Friday, February 17, 2006

Democracy Now: Olivia Roussert, Mark Benjamin, Alfred McCoy; Center for Constitutional Rights

U.S. Judge Dismisses Maher Arar Lawsuit
A U.S. federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Canadian citizen against the U.S. government for detaining him and sending him to Syria where he was jailed and tortured. Maher Arar was the first person to mount a civil suit challenging the U.S. government policy known as extraordinary rendition. In October 2002, he was detained at JFK airport while on a stopover in New York. He was then jailed and secretly deported to Syria. He was held for almost a year without charge in an underground cell not much larger than a grave. Charges were never filed against him. The federal judge, David Trager, said he could not interfere in the case because it involves crucial national security and foreign relations issues. In Canada, Arar called the decision "very disappointing [and] emotionally very hard to digest." Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights said the law group would still try to proceed with the case. She said "How can this Administration argue before a Federal Court Judge that its practice of outsourcing for interrogation under torture constitutes a state secret? This is a dark day indeed."
Senate Votes 96-3 to Reject Sen. Feingold's Effort to Stall Patriot Act Renewal
In other news from Capitol Hill, the Senate is moving closer to renewing the Patriot Act. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is leading the effort to block renewal but he is receiving little support even from fellow Democrats. Feingold wants to set a four-year expiration date on provisions within the Act that allows government agents to force banks, libraries, Internet providers and others to hand over private records without a warrant. On Thursday, the Senate voted 96 to 3 to reject Feingold's efforts to stall the legislation. Only independent Senator Jim Jeffords and Democrat Robert Byrd backed Feingold.
FBI Raids Homes of Pro-Independence Activists in Puerto Rico
In Washington, several members of Congress are calling for an investigation into recent raids conducted by the FBI targeting pro-independence activists in Puerto Rico. Last week hundreds of members of the FBI's counterterrorism unit conducted six simultaneous raids targeting members of the pro-independence group known as the Macheteros. The FBI claimed it was attempting to thwart a possible domestic terrorism attack. At one of the raids, FBI agents beat and pepper sprayed journalists who attempted to conduct interviews. The raids come less than six months after the FBI shot dead Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.
Scientists: Greenland's Glaciers Are Melting Twice As Fast As in 1996
Scientists announced Thursday that Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed. The shocking discovery has rendered obsolete predictions about how quickly the Earth's oceans will rise over the next century. The researchers found that in 2005, the glaciers discharged more than twice as much ice as they did in 1996.
The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Wendy, Jonah, West and LilyDemocracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says):
Headlines for February 17, 2006

- U.S. Judge Dismisses Maher Arar Lawsuit
- Kofi Annan Calls for U.S. To Close Guantanamo
- Senate Republicans Block Investigation Into NSA Spying
- Judge Orders Justice Dept To Release NSA Documents
- Scientists: Greenland's Glaciers Melting Twice as Fast as in 1996
- Rice: Iran is the "Central Banker" of Global Terrorism
- FBI Raids Homes of Pro-Independence Activists in Puerto Rico
- Bush Says He Supports Cheney's Handling of Shooting Accident
Australian Report Reveals More Abu Ghraib Torture Photos, Drawing Public Outrage

The Australian news program Dateline aired a report on SBS public broadcasting earlier this week that broke the story of more photographs and videos of Iraqi detainees being tortured inside Abu Ghraib. We air an excerpt of the original Australian report and speak with reporter Olivia Rousset of SBS in Sydney. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to U.S. authorities who said that the release of these images endangers U.S. soldiers around the world?
OLIVIA ROUSSERT: I think the abuses themselves endanger U.S. soldiers around the world. My experience from talking to Iraqis has been that they all know this happened, they all knew this was going on way before any of us did. It's nothing new to them. It's a long time -- the truth and the full story is a long time coming for everyone else, but these are people who have been living with it and who aren't surprised by it. They're possibly more surprised by the reaction of the rest the world, or lack of reaction, at different times. Runs Abu Ghraib Torture Photos Leaked from Internal Army Source published even more torture photographs from Abu Ghraib a day after the Australian report aired on SBS public broadcasting. The online publication obtained photos, video and other electronic documents from an internal Army investigation. We speak with reporter Mark Benjamin, who obtained the files and other electronic documents. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: As we talk to Olivia Roussert of SBS Dateline in Australia and Mark Benjamin, a reporter who has been covering soldiers in Iraq and back from Iraq, especially many of the wounded, the tens of thousands. Mark Benjamin works for I want to ask you the same question I asked Olivia, Mark, and that is, your response to the U.S. government, the State Department condemning the release of these photographs.
MARK BENJAMIN: I would just add that that argument has already been rejected by a federal judge who said, you know, release the photographs doesn’t -- if it -- essentially, terrorists need no pretext to carry out their terrorist acts, so I think that argument has been rejected. And I agree that, you know, if the Army is so concerned about images of torture or abuse inciting violence, one thing to do is to try to prevent it in the first place.
I would also note that this -- one of the reasons why we're conducting this investigation at Salon is because there are some indications that would suggest that the responsibility for this abuse may go relatively high in the chain of command. For example, the military intelligence folks who are the professional interrogators are heavily involved in directing operations at Abu Ghraib, according to the materials that we have. The materials also show heavy involvement by O.G.A., Other Government Agency, which is a code word for C.I.A. folks. The involvement of those people at the prison suggests the possibility that this was a more organized abuse situation, and until we've gotten to the bottom of that, we’re going to continue to investigate, and if in the process of that we come across photos that we believe should be part of the public record, we are going to publish them.
Professor McCoy Exposes the History of CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror

We now take a look at what lies behind the shocking images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison by turning to the history of the CIA and torture techniques. Professor Alfred McCoy talks about his book “A Question of Torture”, a startling expose of the CIA development of psychological torture from the Cold War to Abu Ghraib. CIA mercenaries attempted to assassinate McCoy more than 30 years ago. [includes rush transcript - partial]
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, you have not stopped looking at the C.I.A., and now you've written this new book. It's called A Question of Torture: C.I.A. Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. Give us a history lesson.
ALFRED McCOY: Well, if you look at the most famous of photographs from Abu Ghraib, of the Iraqi standing on the box, arms extended with a hood over his head and the fake electrical wires from his arms, okay? In that photograph you can see the entire 50-year history of C.I.A. torture. It's very simple. He's hooded for sensory disorientation, and his arms are extended for self-inflicted pain. And those are the two very simple fundamental C.I.A. techniques, developed at enormous cost.
From 1950 to 1962, the C.I.A. ran a massive research project, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, spending over $1 billion a year to crack the code of human consciousness, from both mass persuasion and the use of coercion in individual interrogation. And what they discovered -- they tried LSD, they tried mescaline, they tried all kinds of drugs, they tried electroshock, truth serum, sodium pentathol. None of it worked. What worked was very simple behavioral findings, outsourced to our leading universities -- Harvard, Princeton, Yale and McGill -- and the first breakthrough came at McGill. And it's in the book. And here, you can see the -- this is the -- if you want show it, you can. That graphic really shows -- that's the seminal C.I.A. experiment done in Canada and McGill University --
AMY GOODMAN: Describe it.
First highlight finds Liang noting the same topic Wendy did (see top of entry), "Attorneys for Canadian Rendition Victim Vow to Keep Fighting Despite Ruling in Case" (Center for Constitutional Rights):
On February 16, 2006,in  New York,attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) voiced disappointment after Federal Court Judge David Trager dismissed the federal lawsuit brought on behalf of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was "rendered" to Syria by U.S. authorities where he was tortured and held in prison for nearly a year.  In his ruling, Judge Trager determined that he could not review the decision by U.S. officials to send Mr. Arar to Syria to be tortured, because it was a question of national security and foreign relations.
On February 16, 2006,in  New York,attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) voiced disappointment after Federal Court Judge David Trager dismissed the federal lawsuit brought on behalf of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was "rendered" to Syria by U.S. authorities where he was tortured and held in prison for nearly a year.  In his ruling, Judge Trager determined that he could not review the decision by U.S. officials to send Mr. Arar to Syria to be tortured, because it was a question of national security and foreign relations.     
"This ruling sets frightening precedent. U.S. officials sent Maher Arar to Syria to be detained and interrogated through torture.  To allow the Bush Administration to continue to evade accountability and continue to hide behind the smokescreen of 'national security' is to do grave and irreparable damage to the Constitution and the guarantee of human rights that people in this country could once be proud of," said Mr. Arar's Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Maria LaHood.
Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at J.F.K. Airport in September 2002 on his way home to his family in Canada.  He was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without the benefit of legal counsel. The Administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda, and rendered him, not to Canada, his home and country of citizenship, but to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned for torture.  Mr. Arar spent ten months detained in Syria, where he was brutally interrogated and tortured, without charge.  After nearly a year of confinement, Syrian authorities released Mr. Arar, publicly stating that they had found no connection to any criminal or terrorist organization or activity.  Upon his return to Canada, Mr. Arar was never charged with any crime; nor has he been charged with any crime by the United States.  The Canadian Parliament has convened a Public Inquiry to investigate the details and reasoning behind Mr. Arar's rendition. The United States has categorically refused to cooperate with the Inquiry.
On January 22, 2004, the Center filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Tom Ridge, as well as numerous U.S. immigration officials.  The claims in the lawsuit include violations of Mr. Arar's right to due process under the U.S. Constitution and his right not to be tortured under color of foreign law as guaranteed by the Torture Victim Protection Act.
In January of 2005, the U.S. government asserted the "state secrets" privilege, arguing that the law suit must be dismissed because allowing it to proceed would necessarily involve the disclosure of sensitive information that would threaten national security or diplomatic relations if made public.  Arar arguments were heard on Defendants' motions to dismiss on August 9, 2005.
"There can be little doubt that every official of the United States government knew that sending Mr. Arar to Syria was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and international law.  How can this Administration argue before a Federal Court Judge that its practice of outsourcing for interrogation under torture constitutes a state secret? This is a dark day indeed.  We will not accept this decision and are committed to continuing our campaign to obtain the truth about what happened to Maher and demand accountability on behalf of the Administration," said Barbara Olshansky, Deputy Legal Director with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
CCR Cooperating Attorney and Georgetown Law School Professor David Cole said, "We don't think whether government officials can send a human being to another country to be tortured is a political question.  It's a legal question, appropriate for resolution by the courts.  Torture is absolutely prohibited by international law and by our law, and if courts are not willing to protect individuals like Arar, who will?" 
Attorneys working on the case include Robert Fink, Joshua Sohn, Zazy Lopez, and Sarah Sterken from Piper, Rudnick, and, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky and Maria LaHood, and cooperating attorneys David Cole, Jules Lobel, and Paul Hoffman.
What do you think?  Members consider that rhetorical.  But there are people who will think "Hey, no big deal."  Rebecca had a strong entry about the prisoners in Guantanamo yesterday and I'll swipe from it to a section we can apply to the above:
this is something you'll have to answer for. children in a generation or 2 will ask you, 'how were you able to just stay silent and look the other way?' so if that's your plan to keep on ignoring this, you might use that looking away time to come up with a good excuse. this is a sad thing, this is a tragedy.
being scared senseless immediately after 9-11 might have been understandable for some, goodness knows the bully boy was working overtime - the only time he ever works - to scare the nation. and you may have been grieving and felt like 'who cares?'
well it's past time to care.
From there, we'll move to Billie's highlight, Maureen Farrell's "Detention Camp Jitters" (BuzzFlash):
It should be noted that the government has traditionally tried to curb dissent during wartime and much of what we're seeing today existed in the Vietnam era, too. In 1967, with the assistance of an Army task force, President Lyndon Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which called for the use of military force to squelch civil disturbances. A year after four unarmed Kent State University students were gunned down by members of the Ohio National Guard, Sen. Sam Ervin's Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights uncovered information regarding Operation Garden Plot and discovered a massive military surveillance program used against citizens. The FBI's domestic counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO also came to light when the Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI lifted documents and leaked them to the press. And, as we later learned, from 1967 to 1971 the FBI also kept an "agitator index" or ADEX file, which was a list of individuals to be rounded up as subversives.
Operation Cable Splicer, a subplot of Operation Garden Plot which included plans to control civilian populations and take over state and local governments, also appeared to be in play during Hurricane Katrina, when President Bush announced that the Pentagon was developing plans to give the military a larger role in responding to catastrophic events and suggested that the federal government should override state and local authorities. "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces," Bush said in a speech. (The president also announced that the U.S. military could enforce quarantines should there be a bird flu outbreak, which Irwin Redlener, associate Dean of Columbia University's School of Public Health for Disaster Preparedness, deemed an "extraordinarily draconian measure," which translates to "martial law in the United States.").
In 2002, a New York Times editorial stated that the FBI now has "nearly unbridled power to poke into the affairs of anyone in the United States, even when there is no evidence of illegal activity" and one year later, FBI Intelligence Bulletin no. 89 was sent to police departments, revealing that the federal government was advocating that local authorities spy on U.S. citizens. When the Atlanta Police Department acknowledged that it routinely places antiwar protesters under surveillance, Georgia Rep. Nan Orrock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "This harkens back to some very dark times in our nation's history."
How dark?
NSA wiretapping aside, it's now clear that the Pentagon has been monitoring dangerous militants such as the Quakers while the FBI has been spying on the Catholic Worker's Group, Greenpeace and PETA. As Silencing Political Dissent author Nancy Chang pointed out, "With the advent of electronic record-keeping, the FBI is likely to maintain far more dossiers on law-abiding individuals and to disseminate the dossiers far more widely than during the COINTELPRO era."
Where will all this data mining lead? Who knows? From Sedition Acts, to the suspension of habeas corpus to the internment of fellow Americans, we've been down rocky roads before. And in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner spelled it out: "We're likely to experience more restrictions on our personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country," she said. Now that writing letters to the editor can be investigated as acts of "sedition" and US citizens can be held without charges for years on end, another terror attack could send us over the edge.
Is a theme coming through in the highlights?  It appears on this end (and I'm going by things that are noted here and many more things that there wasn't room for) that the theme is fed up.  (Our own "f.u." edition.  See The Third Estate Sunday Review's "A note to our readers.")  Fed up with the blatant abuse, with the lack of accountablilty and with just about everyone who has a voice but can't use it.  You'll see that in the next two highlights as well.  First, Rachel notes David Cole's "Are We Safer?" (The New York Review of Books):
According to the Bush administration's Web site, we are "winning the war on terrorism with unrelenting focus and unprecedented cooperation." The US government has captured or killed some three thousand al-Qaeda "operatives," including two thirds of its leadership. Among those captured is the alleged mastermind of September 11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from whom the government reportedly obtained substantial intelligence, if only after the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. The Bush administration says it has disrupted terrorist plots throughout the world--the Web site claims 150, although President Bush in a speech in October 2005 claimed only ten. The government has increased security at the borders and airports. The Justice Department has prosecuted more than four hundred people in "terrorism-related investigations" since September 11, and it has, according to the Web site, obtained convictions or guilty pleas in more than two hundred of these cases. It claims to have broken up terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and northern Virginia. And over 515 foreign nationals linked to the investigation of September 11 have been deported. Most important for Americans, there has not been another terrorist attack on US soil in the more than four years since September 11.
Of course, President Bush also famously proclaimed victory in Iraq, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. (Shortly thereafter, he announced that "we found the weapons of mass destruction.") Since then, more than two thousand Americans and probably ten times as many Iraqis have died in Iraq, and we still haven't found any weapons of mass destruction. So victory proclamations from this administration deserve a strong dose of skepticism.
How does one measure victory in the "global war on terrorism"? In April 2004, the State Department reported that terrorist incidents throughout the world had dropped in the previous year, a fact Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage promptly cited as "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" against terrorism. Two months later, a chagrined Colin Powell acknowledged that the department had miscounted, and that in fact terrorism worldwide had increased--where the initial report stated that the number of injuries resulting from international terrorist incidents had fallen from 2,013 in 2002 to 1,593 in 2003, the corrected report stated that in fact terrorist-related injuries had risen to 3,646. In 2005, the State Department eliminated numbers from its annual terrorism report, saying they were too difficult to track accurately, but soon thereafter a leak suggested another reason for the omission--government analysts had found that terrorist incidents worldwide had jumped threefold from 2003 levels, with 651 attacks in 2004 resulting in 1,907 deaths. So much for progress in the global war on terror.
And for the last fed up highlight, Lewis notes Bruce Dixon's upcoming plans to 'honor' those in Congress who dishonor their constituents.  From Dixon's "Bruce's Beat" (The Black Commentator):
Early 20th Century America had its minstrel shows and other depictions of grinning, red-lipped watermelon-eating pickaninnies; its Topsy and Sambo figures in print, advertising and elsewhere. They lent comforting affirmation to white supremacist fantasies of black degradation. At the dawn of the 21st century, we have another cohort of black public figures eager to please the powers that be by debasing themselves and demeaning their black audiences. No, not the ignorant studio gangsters on BET. Well, yes, maybe them too. But today we refer to the clownish cohort of black political figures in Congress and elsewhere, determined to embarrass themselves and frustrate the principle of representative democracy by representing interests other than those of the Black Consensus which elected them. 
To hold these characters up to the scorn and ridicule they deserve, it was announced in last week's column, that some of us at BC and CBC Monitor were thinking about holding a DC awards dinner this summer to hand out what we call the Lawn Jockey Awards, in the tradition of the eminent George Curry, whose 1996 Emerge magazine cover depicted the loathsome Clarence Thomas as "Uncle Thomas: Lawn Jockey For the Far Right." After shopping the idea around and checking our reader email, we can now confirm that the first annual Lawn Jockey Awards will indeed be handed out early this coming summer at a date and location to be announced soon.
Reader J. Dahl Murphy wrote to us about the upcoming awards:
Just finished reading your column about having a lawn jockey awards ceremony in the D. C. area sometime this year. I'm writing to let you know I agree wholeheartedly with the idea. The Jesse Petersons, Niger Innises, Star Parkers, Larry Elders and the likes must be called out. Having the awards ceremony expose these folk out for exactly who they are and what they are trying to do. They must not continue at our expense. We have to start putting them on notice.
Would love TV and Radio One to carry this ceremony live…it will be a yearly tradition.
The Lawn Jockey Award, provided we can make the first one happen, is sure to become an annual event. Failed entertainers and rancid talk show figures like those just mentioned will not be considered. Not that they aren't embarrassing caricatures in their own right, but like the fool DC talk show host Don Imus hired to do on-air N-word jokes, such people are actually doing what they were hired to do. Black elected officials, on the other hand, are generally chosen by large black constituencies, and so have little or no excuse to ignore the Black Consensus. Lawn Jockey awards will therefore be limited to public officials, most likely members of Congress. 
Dictated entry, by the way.  Tonight?  If we have a highlight by a member, we'll note it.
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