, IL, OK

1. Current/active/licensed/registered armed security officer

2. All training verification [unarmed and armed certificates of completion]

3. Current state issued face card indicting armed status [expiration must be greater than 60 days out]

Applicants will be required to provide an electronic copy of the above required credentials/documents, recent photo within the last six months with response to this AD prior to consideration for deployment.

Personnel who meet the above qualifications and are interested, please send resumes and files to: 25505@blackwaterusa2.hrmdirect.com

Source / The Spy Who Billed Me

And there's this:
Gustav is gathering strength, heading towards Gulf Coast states
By Joe Sudbay (DC) August 30, 2008

From the National Hurricane Center:

And, the latest projected track has it hitting the coast of Louisiana in the very early hours of Tuesday:

Scott McClellan thinks this good be good for the Republican Party. Seriously:
"If it's a major hurricane, I think that they certainly need to show they learned lessons from three years ago, both from a policy and perception standpoint," McClellan said.

He also suggested that McCain could benefit politically from such a scenario: It would allow Bush to mount an effective GOP response to a disaster while removing the unpopular president from the convention roster.

"It could be a two-fer," McClellan said.

Source / America Blog

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Pop Goes Another (Banking) Weasel

The notice that appears if you visit the Integrity Bank Web site

Integrity Bank Becomes 10th U.S. Failure This Year (Update2)
By Alison Vekshin and Ari Levy / August 29, 2008

Integrity Bank of Alpharetta, Georgia, was closed by U.S. regulators today, the 10th bank to collapse this year amid a surge in soured real-estate loans stemming from the worst housing slump since the Great Depression.

Integrity Bank, with $1.1 billion in assets and $974 million in deposits, was shuttered by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Regions Financial Corp., Alabama's biggest bank, will assume all deposits from Integrity, which was run by Integrity Bancshares Inc. The failed bank's five offices will open on Sept. 2 as branches of Regions, the FDIC said.

``Depositors will continue to be insured with Regions Bank so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship to retain their deposit insurance,'' the FDIC said.

Banks are being closed at the fastest pace in 14 years as financial companies report more than $505 billion in writedowns and credit losses since 2007. California lender IndyMac Bancorp Inc., which had $32 billion in assets, was closed July 11 in the third-largest bank seizure, contributing to a 14 percent drop in the U.S. deposit insurance fund that had $45.2 billion at the end of the in the second quarter.

Regions will buy about $34.4 million in assets and will pay the FDIC a premium of 1.01 percent to assume the failed bank's deposits, the FDIC said. The FDIC estimates the cost of the Integrity failure to its deposit-insurance fund will be $250 million to $300 million.

Read all of the gory details here. / Bloomberg

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

FISA Foils ACLU Yet Again

Secret Spying Court Stays Secret, Rejects ACLU Plea Again
By Ryan Singel / August 29, 2008

For the the third time in a year, a secret spying court rejected an ACLU request to let some sunshine pierce its dark curtains of secrecy, ruling late Thursday that national security prohibits publishing even unclassified versions of court documents or allowing non-government lawyers to argue in the court.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was reacting to an ACLU petition in July to be part of the court's review of new wiretapping powers handed to the Administration by Congress in July. Under the new law ---known as the FISC Amendments Act -- the nation's spies can order companies like AT&T and Google to help the government drop dragnets into domestic internet and phone facilities to capture all communications suspected to involve at least one foreigner.

Previously, the law said that such wiretaps had to be approved on an individual basis if done inside the U.S., while more lax rules held sway if the govenrment wiretapped such communications outside the U.S. That legality did not stop the Bush Administration, which began a secret spying program after 9/11 that included targeting these kinds of communications.

The ACLU argued that the new law expanded the government's powers so broadly that the court needed to make exceptions to its ultra-secret hearings that never allow any opposition.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge Marya McLaughin dismissed those pleas, saying (.pdf) that there was no right for the public to know about the workings of the court.

The FISC has no tradition of openness, either with respect to its proceedings, its orders or to Government briefings filed with the FISC. [...]

Although it is possible to identify some benefits which might flow from public access to Government briefs and FISC orders ... any such benefits would be outweighed by the risks to national security created by the potential exposure of the Government's targeting and minimization procedures.

ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer expressed frustration, yet again -- saying that secrecy should not be wrapped around a new law that affects every American's privacy.

"The Bush administration says that the new law is necessary to protect the country against terrorism, but there’s nothing in the law that prevents the government from monitoring the communications of innocent Americans," Jaffer said in a written statement. "The intelligence court should not be deciding important constitutional issues in secret judicial opinions issued after secret hearings at which only the government is permitted to appear."

The ACLU also wanted to file a brief contesting the constitutionality of the targeting procedures and the law, but McLaughin declined, saying that the group's analysis would not be helpful since only the government and the court know how the spying works.

The FISC was given a little authority in the new law to oversee the procedures the National Security Agency will use to make sure it does not intentionally target Americans or snag purely domestic communications with its new dragnets. Under the rules, the NSA can't point the microphone at a particular American to monitor their overseas communications without a court order naming the target, but can monitor all Americans by targeting anyone outside the country using a new blanket order.

The ACLU also asked the court to make the government file unclassified versions of the documents it has to file with the court that describe the dragnets. Other than a yearly accounting of how many surveillance court orders it has granted or denied, little is known of the court and it has only released a handful of decisions in its 30-year history -- including three in the last 12 months denying the ACLU's petitions to open itself up.

The ACLU also filed suit in federal district court to contest the law, which also provides retroactive amnesty for telecoms that helped the government warrantlessly spy on Americans.

Source / Wired

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Dumbing Down the War on Terror

Dumbest salvo yet in the war on terror, courtesy of the London police
By Cory Doctorow / August 30, 2008

Today I spotted this sign at a Tesco's grocery store in Islington, London -- it might just be the single stupidest salvo in the war on terror to date, courtesy of the London Metropolitan Police:

Terrorism: If you suspect it, report it

Observation and surveillance help terrorists plan attacks. Have you seen anyone taking pictures of security arrangements?

If you work in vehicle hire or sales, has a sale or rental made you suspicious?

Meetings, training and planning can take place anywhere. Do you know someone who travels but is vague about where they are going?

Do you know someone who visits terrorism-related websites?

Anonymous, pay-as-you-go and stolen mobiles are typical. Have you seen someone with large quantities of mobiles? Has it made you suspicious?

Translation: god help you if you worry about CCTVs in your neighbourhood, get into an argument at the car-rental agency, don't feel like telling your co-workers that you go off to have regular dialysis treatments, look at websites that the guy next to you in the Internet cafe isn't familiar with, or can't get credit and use pay-as-you-go phones instead. After all, the police here don't even need to charge you with a crime in order to lock you up for 42 days. Absolutely the stupidest salvo in the war on terror to date, Tesco's, Islington, London, UK.

Source / Boing-Boing

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Suing to End Twenty-First Century Slavery

This story yields speculation of another relatively predictable outcome: the acquital of KBR of any wrongdoing (see our post, Because the Empire is never, Ever Wrong - this is really all the same story, differing details). As Juan Cole points out, the circumstances that brought these Nepalese men to Iraq in the first place should be termed slavery ("human trafficking") by any reasonable definition. How is it that this continues to occur in modern times?

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

Aftermath of the abduction of the 12 Nepalese workers in Iraq

Nepalese sue US company over Iraq

A Nepalese man and relatives of 12 others who were killed in Iraq four years ago are suing American firm KBR on charges of human trafficking.

The men were recruited in Nepal to work in a hotel in Jordan, but were later told they would have to work at a US air base in Iraq, their lawyers said.

Twelve of the men were kidnapped and killed by Islamic militants while being transported inside Iraq.

The 13th man was made to work against his will at the air base, lawyers said.

The execution-style killing of the hostages was recorded by the extremists and posted on a website.

The incident sparked riots in Nepal with angry demonstrators targeting a mosque, some government buildings and offices of employment agencies.

At least two people were killed in the protests.

'Passports seized'

The lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday alleged "that the illicit trafficking scheme... was engineering by KBR and its subcontractor", identified as Daoud & Partners.

The men, between the ages of 18 and 27, were recruited "to work as kitchen staff in hotels and restaurants in Amman, Jordan", said a statement from Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, one of the law firms handling the case.

Relatives of kidnapped worker in Iraq
Some recruitment agencies are blamed for sending workers to Iraq

But once they arrived in Jordan "they were not provided the expected employment," the statement said.

Their passports were seized, and they were told they were being sent to Iraq "to provide menial labour" at the Al-Asad air base, it added.

"For 15 months, the 13th man Buddi Prasad Gurung, was held in Iraq against his will, before KBR and Daoud allowed him to return home to Nepal," the statement said.

"It doesn't appear that any of them knew they were going to Iraq," news agency Reuters quoted attorney Matthew Handley as saying.

KBR would not comment on the lawsuit, but in a statement, the company said it "in no way condones or tolerates unethical or illegal behaviour".

Nepal banned its citizens from going to Iraq to work there in 2003 because of safety concerns.

But a lack of employment opportunities back home meant that private recruitment agencies continued to send Nepalese workers to Iraq through countries like Jordan and Kuwait.

Source / BBC News

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Carl Davidson : Networking at the DNC

Mimi Kennedy and Tim Carpenter of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).

'At the DNC, all the important stuff these days goes on everywhere EXCEPT on the convention floor'
By Carl Davidson / August 30, 2008

DENVER -- This is my last day in town, and all the talk around the breakfast table is how and where everyone will watch or listen to 'The Speech', Obama's premier performance at Invesco Field. I decide not to waste time hassling long lines or working connections for tickets, since I can watch it on TV in nearby Boulder, where my partner is staying with family.

So I head for the church hosting 'The Nation' and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). On arrival, I've just missed Rev. Jesse Jackson, but Ron Kovic of 'Born on the Fourth of July' fame and early member of Vietnam Vets Against the War is holding forth on his mistreatment at a past GOP convention. He then reports on yesterday's powerful five-mile IVAW and youth march. He did the entire length in his wheelchair. He can't praise the organizers highly enough, acknowledges that Obama did the right thing, but says to keep pushing on. He ends by asserting that we can't let the right have a monopoly on patriotism, so long as we remember we're also 'citizens of the world.' He gets a standing ovation.

I decide to walk the streets again. I want to take it all in, and reflect at little on what major party conventions are all about.

First stop is the lobby at the Sheraton. For a veteran organizer like me, working away 0n a variety on fronts for 45 years, all I have to do is stand there for 15 minutes and someone I know will show up. Sure enough, someone calls my name, and it's Brian Kettenring from ACORN, now one of their top organizers. I first met him when he was a young student ACORN worker in Chicago. He's been on the West Coast for years, but introduces me to ACORN activists from Pennsylvania, now my base area.

Brian tells me he's headed for ACORN headquarters in DC, where, half-joking, half serious, he tells me he wants them to let him set up a 'Department of Socialism' to discuss 'bigger picture things'. I tell him I've working on just the thing for him, the newly formed 'U.S. Solidarity Economy Network,' with an upcoming conference early in 2009. My trend in SEN is based on David Schweickart's 'After Capitalism' with 'Economic Democracy' as a 'successor system' enroute to a fuller blown socialism. It'll challenge ACORN, but it starts on the ground, where they are. He's very interested, and we decide to stay in touch on it. Plus I now have a new contact in Philly.

So there's lesson number one. Conventions are about horizontal networking. Completely apart from the official goings-on, this stuff happens everywhere. Multiply my short example with Brian by 100, and you get the idea.

From the Sheraton, I take an elevated walkway and run into a building with an inviting, postmodernist display on ecology, energy and related topics. It's aimed at DNC delegates and put up by a high-tech design outfit called 'Partly Sunny: Designs to Change the Forecast. Inside are dozens of displays of green and solar construction materials and firms to build the homes and offices of the future. When a young guide offers to help, I ask 'are any these outfits worker or community coops?' Some are, she answers, and shows me how I can find out more. This gets me thinking that almost all of these firms are what we call 'high road capitalists' and thus some of them possible candidates to pull into our solidarity economy networking.

Now 'Partly Sunny' is just one of thousands of corporate displays, presentations and parties going on all week. While this one is a small, relatively progressive example, all of them, bad guys and good guys, are going all out in the DNC events to draw the country's political class upward and into its orbit of influence.

Thus we have lesson number two. Conventions are about vertical networking and its more aggressive cousin, cooptation. There's a constant influx of newer and younger delegates, candidates, elected officials and party workers to be recruited. If you've been to college, think fraternity and sorority 'Rush Week', and you'll have the right idea.

I head back to the church because I want to catch PDA's summary sessions. Along the way, I run into a dozen people I know wanting to know if I know where they can get tickets (I don't) or telling me about the hoops they went through to get them.

This is lesson three. Conventions are about discovering the pecking orders in the various cliques, and how to turn them to your advantage, for good reasons or otherwise.

So I what do I conclude? Major party conventions are really a lot like high school and the socialization process we all experience in and through them. Learning all the cliques, all the pecking orders, where you can best fit in and suffer least, having a good time in the coolest clubs and extracurricular activities. You know, all the important stuff that goes on everywhere except the classroom. At the DNC, all the important stuff these days goes on everywhere EXCEPT on the convention floor and the 'big night' speeches. These latter events are actually, for better or worse, carefully scripted infomercials mostly far beyond our reach.

A corollary lesson: You can accomplish a lot here, but you better come in with a very clear idea of your core values, your own platform and your strategic orientation. If you don't, you'll wind up being part of someone else's platform and strategy. But if you do, you can make major gains.

PDA is a case in point. As I arrive for the final sessions, Dennis Kucinich is pressing impeachment, whipping out his pocket copy of the Constitution. Next, Steve Cobble, Leslie Cagan, Jaime Raskin (State Senator, Maryland) and Rep Keith Ellison, the Congressman from Minnesota who is also a practicing Muslim, and caused a flurry in the press when he was sworn in using Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Koran--all of them are on the platform, ready to follow up and discuss what it means to defend the Constitution and democracy in even broader terms.

Tim Carpenter, PDA's tireless chief organizer and John Nichols of the Nation are setting up the crowd. Tim is explaining how PDA has grown, in just four years, from a few dozen in 2004 to now over 140,000 members all across the country. Mimi Kennedy and Jodie Evans are also there, and add in on how the persistent and audacious pursuit of their 'inside-outside' strategy has succeeded and the turnouts to all the sessions this week shows they've made even greater gains.

PDA, of course, is hardly the only player in the progressive movement. I like much of what they do, and work closely with them back in Beaver County, Pa. But there's also room for improvement and other approaches and organizations, too. My point here is that groups ignoring and avoiding the political events and activities surrounding elections--and you don't have to support any candidate or platform to be engaged in them--are only shooting themselves in the foot.

I'm hardly a believer that basic social change is achieved by elections. But I'm a firm believer that change on this order must proceed THROUGH them, in the long march through all the institutions of our society, building the strongholds we need for the popular power and economic democracy that can take us even farther down the road. With that thought in mind, I'm headed back to Beaver County, Western PA, where I hear Obama and Biden are making a bus tour around the state. It's a very tight race there, and we'll soon see if this helps.

Source / Progressives for Obama

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