May 17 2013
The Justice Department has released 15 pages of completely blacked-out material in response to a request for information about how text messages from cellphones are intercepted. The American Civil Liberties Union says the Obama administration is reading emails and other electronic communications without a warrant, despite a court ruling against the practice. In response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request on the issue, the Justice Department released a memo with black rectangles covering every bit of text except the title, sender and recipient. ACLU spokesperson Josh Bell told ABC News: “We got very little information about the policy on text messages. [The document] does not even show the date, let alone what the policy is.”
May 17 2013
The Justice Department’s disclosure that it had secretly subpoenaed phone records from the Associated Press has prompted a wave of comparisons between President Obama and Richard Nixon. Four decades ago, the Nixon administration attempted to block The New York Times from publishing a secret history of the Vietnam War leaked to the newspaper by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Two days after the Times first published excerpts of what became known as the “Pentagon Papers,” the Nixon government asked for and received a Supreme Court injunction against the newspaper, arguing that publication of the documents posed a “grave and immediate danger to the security of the United States.” We speak to James Goodale, the general counsel at The New York Times during the Pentagon Papers crackdown. Goodale is a leading legal expert on the First Amendment and has just published a new book, “Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.” Goodale said he wrote the book in part because of the work of Julian Assange of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, and how he is likely being targeted by the U.S. government in an ongoing grand jury probe. “My book is meant to be a clarion call to the journalist community: Wake up! There’s danger out there,” Goodale says. “You may not like Assange, but wake up! The First Amendment is really going to be damaged. If Obama goes forward and succeeds, he will have succeeded where Nixon failed.”
May 17 2013
A Pentagon official predicted Thursday the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates could last up to 20 more years. The comment came during a Senate hearing revisiting the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, enacted by Congress days after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. At the hearing, Pentagon officials claimed the AUMF gives the president power to wage endless war anywhere in the world, including in Syria, Yemen and the Congo. “This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I’ve been to since I’ve been here,” said Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine. “You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today.” We play excerpts of Thursday’s Senate hearing and our recent interview with Jeremy Scahill, author of the new bestseller, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.”
Following his release from Guantanamo Bay, Sami Al-Hajj, a (former) Guantanamo Bay detainee, dashes towards his eight year old son Mohammad and swoops him up in his arms, hugging him and planting tender kisses on his face in their first reunion after seven years.
After being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for seven years, during which he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured, including being physically, sexually, and psychologically abused, Al Hajj was released without any charges held against him.
Al Hajj, a journalist for the Al Jazeera network, was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 while on his way to do camerawork for the network concerning the war that had recently broken out in Afghanistan. It has been speculated by both Al Hajj’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, and Reporters Without Borders that the main reason that he was incarcerated for so long was due to the US Miliary’s desire to make him an informant against Al Jazeera, as most of Al Hajj’s interrogations consisted of American interrogators questioning him about the (Al Jazeera) network.
While in Guantanamo, Al Hajj wrote a poem titled Humiliated in Shackles to his son Mohammad:
When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.
When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.
Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.
The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely around the world.
They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.
They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.
Their temptations seize
My attention like lightning in the sky.
But their gift is an empty snake,
Carrying hypocrisy in its mouth like venom,
They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.
But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.
America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.
To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.
Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.
I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?
After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?
My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.
I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors’.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.
Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.
May 16 2013
On Nakba day, Palestinians commemorate the annual anniversary by holding rallies asserting their right of return. 65 years have passed since historic Palestine was occupied in 1948
May 16 2013
David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, joins us to discuss the growing scandal over the Justice Department’s seizure of telephone records from Associated Press editors and reporters. The action came as part of a probe into the leaks behind an AP story about how U.S. intelligence thwarted a Yemen-based al-Qaeda bombing plot on a U.S.-bound airplane. “This is a very troubling aspect of this administration — it is hostile to the news media,” Johnston says. “They’re behaving much more like a corporation than like the people’s government.”
May 15 2013
I don’t know why, given where we are with dronefare, but I didn’t expect the man making the announcement about Assata Shakur being the first woman “terrorist” to appear on the FBI’s most wanted list to be black. That was a blow. I was reminded of the world of “trackers” we sometimes get glimpses of in history books and old movies on TV. In Australia the tracker who hunts down other aboriginals who have, because of the rape and murder, genocide and enslavement of the indigenous (aboriginal) people, run away into the outback. He shows up again in cowboy and Indian films: jogging along in the hot sun, way ahead of the white men on horseback, bending on his knees to get a better look at a bruised leaf or a bent twig, while they curse and spit and complain about how long he’s taking to come up with a clue. And then there were the “trackers” who helped the pattyrollers during our four hundred years of enslavement. When pattyrollers (or patrols) caught run-away slaves in those days they frequently beat them to death. I’ve often thought of the black men whose expertise at tracking fugitives helped bring these terrors, humiliations and deaths about. When I was younger I would have been in a rage against them; not understanding the reality of invisible coercion, and mind and spirit control, that I do now. Today, only a few years older than Assata Shakur, and marveling at the unenviable state of humanity’s character worldwide, I find I can only pray for all of us. That we should be sinking even below the abysmal standard early “trackers” have set for us: that the US government can now offer two million dollars for the capture of a very small, not young, black woman who was brutally abused, even shot, over three decades ago, as if we don’t need that money to buy people food, clothes, medicine, and decent places to live.
What is most distressing about the times we live in, in my view, is our ever accelerating tolerance for cruelty. Prisoners held indefinitely in orange suits, hooded, chained and on their knees. Like the hunger strikers of Guantanamo, I would certainly prefer death to this. People shot and bombed from planes they never see until it is too late to get up from the table or place the baby under the bed. Poor people terrorized daily, driven insane really, from fear. People on the streets with no food and no place to sleep. People under bridges everywhere you go, holding out their desperate signs: a recent one held by a very young man, perhaps a veteran, under my local bridge: I Want To Live. But nothing seems as cruel to me as this: that our big, muscular, macho country would go after so tiny a woman as Assata who is given sanctuary in a country smaller than many of our states.
The first time I met Assata Shakur we talked for a long time. We were in Havana, where I had gone with a delegation to offer humanitarian aid during Cuba’s “special period” of hunger and despair, and I’d wanted to hear her side of the story from her. She described the incident with the New Jersey Highway Patrol, and assured me she was shot up so badly that even if she’d wanted to, she would not have been able to fire a gun. Though shot in the back (with her arms raised), she managed to live through two years of solitary confinement, in a men’s prison, chained to her bed. Then, in what must surely have been a miraculous coming together of people of courageous compassion, she was helped to escape and to find refuge in Cuba. One of the people who helped Assata escape, a white radical named Marilyn Buck, was kept in prison for thirty years and released only one month before her death from uterine cancer. She was a poet, and I have been reading her book, Inside/Out, Selected Poems, which a friend gave me just last week. There is also a remarkable video of her, shot in prison, that I highly recommend.
This is what solidarity can look like.
The second time I saw Assata, years later, I was in Havana for the Havana Book Fair. Cuba has a very high literacy rate, thanks to the Cuban revolution, and my novel, Meridian, had recently been translated and published there. However, this time we did not talk about the past. We talked about meditation. Seeing her interest, and that of Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, and others, I decided to offer a class. There under a large tree off a quiet street in Havana, I demonstrated my own practice of meditation to some of the most attentive students I have ever encountered. The mantra: Breathing in: “In,” breathing out: “Peace.”
I believe Assata Shakur to be a good and decent, a kind and compassionate person. True revolutionaries often are. Physically she is beautiful, and her spirit is also. She appears to hold the respect, love and friendship of all the people who surround her. Like Marilyn Buck they have risked much for her freedom, and appear to believe her version of the story as I do.
That she did not wish to live as an imprisoned creature and a slave is understood.
What to do? Since we are not, in fact, helpless. Nor are we ever alone.
I call on the Ancestors
by whose blood
to accompany us
through this lengthening
And to bear witness
to all that we are
May 14 2013
In a series of prosecutions, precedents are being established for the criminalization of political dissent in America.
Last week, Massachusetts high school student Cameron D’Ambrosio was arrested and charged under “terrorism” laws merely for posting lyrics on Facebook that make reference to the Boston Marathon bombings. He faces 20 years in prison. A string of similar “terror” prosecutions around the country take aim at the First Amendment protection of free speech and political expression.
The authorities have already branded select participants in Occupy Wall Street and anti-NATO protests as “terrorists.” Last year, heavily-armed “domestic terrorism” commandos raided Occupy Wall Street protesters’ homes in Washington and Oregon, using battering rams and stun grenades. The commandos were authorized to seize all “anti-government or anarchist literature or material.”
As with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, also guaranteed under the First Amendment, has not been officially repealed. The reality, however, is that political assembly is already a semi-criminal activity in America. Political protests are routinely met with vastly disproportionate police mobilizations, confinement to oxymoronic “free speech zones,” “kettling” (in which protesters are surrounded and forcibly moved in one direction or prevented from leaving an area), beatings, tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades or rubber bullets. The standard government response to a political protest is a massive show of force, complete with police snipers on rooftops.
The drive towards the establishment of an American police state, initiated under the Bush administration, has shifted into high gear under Obama. For nearly twelve years, the phony “war on terror” has been used as the overarching pretext for illegal imperialist war abroad and a methodical assault on democratic rights at home. The basic structure of authoritarian rule is now emerging into plain view.
Over the recent period, the government has vastly expanded its warrantless surveillance of the population. The Obama administration has constructed a massive data center in Utah big enough to store the contents of every personal computer in the country. Already at a government agent’s fingertips—without a warrant—are all of a person’s Internet browsing activity, telephone conversations, text messages, credit card transactions, mobile phone GPS location data, travel itineraries, Skype and Facebook data, medical records, criminal records, financial records and surveillance camera footage.
Tens of thousands of drones are slated to be launched over the US mainland in the coming years, with thousands already buzzing overhead. These high-tech aircraft are able to monitor meetings and demonstrations, access wireless networks and record the movements of citizens. Obama’s recent appointee for the position of CIA director, John Brennan, expressly refused at his confirmation hearings to rule out the possibility that these drones could be armed and used for carrying out assassinations within the US.
While schools are being shuttered and teachers fired supposedly for lack of money, local police departments are awash in billions of dollars of military hardware and training provided by the Department of Homeland Security. When local police are mobilized to respond to a political protest, they now do so in coordination with the federal military and intelligence agencies. It is not a rarity for armored vehicles, body armor and military equipment to be deployed.
Under the precedent set by the recent events in Boston, the authorities now have the power to subject an entire city to a military siege, with the population ordered to “shelter in place,” while businesses and transportation are shut down and heavily armed SWAT teams are deployed to conduct warrantless house-to-house searches without regard for basic rights.
The Obama administration, in concert with state and local police departments, has sent untold numbers of “anti-terror” undercover spies into domestic political parties and protest groups. In addition to gathering information, the job of these spies is to divert, disrupt and prevent the emergence of organized social opposition.
A person can be designated a “terrorist” on the secret, unreviewable say-so of the president, without notice and without a trial. Under the “material support” for terrorism laws signed into law as part of the PATRIOT Act of 2001, a person may be jailed simply for offering vaguely-defined “material support” to any person or group labeled as “terrorist.”
Under the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2011 and 2012, as tested in the case of Jose Padilla, the US government asserts the power to subject a designated “terrorist” to arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. In the cases of Padilla and Bradley Manning, and at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and countless CIA “black sites” around the world, the US government subjects alleged terrorists to torture. Finally, in the cases of Anwar Al-Awlaki, Samir Khan and Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the US government tested out its asserted power to murder “terrorists” outright, even if they are US citizens.
Under these precedents, it would not be necessary to officially suspend the Constitution in order for the US government to meet future domestic opposition with military lockdowns, curfews, house-to-house searches, mass arrests, torture and even assassination. With political dissent labeled as “terrorism” or “material support for terrorism,” Congress, the president, the courts, the military, and the so-called “free press” could continue in their present roles.
In the second half of the 20th century, US-backed dictatorships in Argentina and Chile used the supposed struggle against “terrorism” as a political cover for the arrest and murder of tens of thousands of political opponents, youth, workers, intellectuals and other “enemies of the state.” As the World Socialist Web Site warned from the outset, such is the inevitable logic of the American “war on terror.”
Two essential factors are driving the trampling of democratic rights and the shift towards authoritarian rule. The first is the massive growth of social inequality, which in turn is driven by the historic crisis of the world capitalist system. While it robs the population in order to pile up ever greater and more obscene levels of private wealth, the financial aristocracy is terrified of the emergence of social opposition. Not from a position of strength, but out of extreme fear and vulnerability, the billionaires look to police state repression as a means to preserve their status, power and wealth.
Second, just as democracy is incompatible with such levels of social inequality, it is incompatible with imperialist war. The US military and intelligence agencies have for twelve years been wading in blood in a drive to plunder the world’s strategic resources. The dead, wounded and displaced number in the millions.
A professional military, divorced from and hostile to the population and resentful of civilian control, has immensely expanded its size, resources and political power, to the point where it and its intelligence counterpart, in league with Wall Street, dominate the workings of the state.
The ruling class is in the advanced stage of preparations for an inevitable confrontation with the working class. Working people must make their own preparations, central to which is the building of a new, revolutionary leadership. Only a conscious political struggle for a workers’ government and socialism can avert the threat of dictatorship and establish genuine democracy and social equality.
May 17 2013
A federal judge recently ruled that if someone has their cell phone turned on, their location data does not deserve protection under the Fourth Amendment, meaning law enforcement can track individuals without a search warrant.
New York magistrate judge Gary Brown decided in favor of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who were seeking his approval over a warrant on a doctor who they suspected was being paid for issuing thousands of prescriptions. The warrant would have compelled the physician’s phone company to provide real-time tracking data from his cell.
Brown, certainly to the delight of police, issued a 30-page brief outlining his opinion that, by carrying a cell phone, someone is essentially waiving their Fourth Amendment right to due process.
“Given the ubiquity and celebrity of geolocation technologies, an individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in the prospective of a cellular telephone where that individual has failed to protect his privacy by taking the simple expedient of powering it off,” Brown wrote.
“As to control by the user, all of the known tracking technologies may be defeated by merely turning off the phone. Indeed – excluding apathy or inattention – the only reason that users leave cell phones turned on is so that the device can be located to receive calls. Conversely, individuals who do not want to be disturbed by unwanted telephone calls at a particular time or place simply turn their phones off, knowing that they cannot be located.”
He goes on to suggest that because there are smartphone applications available that allow users to locate people in their area with similar interests, cell phone customers should not expect their inherent right to privacy to be observed.
“Given the notoriety surrounding the disclosure of geolocation data to retailers purveying soap powder and blue jeans to mall shoppers, the police searching for David Pogue’s iPhone and, most alarmingly, the creators and users of the Girls Around You app, cell phone users cannot realistically entertain the notion that such information would (or should) be withheld from federal law enforcement agents searching for a fugitive.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has long been a voice for the American people against governmental overreach and technological surveillance. Chris Soghoian, a principal technologist and senior policy analyst at the ACLU, wrote that Brown’s opinion was “ridiculous.”
“There is a big difference between location information you knowingly share with a select group of friends (or, in fact, the world) and information collected about you without your knowledge or consent,” he wrote.
Exactly how common this practice is throughout the law enforcement community is unclear but it has widely been reported that a Michigan police force tried to gain information about every single cell phone within the proximity of a labor protest.
Congressional leaders are currently considering two laws that would address how freely police are able to bug citizens. During an April hearing on Capitol Hill one detective told Senators that warrantless geolocation tracking is “essential to obtain in the early stages of investigations when probable cause has not yet been established.”
That attitude, and the wide potential for abuse this kind of law creates, has the ACLU alarmed.
“Someone might be happy to share their location with a few friends by ‘checking in’ using Foursquare while at a music festival, but not want law enforcement to access that same information,” Soghoian continued. “And, they would still reasonably expect that their location a week later at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or abortion clinic should remain private. Sharing location data isn’t and shouldn’t be all or nothing.”
May 15 2013
In a brazen and illegal attack on press freedom, the Obama Justice Department secretly subpoenaed the telephone records of Associated Press editors and journalists and tracked ingoing and outgoing calls on at least 20 telephone lines, including the national headquarters of the press agency and its news bureaus in New York, Hartford and Washington DC. Among the lines tracked was the telephone used by AP reporters working out of the House of Representatives press gallery in the Capitol.
The Associated Press was given no advance notice of the government dragnet, which reportedly began in April of 2012 and continued through May of that year. Such a massive operation over a two-month period would generate records of many thousands of telephone calls, providing the government with legally privileged information about AP journalists’ sources and methods. More than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were seized.
The lines that were tracked included the home and cell phones of at least one editor and an unknown number of reporters. While the Justice Department has not provided any reason for the spying operation, it is widely assumed, and so asserted by AP, that it was carried out in connection with a federal investigation into an alleged leak of “classified” information by the press agency in a May 7, 2012 article concerning a CIA covert operation in Yemen.
The article reported details of CIA efforts in Yemen to break up an alleged plot to blow up an airliner heading for the United States around the time of the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden. The AP acknowledges that it had agreed to delay reporting the story at the urging of Obama administration officials.
Following the publication of the story, John Brennan, at that time President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and currently director of the CIA, denounced it as an “irresponsible and damaging leak of classified information.” In June of 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal leak investigations into the AP story as well as a New York Times report about the Stuxnet computer worm, which was developed jointly by the US and Israel to attack nuclear centrifuges at Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that it had asked the Justice Department whether its telephone records had been seized in connection with the Stuxnet article probe, but had not received a reply.
The Associated Press became aware of the spying operation against it only last Friday, when it was informed in a letter from the Justice Department. The AP reported Monday that included among those whose phones were tracked were five reporters and an editor who were involved in the May 7, 2012 story. The two lead reporters on the story, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, were members of a team of journalists who won a Pulitzer Prize last year for reporting on the New York Police Department’s covert surveillance of Muslim Americans.
In a letter to Holder sent on Monday, Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt said: “I am writing to object in the strongest possible terms to a massive and unprecedented intrusion by the Department of Justice into the newsgathering activities of The Associated Press.”
Demanding the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies, Pruitt continued: “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
Arnie Robbins, executive director of the American Society of News Editors, said, “On the face of it, this is really a disturbing affront to a free press. It’s also troubling because it is consistent with perhaps the most aggressive administration ever against reporters doing their jobs—providing information that citizens need to know about our government.”
Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment lawyer who defended the New York Times against the Nixon administration in the “Pentagon Papers” case, said: “The norm… was for the government to ask the press organization for information and to pursue them in court when they didn’t receive it. The notion of avoiding any First Amendment resolution by the courts by going right to the telephone company with no notice to the press organization is outrageous.”
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Holder sought to distance himself personally from the seizure of AP phone records, announcing that he had recused himself from the investigation and any decision to subpoena the records would have been made by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. At the same time, he defended the actions of the Justice Department and the US attorney in Washington DC, who is heading up the investigation. He said the AP article involved a “very serious leak” that “put the American people at risk,” requiring “very aggressive action” by the government.
He dodged a question as to whether other news organizations had been similarly targeted, saying that question should be addressed to the deputy attorney general.
At a Tuesday press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed that Obama had no knowledge of the seizure of AP telephone records. He repeatedly deflected reporters’ questions by saying the White House could not comment on an ongoing investigation. At the same time, he spoke of the need to prosecute “illegal activity” and “balance” press freedom against the interests of “national security.”
Also on Tuesday, Cole sent a reply to AP CEO Pruitt’s letter, brushing off Pruitt’s protests and defending the government’s actions. Cole said the subpoenas were “limited in both time and scope,” and concluded that the Justice Department had struck “the proper balance” between the public’s right to know and “national security.”
In fact, the revelation of massive spying against a leading press agency is consistent with the deeply anti-democratic practices of the Obama administration. Obama has relentlessly pursued alleged leakers and whistleblowers in an attempt to suppress exposures of government secrets and crimes. His administration has brought six cases against people accused of publicizing classified information, twice as many as all previous administrations combined.
Just last January, the Obama Justice Department obtained a 30-month prison sentence for former CIA agent John Kiriakou, whom it prosecuted for giving television interviews in 2007 in which he acknowledged that the CIA was engaged in the torture of alleged terrorists. Obama’s policy is to jail those who expose abuse and torture of prisoners while refusing to prosecute the authors of the torture policy or those who carry it out.
The administration has conducted a vendetta against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange in retaliation for their exposures of US war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries and Washington’s reactionary intrigues around the world. It is prosecuting Private Bradley Manning, after holding him in solitary confinement for years, for handing over material to WikiLeaks exposing the murderous activities of the US military internationally.
The scandal over spying against the press, moreover, coincides with the revelation that the International Revenue Service (IRS) targeted groups politically at odds with the administration that sought to obtain tax-free status as “social welfare” organizations. While it appears that the bulk of the groups initially selected for more intrusive investigation—including demands for lists of donors and political contacts—were associated with the Tea Party and the Republican right, guidelines drawn up by the IRS in 2012 called for tagging all organizations that were critical of government policies.
The attack on press freedom in the case of the Associated Press is part of a far broader assault on democratic rights and the preparation of dictatorial forms of rule. (See: “ The criminalization of political dissent in America ”). In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which saw the military-police occupation of a major American city, Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, told CNN that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored by the government, including telephone calls, emails, online chats and other forms of communication.