Shannon Conley, circled in the photo above, a 19-year-old suburban Denver teen, was sentenced to four years in prison on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, ISIS. We’ll get to the specifics of Conley’s crime in a moment, but first some more details from her sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore said Conley needed psychological help. In addition to the four years behind bars, he also sentenced her to three years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service and barred her from possessing black powder used in explosives, saying, “I’m not going to take a chance with you.”
“I don’t know what has been crystallized in your mind,” Moore told her, adding that he hoped the sentence would discourage others with similar intentions. “I’m still not sure you get it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Holloway also said Conley “continues to defy authority, making vitriolic comments about law enforcement even though authorities showed restraint in their handling of her case. That’s a troubling sign that she may reoffend.”
The Threat of Shannon Conley
To put Conley’s sentencing, and the government’s actions, in context, let’s look into her so-called material support for ISIS.
The government’s interest in Conley started thanks to two alert Citizens. A security guard and pastor at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, contacted police to report the girl had been wandering their campus taking notes. The girl also became “confrontational” with church staffers when they asked to see her notes. The guard thought she was suspicious and that she seemed to be “visiting the church in preparation for an attack.” It is unclear how whatever the woman was doing appeared to be in preparation for an attack.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force went on to investigate Conley for eight months. They discovered that she had met a man online who identified himself as a 32-year-old Tunisian terrorist associated with ISIS and with whom she built what she felt was a romantic relationship. He encouraged her to travel to Syria to fight alongside him, because of course everyone you meet online is exactly who they say they are and especially guys who meet girls online never lie to them (there is at least some evidence that this whole thing jihad thing was just a trick to lure vulnerable foreign women into prostitution.)
The FBI’s “investigation” of all this included meeting with Conley in person on a near-weekly basis for six months. Even her attire was cited as “evidence” at her trial: At her first meeting with FBI agents she wore a T-shirt that read “Sniper. Don’t run, you’ll die trying.” We shall not comment on the irony of that when the movie “American Sniper” dominates the box office. The FBI also met with Conley’s parents, warning them of their daughter’s “radical beliefs.”
Here’s the serious part: The girl was interviewed by an FBI special agent, at which point she said she was training in military tactics through a non-profit youth group called the U.S. Army Explorers and that she hoped to share what she learned with Islamic jihadi fighters. A few weeks later, she told the FBI agent she would be “ready to wage jihad in a year.” The suspect told the FBI, however, that her knowledge of Islam and jihad was based mostly on her research conducted using Google.
The U.S. Army Explorers, where the girl was seeking training to enable her to survive on the battlefields of the MidEast alongside hardened terrorists, describes itself as a program that “exposes cadets to what career opportunities in the military are like, and provides them first hand knowledge and experience in the many military occupational skills… Our program is a part of the Learning for Life Explorer program with the Boy Scouts of America.” The group accepts cadets as young as age 13. It costs $85 to join, but that includes an ID card and uniform patches. The girl also told the FBI she planned to use her Army Explorer skills to “train Islamic Jihadi fighters in U.S. military tactics.”
The Price of Freedumb
So, in what was likely the worst online dating story of the year, the FBI launched an eight month investigation leading to an airport takedown when Conley sought to board a flight to Turkey, a country described as “near Syria.” In between, the Feds spoke numerous times to Conley, and her parents, and no doubt must have come to the conclusion that her chances of waging jihad were about the same as her chances of finding true love on the web.
But instead of advising her parents to take back their credit card, they busted her for planning to travel to Turkey. Even the antagonistic judge at her trial seemed to see another side of Conley at one point, stating “I’m not saying her actions were a direct product of mental illness, but she’s a bit of a mess. She’s pathologically naive.”
The really sad part, absent wrecking this girl’s already pathetic life (when released at age 23 she’ll be a convicted felon, hardened by three years inside, with a terror rap), is that this case will no doubt now be counted among the many other examples of how the government is protecting us from the terrorists in our midst.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
This– THIS LINK– could have sent me to jail. Another link came very, very close to sending Barrett Brown to jail. Brown was just sentenced to five years in jail on other charges that the government could make stick, in another step towards the criminalization of everything.
The United States v. Barrett Brown
Brown, pictured, 33-years-old, was arrested in 2012 after his and his mothers’ homes were raided and he used “threatening” language toward FBI officers in a response posted to YouTube. He was subsequently accused of working with hackers, whose efforts yielded a huge tranche of embarrassing and revealing information concerning misbehavior and sleaze at U.S. government contractors, primarily Stratfor.
Among the secrets exposed were collaborative efforts between the government and private contractors to monitor social networks, and to develop online surveillance systems.
The charges against Brown included the claim that merely linking to the leaked information was illegal, an alleged crime for which prosecutors sought decades in prison. Brown ultimately signed a plea deal on three lesser charges: transmitting a threat (the YouTube video), trying to hide a laptop computer during a raid, and to being “accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer.” He spent a year awaiting trial in federal prison, and was subject to a six-month gag order prohibiting him from even discussing his case with the media.
On January 22, a Dallas court sentenced Barrett Brown to 63 months in federal prison, minus time already served. He was also ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution to the Stratfor Corporation.
Who is Barrett Brown?
Barrett Brown is an internet guy. He may or may not have been involved with web naughty boys Anonymous (he denies the association) and most certainly was deeply involved with broad free speech issues online. In 2011, Brown posted a link in a chatroom, pointing to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. The link pointed to documents on the Wikileaks site. The docs are still there.
The government arrested Brown and charged him with a number of offenses, the most significant of which was for posting that link. The link, the government contended, exposed enormous amounts of credit card information, a crime. Not mentioned by the government, the link also documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments, plus the social media stuff mentioned above.
To be clear, neither the government nor anyone else accused Brown of stealing the info himself, or misusing the info to use others’ credit cards, physically possessing the information, hosting it on a server he controlled or anything like that. His crime was simply linking to data that already existed on the Internet and which was already available worldwide for viewing.
Looking for a Test Case
Prior to Brown pleading guilty to the three lesser counts he was sentenced for January 22, the government dropped the other charges related to linking as a crime. Though the government in its Motion to Dismiss gave no reasons for its decision, the implication is that while they were clearly looking to set a precendent on the Brown case, they did not want that precedent to be a loss. Better to let a small fry like Brown swim away than risk the greater goal.
What kind of test case? Having failed to find any legal or otherwise effective way to deal with sites like Wikileaks, or the publication of classified materials elsewhere on the Internet such as the Snowden documents, the government is taking a side-step in seeking to punish those that use, view or handle the material itself.
For example, when the Wikileaks information first started pouring out across the web, most government agencies blocked access to the data via their firewalls, claiming the content was still classified and thus could not be viewed on a government computer even while it could be viewed on any other web-connected computer from Cleveland to Karachi. Similar blocks have been put in place to prevent much of the Snowden material from being viewed at various work sites.
Before Barrett Brown, Me?
The attempt by the government to punish people for links to “objectionable” material did not start with Brown. Though I can’t promise I was the first test case, I was certainly an early attempt.
In 2010 the Department of State suspended the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident or question for over twenty years because I linked to a supposedly classified document on the Wikileaks site from my blog.
State referred my linkage to the Department of Justice for prosecution in fall 2010. When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case, State took the non-judicial action of “temporarily” suspending my security clearance indefinitely, because of the link. State claimed that via that link I revealed classified information publicly, a major no-no for cleared personnel and sought to fire me. As in the Brown case, in the end State choose not to pursue charges, again without comment. I was defended by several excellent lawyers, and retired from State on my own terms, including no gag orders.
There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders, as was Brown.
There appears little question that the government is testing the concept, looking for a case that it can win that would criminalize linking. From the government’s point of view, the win would pay off handsomely:
— With use of their content criminalized, sites like Wikileaks would slip beneath the world radar. People would be increasingly afraid of reading them, and the crowdsourcing critical to sifting through millions of documents would slow down significantly.
— In cases the government saw as particularly dangerous, people would disappear into jail. With a precedent set in a “good” test case, winning such prosecutions would be rote work for interns. Is there a link? Did Ms. X create the link? Does the link go to classified information? It’s a slam dunk.
— Best of all from a control standpoint, prosecuting links will have a chilling affect. Many people will simply be afraid to take the chance of legal trouble and stop creating links or following them. That will certainly be the case among the main stream media, already far too skittish about security matters. One wonders what effect such prosecuting of links will have on search engines like Google, essentially little more than a collection of links.
Another step toward a post-Constitutionalization of America is the creeping criminalization of everything. If every act is potentially cause for prosecution, the ability of the government to control what people do or say grows.
Who could have guessed that in 2015 a click of the mouse would be a subversive act?
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
One is an enemy of America, a group of evil Sunni terrorists who ruthlessly employ their own twisted vision of Islamic Sharia Law to behead people, punish homosexuality and criminalize adultery.
And the other’s one of America’s staunchest Sunni allies in the Middle East, on the road to democracy, albeit one that employs its own twisted vision of Islamic Sharia Law to behead people, punish homosexuality and criminalize adultery.
Having trouble telling the difference between ISIS and Saudi Arabia? It can happen to anyone! Let Middle East Eye help you out with this handy chart:
It was all kind of a trick question. See dummy, ISIS are terrorists. The Saudis just fund terrorists (including, perhaps until only recently, ISIS!) Duh.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
There will be many, many articles today speculating what Dr. Martin Luther King would say about this event or that. There is much to talk about — the police killings of young black men, crippling economic inequality (today the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion combined), the use of gerrymandering and election day tricks to disenfranchise people — the list is a long one.
Dr. King’s most powerful message revolved around freedom. Freedom for blacks, freedom for whites, freedom for Americans, freedom. Writing from jail, in his famous letter from Birmingham, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King was rightly focused primarily on the injustices of segregation. But his concept of freedom extended far beyond simply race. He understood the word in the broadest possible sense, and so I’ll add one more article to the stack today putting words into Dr. King’s mouth, seeking to bring his message forward.
Following a singular day — one day — of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. We reinvaded Iraq in 2014, and brought war to many other places. But we want to believe and so it is easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 226 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights — silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, cow journalists and use the police to break up the peaceful assembly of citizens seeking to address their government, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation torture men, create an archipelago of secret prisons and make excuses to keep them still open, build a regime of indefinite confinement and rendition to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later. How much would be enough for revenge?
That our nation can be both vengeful and impersonal at the same time horrifies. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
We thought we had a chance at change in 2008 but instead were proven again to be just dupes and amateurs. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously. One man could have made a difference and when he did not even try, he helped solidify in America a sense of cynicism and powerlessness that empowers evil people further. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
Today, this day, we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We now today go through the motions of a celebratory day like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a new generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs. For what noble crusade do we allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because we can do so? Why do we prolong wars, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere? For what crusade do we keep our enemies in Guantanamo? These are the features and questions of Post-Constitutional America. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
I’ve been accused of over-romanticizing America’s Constitutional Era, 1789-9/11/2001. Indeed, didn’t the worst of the abuses Dr. King fought against take place during that time, as King describe them “vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity.”
The horrors ranged from those depths to the smallest of examples; again, from Birmingham, King wrote “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people.”
America’s Constitutional Era was grossly imperfect. Yet for its obvious failings, there was a sense of the possibility of progress; halting, awkward, unfinished, but, well, for lack of a better word and to use a word that has become a symbol of modern times’ irony, Hope. Dr. King believed in Hope, and indeed based the soul of his movement on it — things could be made better, saying “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.” I wonder what Dr. King would say today about America.
Lots of talk today, Martin Luther King Day. But those are some of the questions Dr. King would demand answers for from his grave.
A Saudi in the U.S. on a student visa (now where have we heard that one before?), who prompted a four-hour lockdown at a U.S. Army post in Texas when he claimed to have a bomb in his car, pleaded guilty to two federal charges. He agreed to leave the country with his only penalty being about seven weeks of time-served awaiting trial.
U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed not to sentence Mutasim Abdul-Aziz Alati, 24-years-old, to prison on condition he not return to the U.S. As soon as his family in Saudi Arabia buys him a one-way ticket, Alati will be escorted to the airport.
Prosecutors say Alati showed up at the main entrance to U.S. Army Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in November and told military police he had a bomb in his vehicle. This prompted a high-speed chase through the post. He was apprehended and no bomb was found in the car.
Despite what might in other circumstances be called a terrorist bomb threat, Alati was only charged with evading authorities and illegally entering military property. Even if he had been sentenced, the likely time would have only been two years.
By way of explanation, Alati told the court he was “stressed out” by tests he was taking at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
(By way of a quick comparison, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, faces one count of “attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, after being arrested at a Chicago airport allegedly on his way to join ISIS, not having done anything else.)
The 9/11 Report and the Saudis
While these unusual events passed relatively unnoticed in Texas, other events related to Saudi citizens and possible terror acts passed relatively unnoticed in Washington DC.
Since the September 11 attacks, what Jeff Stein of Newsweek calls “dark allegations” remain about official Saudi ties to the terrorists, most of whom were Saudi citizens. Fueling the suspicions: 28 still-classified pages in the Congressional 9/11 Report. Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat who co-chaired the joint investigation into the attacks, says the classified pages raise questions about Saudi financial support to the hijackers.
“There are a lot of rocks out there that have been purposefully tamped down, that if were they turned over, would give us a more expansive view of the Saudi role” in assisting the 9/11 hijackers, Graham said.
Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama refused to declassify the pages, citing “national security.” But critics, including members of Congress who have read the pages, say national security has nothing to do with it. U.S. officials, they charge, are trying to hide the double game that Saudi Arabia has long played with Washington, as both a close ally and a player in Islamic Sunni extremism.
One of course cannot forget the oddity in the days right after 9/11, when the Bush administration used the FBI to facilitate the departure of 160 Saudi nationals, including relatives of bin Laden, out of the United States. Their chartered planes were among the very few non-military flights allowed in the air at the time.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States at the time of the 9/11 attacks, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was known as “Bandar Bush” for his close ties to the Bush family in Texas. He went on to become chief of Saudi intelligence. Bandar had led Saudi efforts to coordinate the supply of weapons to Syrian rebels. He faced criticism for backing extreme Islamist groups and thus risking a repeat of the “blowback” that brought Osama bin Laden’s Saudi fighters home after the Saudi-sanctioned jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
And hey, just recently, Prince Khaled bin Bandar, the new chief of Saudi intelligence, arrived in Washington for “discussions on joint efforts to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).” The Saudi’s have been widely-held to have helped fund ISIS in the recent past.
Challenges to free speech don’t always involve guns.
Citizens, you have an obligation to remain silent. What you say online, once upon a time an arena of free speech, can and will be used against you.
Here are two creeping examples.
In the UK
Six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, what the Prime Minister called a “desperately sad day for our country.” A British teenager, Azhar Ahmed, went on Facebook to angrily object, saying innocent Afghans killed by British soldiers receive almost no attention from the media. He opined the UK’s soldiers in Afghanistan are guilty, their deaths deserved, and are therefore going to hell.
The following day Ahmed was charged with “a racially aggravated public order offense.” He was convicted “of sending a grossly offensive communication,” fined and sentenced to 240 hours of community service. The judge Ahmed’s opinions “beyond the pale of what’s tolerable in our society.”
The Independent newspaper noted that Ahmed “escaped jail partially because he quickly took down his unpleasant posting and tried to apologize to those he offended.” Apparently, says Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, “heretics may be partially redeemed if they publicly renounce their heresies.”
Criminal cases for online political speech are now commonplace in the UK. Around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online. The investigations have by no means been neutral, instead directed at the country’s Muslims for expressing political opinions critical of the state’s actions.
Wow, luckily this can’t ever happen in America… right? Oh wait, it just did.
A man convicted in a fatal car crash and released early from prison on parole has ended up back behind bars after an Ohio judge and the victim’s family took issue with a post he made on Facebook.
Ryan Fye’s post included a photo of him making an obscene gesture and a message saying, “Prison didn’t break me. It MADE me.” Fye claims he was responding to a Facebook threat from someone unrelated to his case who said they “couldn’t wait to bump into” him and that prison ought to have made him tough enough to handle the encounter.
The message upset relatives of the man killed by Fye in the 2013 crash. A judge also found the Facebook posting disrespectful toward the family and concluded it violated parole sanctions imposed on Fye.
While typical terms of probation prohibit threats, intimidation, harassment, and retaliation against the victims, prosecution, judges, family of victims and so on, it is quite unclear that Fye’s Facebook posting is even directed at any such people, or that it is even a threat or act of intimidation. Many people might characterize it as boastful at worst.
Fye’s defense attorney said Fye didn’t violate probation or the law. “Committing a crime is a probation violation, not abiding by the rules is a probation violation. Mr. Fye didn’t do any of those things.” Fye is back in custody while he appeals the judge’s decision to lock him up.
Over a Facebook posting.
Let’s all do something useful today. Call it a New Year’s Resolution.
Prison sucks. Being in prison because you blew the whistle on our government sucks harder. Getting a letter makes it suck less.
So if you want to do something good today, write a short letter to one of these guys. It need not be anything more than good wishes, or just introducing yourself as a supporter (if you can’t say anything nice, go post your bile somewhere else).
You should assume what you write will be reviewed by prison authorities, so don’t write anything that could conceivable cause trouble or harm for the guy you’re trying to support.
Both prisoners receive a lot of mail. Understand that they may face restrictions on how many letters they can receive each day, and are often restricted in how many they can send out. So, you may not get a reply, or it may take awhile. The point is to send something today to them.
You must address the letter EXACTLY as shown below. You cannot change “Bradley” to “Chelsea,” for example.
Bradley E. Manning
1300 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
I have been unable to locate information on what can and cannot be sent to Manning, so until/unless you know more, best to stick with short letters and no enclosures.
Federal Correctional Institution
Loretto, P.O. Box 1000
Loretto, PA 15940
John is permitted to receive mail from anyone, and soft cover books and magazines only from individuals. Hard cover books may be received if sent directly from a publisher, a bookstore or Amazon.com.
BONUS: Info on conditions in Leavenworth. I have seen the place (from the outside), and it is grim– heavy, Gothic castle in appearance.
The photo is of John and me at his going-away party before prison. That’s the White House in the background. The location was chosen because we look down on criminals.
Senator Mark Udall has called for the full release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture. However, as a still-sitting member of Congress, he has a constitutional protection to read most of the still-secret report on the Senate floor — and a group of intelligence veterans urges him to do just that.
We, the undersigned are veteran intelligence officers with a combined total of over 300 years of experience in intelligence work. We send you this open letter at what seems to be the last minute simply because we had been hoping we would not have to.
You seem on the verge of leaving the Senate without letting your fellow Americans know all they need to know about CIA torture. In the eight weeks since you lost your Senate seat you gave off signs that, during your last days in office, you would provide us with a fuller account of this sordid chapter in our country’s history, exercising your right to immunity under the “Speech or Debate” clause in Article 1 of the Constitution.
Your rhetoric against torture and in defense of the Constitution has been strong, but we now sense a white flag beneath it. We fear you intend to silently steal away, and thus deny the American people their last best chance to learn what they need to know about the record of CIA torture.
We had been encouraged by your December 10 speech on the Senate floor, in which you referred to the release of the Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study on CIA torture the previous day and said: “My goal is to ensure the full truth comes out about this grim time in the history of the CIA and our nation, so that neither the CIA nor any future administration repeats the grievous mistake this important oversight work reveals.” (our emphasis)
Very quickly, though, your goal became fuzzier. When Scott Raab of Esquire Magazine asked you right after your speech, “Do you think the remaining 6,000 or so pages will become public?” You answered: “I do. It’s my fervent hope that they will be declassified. I will continue to call for the entire report to be declassified. The details are important … the entire report ought to be released.”
With all due respect, Senator, exactly who do you think is going to do that, if not you? Was your “goal to ensure the full truth comes out” more rhetoric than reality? We are extremely disappointed at your apparent readiness to throw in the towel.
You had told Raab on November 21, “What happened [the torture, lying, and cover-up] broke faith with the Constitution,” adding, “There are some that would like this report [the Senate Intelligence Committee Study] never to see the light of day. There are some that are running out the clock.” Clearly, you are on to their game. Are you going to let the clock run out, when what we actually need is a full-court press?
A Fine Floor Speech
You called, again, for CIA Director John Brennan to resign, while at the same time noting that President Obama has expressed full confidence in him and has “demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to rein him in.” In your words, the CIA keeps “posing impediments or obstacles” to full disclosure of its “barbaric program” of torture. And you made light of Obama’s merely stating, “Hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”
“That’s not good enough,” you added, and of course you are right. Finally, you complain: “If there’s no real leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture? …
“The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account. … There are right now people serving at high-level positions at the agency who approved, directed, or committed acts related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.”
QED – as you have demonstrated – there is no “real leadership” in the White House on this transcendentally important issue.
Thus, it struck us as disingenuous to finish, as you do, with a glaring non sequitur. You call on our timid President to “purge his administration” of a CIA director in whom he says he has “full confidence,” together with the torture alumni and alumnae still tenaciously protected by the same director.
Again, with all due respect, it seems equally disingenuous to appeal to this President to declassify and release the earlier review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the conclusions of which directly refute several of Brennan’s claims – much less release the full 6,800-page study of which we are permitted only a heavily redacted “executive summary.”
You even include Panetta’s own observation that President Obama and Brennan both were unhappy with Panetta’s initial agreement with the committee to allow staff access to operational cables and other sensitive documents about the torture program.
So where is the real leadership going to come from? Clearly, not from the White House. Russian President Putin is going to give Crimea to NATO before Obama does any of the things you suggested. And you know it.
So where could the initiative come from in these final days before the Senate changes hands? Frankly, Senator Udall, we had been counting on you rising to the challenge before this unique opportunity is lost, probably forever.
Where We Are Coming From
We are, frankly, at a loss to explain your hesitancy – your lack of follow-through toward your stated goal “to ensure the full truth comes out … so that neither the CIA nor any future administration repeats the grievous mistake [of torture].”
If you summon the courage to discharge what you no doubt realize is your duty, there is no way you will end up in jail. Indeed, this is precisely the kind of situation the Founders had in mind when they wrote the “Speech or Debate” clause into Article 1 of the Constitution.
Whatever it is that you fear, you might keep in mind that several of us – who lack the immunity you enjoy – have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for exposing lies, injustice, and abuses like torture. One of us – the first to reveal that those grisly kinds of torture (aka “enhanced interrogation techniques”) were approved at the highest level of government – is in prison serving a 30-month sentence. A number of us have seen the inside of prisons for doing the right thing; and all of us know what it feels like to be shunned by former colleagues.
Also important, despite our many years of service as senior intelligence officers and our solid record for accuracy, we are effectively banned from the so-called “mainstream media,” which continues to prefer the role of security-state accomplice in disparaging, for example, the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee Study. (Never mind that the study is based on indisputably original CIA cables and other documents.) In contrast, you are not banned from the media – yet. You have a few more days; you need to use them.
In your “Additional Views” on the Senate committee Study released on Dec. 9, you applaud Sen. Dianne Feinstein “for seeing this project to completion.” But wait. You are surely aware (1) that the project remains far from complete; and (2) that if you or one of your Senate colleagues do not move tout suite to release the full Study together with the earlier review commissioned by Panetta, the “project” will not be brought to “completion” any time soon – unless a courageous whistleblower runs great risk and does what you can do with impunity.
Moreover, releasing the report, as you have the authority to do under the Constitution, would publicly demonstrate that at least one legal method of whistleblowing does exist. So when such truly illegal actions occur, even at the most senior levels, there is a way of righting wrongs.
You are correct to call the committee Study “one of the most significant examples of oversight in the history of the U.S. Senate.” We imagine that the strong support you and Sen. Ron Wyden gave Sen. Feinstein helped make it so. And we join you both in applauding Sen. Feinstein’s tenacity in getting the Study’s 500-page executive summary released. John Brennan used every conceivable ruse to slow-roll and eviscerate the summary, but Sen. Feinstein faced him down. She achieved all she could, given the circumstances. But the project remains far from “completion.”
In your “Additional Views” you note that, as a new member of the intelligence committee four years ago, you were “deeply disturbed to learn specifics about the flaws in the [torture] program, the misrepresentations, the brutality.” You add that you wrote the President letters about this in May, June, and July of this year. Surely the lack of response told you something. Please – not another letter to Obama. You need to go beyond letters.
Now it’s your turn, Senator Udall. Put Constitution and conscience into play, together with the immunity you enjoy. You can – and, in our view, your oath to the Constitution dictates that you must – rise to the occasion and find a way to release the entire 6,800-page Study, including CIA’s comments (but not redacted to a fare-thee-well). You need to put this at the very top of your job jar – now, before it is too late.
The American people are owed the truth. As you have noted more than once, they are not likely to get it from Brennan – or the President for that matter. Nor will it come from the mainstream media with their customary “on-the-one-hand-and-then-on-the-other” approach to journalism. Polling data on the widespread acceptance of using torture “to keep us safe” is a direct result of that kind of coverage – as well as of the artful crafting of words and phrases in the questions asked in those surveys.
The comments of the many of the TV talking-torture heads seem almost designed to discourage viewers from reading the damning executive summary itself. Who wants to read such abhorrent stuff at Christmastime, anyway?
If those who approved and conducted torture are not held accountable, torture is a virtual certainty for the future. In that sense, you are quite right in saying that the Committee staff has done “seminal” work. The seeds have been sown for reining in an executive agency acting lawlessly; or, alternatively, for endorsing, out of fear, the practice of torture in the future.
John Brennan, those who were in the CIA chain of command for torture, and the co-opted lawyers and faux-psychologists who lent their needed skills to the enterprise may be a bit nervous over the next few days until you are safely gone. But there is little sign they actually expect you to rise to the challenge.
Indeed, Brennan and Co. seem intent on advertising their power and impunity by recently leaking the latest demonstration of lack of accountability. Surprise, surprise: the panel appointed by Brennan to investigate Brennan and his people for hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers has reportedly decided to hold no one accountable, including Brennan himself, who initially lied about it. Now we learn that he apparently authorized the hacking in the first place, so everyone involved receives a stay-out-of-jail-free card. Smug impunity needs to be challenged using your immunity.
Finally, Senator Udall, history books will record the release of the highly redacted summary of the five-year-in-the-making Senate report on torture. It will also record whether or not the Senate rose – even if only in the form of a single, un-intimidated man, to expose truly and in fullness what was done in the name of the American people. Our history is replete with such individual acts of courage by Americans who put country before self. Will you join them?
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Thomas Drake, Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, NSA (resigned)
Daniel Ellsberg, former State Dept. & Defense Dept. Official (VIPS Associate)
Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska; former Army intelligence officer
Larry Johnson, CIA analyst & State Department/counterterrorism, (ret.)
John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism operations officer; federal prison, Loretto, Pennsylvania
Edward Loomis, former Chief, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
David MacMichael, USMC & National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, Army Infantry/Intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)
Todd Pierce, MAJ, U.S. Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Coleen Rowley, Minneapolis Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)
Peter Van Buren, Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
Kirk Wiebe, Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA (ret.)
Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
A handful of ragtag, plucky patriots defended their own misguided understanding of free speech by seeing the Seth Rogen-James Franco assassination bro-movie The Interview on our most American of holidays, Christmas.
God Bless The Interview
At the Austin Alamo Drafthouse (Remember the Alamo!) a few, proud moviegoers stood before the film ran to sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”, and posted the effort to YouTube. The brave representative of that band of brothers and female virtual brothers, risking near-certain death at the hands of any North Korean sleeper agents in Austin, reminded the audience that beer is better in a democracy. The sing-along ended with chants of “USA! USA!”
The owner of the Alamo Drafthouse said “It’s more than watching a silly Seth Rogen buddy comedy. Today it’s really, in a small way, it is sort of an act of patriotism to come and watch this movie this week.”
In Atlanta, similar selfless acts were seen as the sold-out crowd sang along to Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” before the screening of Sony Pictures’ ode to free speech and assassination. “The movie, and the singing,” said the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “served as a statement from many theatergoers that a foreign power would not dictate what forms of entertainment Americans could or could not enjoy.”
Perhaps a little insight is needed in these heady times.
In November someone hacked deeply in Sony Entertainment’s U.S. computer network. They dumped all sorts of data onto the Internet, including embarrassing racist emails by Sony execs mocking Obama, salary details of big stars and silly things about how bad Adam Sandler movies are. The initial hacks included nothing specific about “The Interview.” American mainstream media feasted on the dumped gossip, ensuring any embarrassment to Sony reached a worldwide audience. The FBI stated the hacks were not committed by North Korea (a suspect given the topic of Sony’s film) and DHS dismissed threats someone claiming to be the hackers made later against theatres that would show the film at Christmas. “The Interview” had its premiere in Hollywood and was shown in many locations as part of the usual media preview PR campaign. Nothing violent happened.
Oops! Major theatre chains decided on their own to not show the film. Sony pulled the film from distribution, a business decision, albeit a lame and weak one.
Then, in some sort of chum-churning all-American exercise (following the release of the Senate torture report — coincidence!) blame for the Sony hack was re-directed squarely at North Korea not only by the revised FBI, but by the President of the United States himself. This in spite of fairly weak explanations from the FBI about why the hacks seemed to come from North Korea, and fairly robust explanations from the tech media explaining why the hacks did not seem to come from North Korea.
The President vowed revenge on the North Koreans for what had morphed overnight from just another example of corporate hacking into a literal act of war, the first shots in the endless cyberwar the Pentagon had been
hoping for predicting for years. It was on! And Americans rose to the bait, fueled by a growing media hysteria over… free speech?
The First Amendment of the Constitution makes clear the government is not allowed to restrict speech: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The concept of free speech in the Bill of Rights is directed at OUR government stopping us, not whether or not some other government wants to stop us.
The First Amendment was meant to make one thing indisputably clear: free speech was the basis for a government of the people. Without a free press, as well as the ability to openly gather, debate, protest, and criticize, how would the people be able to judge their government’s adherence to the other rights? How could people vote knowledgeably if they didn’t know what was being done in their name by their government? An informed citizenry, Thomas Jefferson stated, was “a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
“Free Speech” in our Constitutional context is speaking truth to our own government and society, not imagining you are flipping off Kim Jong Un.
What the faux-patriots ignore is that what Sony and the theatre chains did and did not do is far short of the ideals of “free speech” and much closer to the bowels of cold, hard business decisions. Sony’s and the theatre chains’ lawyers very likely decided that showing the film in light of weak threats would open them to liability should some nut case have done something, and/or that the weak threats would have scared moviegoers off anyway and they wouldn’t have made any money. That’s it. Cash.
The true patriotic exercise of free speech is not masking a business decision as a principled stand. It is not recycling some old jingoistic songs in front of a sympathetic group of beer drinkers. You want courage? Say something unpopular against the government. Blow the whistle at great personal risk on a wrong that needs to be exposed. March in protest at risk of a police beating or arrest.
By all means, go see any movie you want, and have fun (reviews suggest the Seth Rogen character hides an explosive device in his own butt in one scene from The Interview). But don’t conflate that with acts of true patriotism and the exercise of free speech.
Some eighteen months after the first Snowden revelations showed the government of the United States, primarily via the NSA, has created a near-complete surveillance state over its own frightened citizens, the people’s voice in Washington, Congress, has done exactly nothing in response. Even the comically-weak and Orwellian-named Leahy attempt at showpiece reform of the NSA, the USA Freedom Act, failed to move forward.
Once again the intelligence agencies’ allies in Congress fought to kill the bill, as they succeeded in doing with a companion House measure that passed in May. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, due soon for his upgrade, argued the bill would help ISIS. “God forbid that tomorrow we wake up to the news that a member of ISIS is in the United States,” claimed Senator Marco Rubio. Without the NSA’s call tracking program, he said, “that plot may go forward, and that would be a horrifying result.” “Let’s not have another repeat of 9/11,” added Senator Dan Coats. It is unlikely in the hyper-extreme that the Republican-controlled Senate would act any differently once they take power in January.
Utah Water Sports
So it is with some Quixotic pleasure that a Utah state legislative committee will vote on a bill that could deprive a National Security Agency facility just outside Salt Lake City of its water, all in protest of the government agency’s collection of civilian data.
Specifically, the Utah bill prohibits municipalities from giving “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency,” a very thinly veiled reference to the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a massive collection facility in Bluffdale, outside Salt Lake City. The Bluffdale center is believed to be one of the world’s largest data warehouses, intended as the electronic realization of the NSA’s stated desire to “collect the whole haystack.” The haystack is every piece of data the NSA can collect on every single person and entity globally. The concept is to amass such data with the ability to later reach back into it as needs grow and emerge. The email you send today is likely of little value to the government, but will be stored anyway. If in three years you or someone you know becomes a “person of interest,” your entire life can then be reconstructed historically.
Power from the People
The Bluffdale facility consumes a staggering 65 megawatts of power, enough to run about 33,000 homes. Hardware that uses that much juice needs a lot of cooling, hence the center’s need for water. A lot of water. Cut off the water and you close down the center.
In the spirit of these Post-Constitutional times, the people are getting doused twice by the NSA. Not only are Constitutional rights being trod upon, but taxpayers are being made to pay for it. In addition to the actual construction and maintenance costs of the center, the city of Bluffdale chose to issue $3.5 million in bonds to pay for the water lines servicing the facility. Bluffdale also signed an agreement with the NSA that allows the agency to pay less for water than city ordinances would otherwise require.
And exactly how much cheap, taxpayer-subsized water is the NSA gulping down? That’s a secret. The Salt Lake Tribune has no far failed to force the NSA to reveal how much water the facility requires. The NSA contends information about water usage would allow someone to calculate the computing power inside the data center.
Though there is no chance that even one drop of water will be denied the NSA in Utah, the action is symbolic, and in troubled times symbols may count for something. Remember, Congress refused to endorse even the lightest of symbolic gestures, so the action of a Utah state legislative committee should not be dismissed.
Answer me punk! Is it true that you give toys to every child in the world? Even the ones whose moms and dads are terrorists?
Hah, that’s material support. Hit him with the electric shock.
Do you refuse to hand over the naughty or nice list for us to use in drone targeting? Tell me, do it now!
He won’t answer. Let’s anally feed him again.
My turn, my turn.
No, you did it last time.
Alfreda! Cheney! Stop fighting. Look at his jolly, round belly like bowl full of jelly. He’ll need plenty of anal feedings. There’ll be time for everyone.
I wanna use the candy cane on him.
No, no, chestnuts!
Alright, if you won’t cooperate old St. Nick, we’re going to rape a loved one in front of you. That should loosen your tongue. Bring in Rudolph.
Cheney, get off the damn reindeer. We’re only threatening to do that this year.
Damn reindeer was asking for it. Lookit the way she prances around with that saucy red nose.
Now old man, we’ll shave off your beard. I think that offends his North Pole religion.
And blast him with the music. No, no, not more Nine Inch Nails. Hit him with the ten minute Christmas song loop they play over and over while you’re in line for 40 minutes at Walmart.
Hey, who wants egg nog?
Feinstein, you came! We invited you again this year of course, but I never expected you to show up after everyone caught you with Brennan in the supply closet. I bet that hurt. It is good to see that whatever the CIA does to you, you are never fully humiliated.
Well, it is the season to be jolly.
So, everyone, gather round, Barack is about to waterboard Santa.
Aw, he always gets to do that first.
Now, now, boys, you all know you’re not spending this Christmas in jail because of Barack, so show some respect. Anyway, we’ll move the mistletoe over the waterboarding table and everyone will get a chance to torture Santa. Sheik Khalid Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times before he was made insane for freedom, so Santa will be screaming with us for a long time.
After that, can we watch the tapes again? Please?
Well, OK, Condi, one more time. Uncle Jose brought his own copies of the torture tapes again this year —
You said the T word, you said the T word! Five dollars into the jar.
Ugh, OK. Anyway, Uncle Jose brought the, er, enhanced interrogation tapes for us all to enjoy — really, Jose, you shouldn’t have — but after that, it is right to bed for everyone. We have to render Santa all around the world, to every country that tortures so they can all have a “crack” at the bastard, in just one night. Even with an early start, that takes some Christmas magic!
Hey, wasn’t Jesus tortured to death in a way?
You’re right, He was. Why, we’re putting the Christ right back into Christmas!
God bless torturers and those who support them, everyone!
Honey, I don’t know how you do it, but every year it just gets better.
Today’s guest post is reprinted by permission from the Facebook page of one Rick Sullivan. I don’t know Rick except via Facebook, but here he eloquently sums up an awful lot of what I, and perhaps others, have been thinking.
When a nation comes through back to back tectonic events like the depression and WWII, when they stand on the brink of total annihilation for half a century ready to spring into WWIII at a moment’s notice, when most of our wealth goes to building that umbrella of defense for the world while it rebuilds and invests in their populations, to have that role suddenly snatched away and made irrelevant inside of just a few years, they will clamor for any opportunity to jump back into that role.
We’re like an aging fighter who spent his life focused solely on being the master of his craft but now has no more bouts to fight. He suddenly finds himself faced with the prospect learning to be a real husband and a father. He looks for any opportunity to be his old self and have relevance with his himself and his family again, to prove he is still the man who will fight to protect them. So he finds any reason he can to come unglued and pummel the first poor sap to cross him in the slightest way.
Just like him, we no longer have meaning and relevance in this world or with our family. Who will we become? The humbled old man who learns and follows his heart? Or the bitter old curmudgeon who’s family abandoned him long ago for their own survival and happiness?
Jealous that CIA torturers get all the fun? Want to virtually torture someone right from your own desktop? Want to encourage your kids to see torture as fun and help desensitize them? Why not play the torture game, your very own torture simulator!
Torture Game 3 is the most up-to-date version of the popular bloody game (rated 8/10!) where you use different tools to torture the victim. You can cut the hands off the victim using a chainsaw saw, you can use a pistol or a shotgun to blow holes in the body, you can even break the body parts apart from the body itself.
My favorite: using the Spike tool to tear off flesh.
The variety of torture tools that can be found on the right side of the “action border panel” is robust. Why, there’s something for everyone. The most popular tools include ropes, a knife, a shotgun, a razor and of course the chainsaw. While the game loads with a generic male victim’s image, the designers explain you can upload any picture — even your own! — and torture a man or woman you hate.
The game designers promise “this game is a good way how to spend several minutes after a difficult day.”
Here’s the link. The game is NSFW. The game runs under Adobe Flash, so you need that on your computer, but otherwise no download is necessary; the game runs right in your browser. There is no cost, no ads, no sign up. Just hit the link and torture. And it is all nice and legal, just like in real life.
I wish to God this was satire, but it is not. We are a sick, sick people. But have fun!
My “thanks” to alert commenter Pitch for the tip on this game!
A new poll finds majority of Americans — 59 percent — believe torture was justified after the 9/11 attacks.
Look around you at the company you keep. The people who support torture, six out of ten, are your neighbors, your co-workers, the people on the bus with you. If you live in Washington DC, they are your children’s friends parents, the people at Safeway, the folks you go to church with.
Now, let’s have a look at the company the United States keeps.
Tortures Human Beings
United States – YES
ISIS – YES
North Korea – YES
China – YES
Russia – YES
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES
Uses Medical Personnel to Enhance Torture
United States – YES
ISIS – NO
North Korea – Unknown
China – Unknown
Russia – YES
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES
Maintains Third Country Detention Facilities
United States – YES (including Poland)
ISIS – NO
North Korea – NO
China – NO
Russia – NO (once including Poland)
Nazi Germany – NO (once including Poland)
Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO
Kidnaps/Renders People from Other Countries to Torture
United States – YES
ISIS – YES
North Korea – YES
China – Unknown
Russia – Unknown
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO
Sends Prisoners to Other Governments for Torture
United States – YES (including Libya, Egypt and Syria)
ISIS – NO
North Korea – NO
China – NO
Russia – NO
Nazi Germany – NO
Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO
Holds Prisoners Indefinitely without Trial
United States – YES
ISIS – Sort Of
North Korea – YES
China – YES
Russia – YES
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO
Kills Prisoners Under Torture
United States – YES
ISIS – YES
North Korea – YES
China – YES
Russia – YES
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES
Holds Innocents for Torture
United States – YES
ISIS – YES
North Korea – YES
China – YES
Russia – YES
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES
United States – YES
ISIS – YES
North Korea – YES
China – YES
Russia – YES
Nazi Germany – YES
Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES
Had Some Sort of Reconciliation Once Torture Exposed
United States – NO
ISIS – NO
North Korea – NO
China – NO
Russia – Sort Of (Post-Stalin)
Nazi Germany (Post-War)- YES
(Post) Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES
Claims to be a Christian Nation
United States – YES
ISIS – Hells NO
North Korea – NO
China – NO
Russia – NO
Nazi Germany – NO
Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES, mostly.
BONUS: Has its State Department write sanctimonious yearly human rights reports about other countries: USA! USA! USA!
The Bush and Obama administrations have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide America’s archipelago of secret prisons and systems of torture.
For all the empty talk of “transparency” being high-fived around following the Senate Report, they at first denied any of that nasty stuff even existed, then used an ever-so-compliant media to call it all necessary for our security and very survival, then shaping dumb-cow public opinion with ersatz terms like enhanced interrogation to keep the word torture out of the discourse, then having the CIA destroy videos of the brutality, then imprisoning officials, such as John Kiriakou, who sought to expose it all, then refusing to hold hearings or conduct investigations, then employing black ops to try and derail even a cursory Senate report and finally allowing the torturers at the CIA themselves the final word on the watered-down public version of a Senate report on torture.
The Torture of Shaker Aamer by the United States
Yet, like a water leak that must find it’s way out from inside the dark place within your walls, some things become known. Now, we can read a psychiatrist’s report which includes, in detail, the torture enacted on just one prisoner of the United States, Shaker Aamer.
The once-U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured Aamer in Afghanistan and sold him to the United States as an al Qaeda member. Who knows at this point who Aamer was at that time, or what he did or did not do. If you think any of that matters, and perhaps justifies what was done to him, stop reading now. This article cannot reach you.
What was Done to One Human
In his own words, Aamer describes the casual way his Western jailers accepted his physical presence, and skinny confessions made under Afghan torture, as all the proof necessary to imprison him in U.S. custody from 2002 until forever. The U.S. created a world of hell that only had an entrance, not caring to conceive of an exit. In no particular order (though the full report dispassionately chronicles every act by time and location), the United States of America did the following to Aamer:
– On more than one occasion an official of the United States threatened to rape Aamer’s five year old daughter, with one interrogator describing in explicit sexual detail his plans to destroy the child;
— “Welcoming Parties” and “Goodbye Parties” as Aamer was transferred among U.S. facilities. Soldiers at these “parties” were encouraged and allowed to beat and kick detainees as their proclivities and desires dictated. Here’s a video of what a beating under the eyes of American soldiers looks like.
— Aamer was made to stand for days, not allowed to sleep for days, not allowed to use the toilet and made to shit and piss on himself for days, not fed or fed minimally for days, doused with freezing water for days, over and over again. For twelve years. So far.
— Aamer was denied medical care as his interrogators controlled his access to doctors and made care for the wounds they inflicted dependent on Aamer’s ongoing compliance and repeated “confessions.”
— Aamer was often kept naked, and his faith exploited to humiliate him in culturally-specific ways. He witnessed a 17-year-old captive of America sodomized with a rifle, and was threatened with the same.
— At times the brutality took place for its own sake, disconnected from interrogations. At times it was the centerpiece of interrogation.
— The torture of Aamer continues at Gitmo, for as an occasional hunger striker he is brutally force-fed.
The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. Torture is invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control, not gathering information. Even when left alone (especially when left alone) the torture victim is punished to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, almost always in the process assuming responsibility for creating his own terror.
And there you have the take-away point, as briefers in Washington like to say. The real point of the torture was to torture. Over twelve years, even the thinnest rationale that Aamer was a dangerous terrorist, or had valuable information to disclose, could not exist and his abusers knew it. The only goal was to destroy Shaker Aamer.
The combination of raw brutality, the careful, educated use of medical doctors to fine-tune the pain, the skills of psychiatrists and cultural advisors to enhance the impact of what was done worked exactly as it was intended. According to the psychiatrist who examined Aamer in detail at Guantanamo, there is little left of the man. He suffers from a broad range of psychiatric and physical horrors. In that sense, by the calculus his torturers employ, the torture was indeed successful.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed at great cost, al Qaeda has been reborn in Africa and greater parts of the Middle East and the U.S. has willingly transformed itself into at best a bully abroad, and a police state at home. But no mind; the full force and credit of the United States of America destroyed Shaker Aamer as revenge for all the rest, bloody proof of all the good we failed to do.
Never Again, Always Again
Despite the horrors of World War II, the mantra– never again– becomes today a sad joke. The scale is different this time, what, 600? 6000? men destroyed by torture not six million, but not the intent. The desire to inflict purposeful suffering by government order, the belief that such inhuman actions are legal, even necessary, differs little from one set of fascists to more modern ones. Given the secrecy the Nazis enjoyed for years, how full would the American camps be today? Kill them all, and let God sort them out is never far from the lips.
Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. The ghosts don’t disappear the way the flesh and bone can be made to go away.
The people who did this, whether the ones in the torture cell using their fists, or the ones in the White House ordering it with their pens, walk free among us. They’ll never see justice done. There will be no Nuremburg Trials for America’s evils, just a collapsing bunker in Berlin. But unlike Shaker Aamer, you are sentenced to live to see it.
I joined fellow whistleblower and former chief Guantanamo prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis on the BBC’s World TV recently to speak out against torture.
Because most “journalism” these days defines objectivity as having people from bizarrely opposite sides of an issue yell at each other until time is up, I found myself “rebutting” a handful of nut jobs whose argument was basically that torture is good, or maybe useful, or vengeful, or whatever, as long as it hurts dirty brown Muslims because, 9/11. Witches deserved it. Also, torture works.
Torture Worked at Salem
Torture does indeed work, if your goal is simply to punish, humiliate or extract false confessions. One example of torture’s very successful use in American history was with the Salem witch trials. Innocent women in 17th century America were brutalized until they admitted to being witches. In one ingenious twist of logic worthy of their post-9/11 successors, the torturers devised a 100 percent effective strategy: hold a suspected witch under water until she either drowns (oops, not a witch, exonerated) or magically floats (confirming she is a witch) and then execute her. One way or another, you’re always correct!
The logic holds for our modern day torturers. We learned than some 26 men held by the United States and tortured, some for years, truly had no connection to terrorism. Everytime they were waterboarded, threatened with death or beaten, they told the truth: they were not terrorists. However, their denials of culpability were taken merely as signs that more torture was needed to get them to confess.
9/11 Left Us with No Choice
One of the other points the troglodytes supporting torture, from the other guests on the BBC show to the Director of the CIA and the President, have brought up is the urgency and seriousness of the post-9/11 environment. They insist torture must be viewed in that light, not from the soft comfort of 2014. America had been attacked, and only through any and all means necessary could we protect her.
Many other times America faced dire circumstances, most far more dangerous to the nation, when government-sponsored torture on a massive scale somehow wasn’t needed to prevail. The American Civil War, and WWII, especially in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, are two examples that come to mind. What made a handful of jihadis more dangerous?
Ticking Time Bomb Scenario
OK, OK, the ticking time bomb scenario. This one pops up as regular as bowel movements. Isn’t torture justified under a situation where a captured terrorist knows information that would stop a bus full of patriotic orphans from being blown up?
Of course, no such scenario has ever existed, and is unlikely ever to exist. For a real 24 TV-like ticking time bomb scenario to exist, here’s what would need to fall into place: the U.S. would have to capture a terrorist in a timely fashion who knew the full, precise details (Monday morning, corner of 5th and Main, Columbus, Ohio, bad guy in white Prius), the U.S. would need to know that the terrorist indeed possessed this information, the U.S. would have to know only torture would elicit the information, the terrorist would need to “break” and give up the full, true information in a timely manner and the information would need to be transmitted to the appropriate law enforcement authorities wherever they were and they would need to act conclusively under whatever time pressures existed, and be successful in their intervention.
Absent even one of those elements, there is no ticking time bomb scenario. It is a false argument for torture, as they all are.
17th Century Morality
But at the end of the day, what troubled me most was not the odd idea that the venerable BBC had stooped to scouring the world to find advocates of torture and given them an audience larger than those they normally addressed from under the rocks they live hidden beneath, or that journalism stoops so low now.
The saddest thing of all is that in what is supposed to be the enlightened 21st century, with so many cries of “never again” echoing in our historical background, we are still forced to defend the notion that a country like the United States should not torture people. We have reverted to a 17th century morality.
Anyone can sue the government; Van Buren v. Barack Obama. I just need to file the papers in Federal court. Oh, a couple of issues.
Torture is a crime but it is arguably also a tort. Torts are civil wrongs recognized as grounds for a lawsuit. These wrongs result in an injury or harm constituting the basis for a claim by the injured party. While some torts are also crimes, the primary aim of tort law is to provide relief for the damages incurred and deter others from committing the same harms. The injured person may sue for an injunction to prevent the continuation of the tortious conduct or for monetary damages.
Sounds like the kind of stuff we all would like in regards to torture. Compensation for victims and no more torture.
But before I call up a lawyer, I first need standing or the government will can my suit in a quick motion filing to dismiss. Standing means in this case I have to show I was personally affected by the torture. I wasn’t tortured, so this will be hard. Attorneys for Anwar al Awlaki’s father previously tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction a few year’s ago preventing the government from the targeted killing of his son. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. Awlaki was killed by the government.
What About a Victim Filing Suit?
OK, so maybe someone who was tortured himself could sue the U.S. government. That’d get around the question of standing.
First problem with one of the victim’s suing the USG is persuading the relevant U.S. courts that they have jurisdiction over the acts committed by Americans overseas and are prepared to apply U.S. laws extra-territorially. This gets even dicier because the torture took place sorta-kinda during a sort-kinda kind of war-thing.
This issue has been batted around the court system over Guantanamo for years, inconclusively.
But what if somehow victim actually did file a lawsuit in the U.S. against those Americans who tortured them?
Government officials acting under the “legitimate scope of their employment” are immune from suit. This is the “Westfall Act Certification” defense, via the Westfall Act of 1988. The Act permits the Attorney General, at his or her discretion, to substitute the United States as the defendant and essentially grant absolute immunity to individual government employees for actions taken within the scope of their employment.
The government would only have to say the torturers were just doing their jobs, which in a sad way they were, and that ends the suit.
There is an exception in Westfall for unconstitutional acts. The person filing the lawsuit would have to prove torture of a foreigner abroad was in fact prohibited by the Constitution. That would be one helluva hard sell.
But the Game’s Already Been Decided
And just to make this very clear, all the way back in 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder closed without charges the only two cases ever under investigation in connection with U.S. torture program. One case resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. Holder’s decision, said the New York Times, “eliminates the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.
Obama also made clear the idea of suing the government, or anyone connected with torture, was a non-starter.
Long before throwing out the two cases noted above, way back in 2009 Obama said his desire was to look forward rather than conduct investigations that could alienate the intelligence community. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” Obama said in a statement, even as he noted torture was a “dark and painful chapter in our history.”
“It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” Attorney General Holder said in a 2009 statement.
Obama officials also stated some five years ago that they would provide legal representation at no cost to CIA employees subjected to international tribunals or inquiries from Congress. They also said they would indemnify CIA staff against any financial judgments.
Short version for non-lawyers: if two presidents order it done, whatever is done is legal, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it. Thanks for playing and have a super day!
(I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice)
With the release of the Senate torture report, media accounts are quick to add a variant of the phrase that “Obama discontinued the enhanced interrogation programs soon after coming into office.”
That is not true.
Force-Feeding at Guantanamo
Imad Abdullah Hassan has spent twelve years in Guantanamo in a cage without ever being charged with anything. A judge cleared Hassan for release, finding there was not enough incriminating evidence to justify keeping him imprisoned. Hassan’s clearance came in 2009, yet he remained at America’s off-shore penal colony without explanation or hope of release. He went on a hunger strike in protest (the U.S. military refers to it as a “long-term non-religious fast”), and is being force-fed.
Hassan sued the president of the United States, claiming being force-fed at Guantanamo is torture. The lawsuit describes his treatment:
— Prisoners are strapped to a hospital bed or special restraint chair for feeding.
— Large tubes are used, and they cause undue pain when forced into the nostrils of the prisoners. Hassan was originally force-fed with a Number 8 gauge tube, later increased to a Number 14 that barely fit as it was pushed through his nostril into his stomach.
— A funnel was used to channel large amounts of liquid into the tube to feed him faster.
— So much liquid was forced through that the second time Hassan underwent this procedure, he lost consciousness and spent two days in critical condition.
— Prisoners were force-fed drugs causing them to defecate on themselves as they sat in the chair being fed. “People with hemorrhoids would leave blood on the chair and the linens would not always be changed before the next feeding,” said Hassan in the lawsuit.
— Prisoners would be be strapped down on top of others’ stool and blood for up to two hours at a time.
— Hassan was at times forcibly sedated so he could be force-fed more easily.
— If Hassan vomited on himself at any time during the procedure, the force-feeding would restart from the beginning.
— Guards took Hassan and two others to another prison block so that others would see what was being done to them, as a deterrent.
— Air-conditioning was sometimes turned up and detainees were deprived of a blanket. This was particularly difficult for the hunger strikers, as they felt the cold more than someone who was eating.
— Guards would bang hunger-striking prisoners’ cells every five minutes day and night to prevent sleep.
— The force-feeding procedures described in the lawsuit were done twice a day, every day, on prisoners.
— Even after Hassan broke down at one point and began eating again, he continued to be force-fed anyway.
— Hassan’s recorded weight fell from 119 pounds to 78 pounds. The military, in its force-feeding manual, states “Patients with weight loss can be expected in any detained population.” The manual advises “When detainees are weighed… wearing shackles or other restrictive devices, the weight of those devices will be subtracted from the measured weight.”
— Hassan has been force-fed in this manner for eight years.
Why Doesn’t He Just Eat?
At this point some will be asking: why doesn’t Hassan just eat? That would stop the force-feeding torture.
It is likely Hassan himself has thought about the same question. In my former career working for the Department of State, I was responsible for the welfare of arrested Americans abroad. Many threatened hunger strikes for reasons ranging from superficial to very serious. However, in my 24 years of such work, only one prisoner carried it out for more than a day or two, taking only small sips of water for days. His captors, one of America’s allies in Asia, choose to not force-feed him, stating due to the nature of his political crime that they’d prefer to see him die.
I watched the man deteriorate before my eyes, starving to death in real-time. It requires extraordinary will and strength to do that, pushing back against all of evolution and biology screaming inside your head to just eat. Close to death, the man choose to stay alive and eat for the sake of his family. It is no casual decision to do what Hassan is doing. Something very important must be at stake for a man to do what Hassan has done.
For eight years.
And of course Hassan was still force-fed at one point when he did start eating. Imprisoned wrongly in the first place, and cleared to leave Gitmo for the last five years but still locked up, Hassan is worthy of protesting his incarceration via the only means available to him. He also understands that the force-feeding is not about keeping him alive per se, but about forcing him and others to comply with his jailers.
Dr. Mengele at Gitmo
The procedures at Guantanamo (as well as at the CIA Black Sites) are performed by or supervised by U.S. military and CIA doctors who, though they had taken the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to a patient, do anyway.
The Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) issued a lengthy study on the abandonment of millennia-old medical ethics in the post-9/11 U.S. torture programs. IMAP is a respected source of ethical comment; its board members include physicians from Columbia University, Harvard, the University of Toronto, Johns Hopkins, Boston University and a number of other prominent hospitals and medical research facilities. These are non-political, dispassionate people whose work has ended up as political under the extraordinary circumstances of our world.
IMAP produced a report entitled Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, based on two years of review of public records. The report details how military and CIA policies institutionalized a variety of acts by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breached ethical standards. These include:
— Involvement in abusive interrogation;
— Consulting on conditions of confinement to increase the disorientation and anxiety of detainees;
— Using medical information for interrogation purposes; and
— Force-feeding of hunger strikers.
In addition, IMAP says that military policies and practices impeded the ability to provide detainees with appropriate medical care and to report abuses against detainees under recognized international standards. The report explains how agencies facilitated these practices by adopting rules for military and CIA health personnel that substantially deviate from ethical standards traditionally applied. For example, violations of ethical standards were “excused” by designating health professionals not as doctors, but as “interrogation safety officers,” personnel not bound by any ethics.
The basis of medical ethics, the Hippocratic Oath which says “first, do no harm,” is understood in the real world to come into conflict with the demands on doctors in wartime. Such complicated circumstances have been dealt with, and evolved standards do exist. Here are some from a recognized international body:
Voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision… [procedures] should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury… proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.
These standards were written in 1947 in Nuremberg, Germany, to guide future medical experimentation on human beings held captive. The authors were Americans sitting in judgment of 23 Nazi physicians accused of murder and torture in the concentration camps. Of course many will argue circumstances in Dachau and Guantanamo are different; this is true. The former was run by the Third Reich and the latter by the World’s Indispensable Nation.
It is like I’ve had a bad dream and awoken to remember it all.
As pundits falsely applaud the end of the U.S.’ torture regime following the election of Barack Obama, one should spare a thought for those people still in Guantanamo who endure America’s pointless wrath. The irony that the same president who said he ended torture also said he would close Guantanamo once in office is noted, but is really not much more than another spot on the white wall we imagine we are as a nation.
Why do we do it? The doctors who conduct the torture are not stupid, especially evil as we traditionally define it, or unaware of the ethics of their profession. They know as well as anyone Hassan is approved for release, and so even any piggish notions of revenge or pay back do not apply. Some of the doctors involved were likely in junior school when 9/11 happened and know about that day the same way they know about Gettysburg or the Battle of the Bulge.
We might also remind ourselves that after their military careers, some of those same young doctors will move among us in private practice, perhaps holding their dark secrets inside, perhaps enjoying them a bit too much in private moments.
I don’t know why they do it. They’ll say, perhaps to themselves in some death-bed moment of desperate remorse, that they were only following orders. One hopes their god is more understanding, because we here have heard that one before.
(Long-time readers of this blog will note I am re-running some earlier torture articles in lieu of the Senate report’s release)
Hmm. They must be using a different version in Georgia, where a small town has used some odd twists on traffic laws to violate the First Amendment’s right to practice one’s religion, banning a mosque from opening. All together now — Freedumb!
Kennesaw, Georgia, a pus-filled, hateful ashtray of a city of about 30,000 people in north Georgia, voted down a Muslim group’s request to rent an unused retail space and open a mosque in the city.
The vote was 4-1 against as anti-Muslim protesters stood outside the meeting with signs such as “Ban Islam” and “Islam Wants No Peace!”
Mayor Mark Matthews forbade comment inside from the public about religion, so critics instead said they opposed the mosque on the grounds parking. This despite the fact that the Muslim group had already agreed to limit attendance to 80 worshipers at a time in the 2,200 square foot space. The group also agreed to build 40 new parking spaces well-away from the nearby shopping area.
The clever haters in Georgia figured they would get around that naughty old First Amendment to the Constitution (Note: the Constitution is that thingie that defines the freedom our troops are always fighting Muslims overseas to protect) by not, no sir, not in any way at all, making the mosque ban about religion. Nope. All the good white people of Kennesaw are concerned about is traffic issues in what no doubt is their busy and thriving downtown area.
“This is not intended to be a religious debate or a discussion about people’s religious beliefs. It’s a purely technical hearing on the appropriate land use for a piece of property in the city of Kennesaw,” the mayor said.
Oh wait, that’s bullsh*t.
At a public hearing last month that had no limits imposed on discussing religion, Kennesaw residents shared things like this: “I am first a Christian and then an American citizen,” resident Jo Talley said. “As a Christian I am to put no other God before my Lord, and I am also to love my neighbor. If you know me, then you know that I do my best to do those things… but I also have the right to protect myself. This project has to do with Sharia law.”
“You know, if Christianity were killing people, I’m pretty sure I would have a problem with it,” Pastor C.S. Clarke of the Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church added.
Ashley Haspel, who owns a beauty salon, said she is concerned people attending the mosque would use too many parking places, leaving no room for her customers. “A worship center has no place being in a retail center… It would hurt our business not having the parking for our customers.”
According to the application for the mosque, the daily prayer services would likely be attended by 10-20 people and the weekly prayer service 60-80 people. There are already 127 parking space, which would increase to 167 if the mosque is approved.
Resident Anthony Bonner said the debate was “bigger than just zoning and parking. This is bigger than right and wrong. This is not a religious debate. This is about a comment on the value and the merits of a community.”
A commenter added “Islam is a discriminatory religion so it is quite ironic to hear all the supporters of the mosque crying about discrimination.”
Here’s one: “Should we accommodate a religion aiming to convert or kill the infidel, including the citizens of the United States? Islam is NOT a peaceful religion based on love. Should we aid the enemy?”
An upstanding citizen stated “The scumbag lawyer for the terrorist organization says he will sue… good luck with that.”
Another says on video “A retail space is not appropriate to a house of worship,” though by some odd quirk, the city allowed a Pentecostal church to rent a retail space for exactly the same purpose in July.
The argument you hear a lot is about not taking one case — Eric Garner for us now — and extrapolating too much from it. A cop killed an African-American man. That is one case, with its own unique circumstances, so you can’t claim it is just another example of a broad pattern of racism. Or, racism aside, that police violence and deadly force against citizens has become unmanageable.
Maybe. At least until you add it all up. Here are some numbers, so as they say, you do the math.
The New York police officer who killed Eric Garner has been sued three times for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of other blacks he and fellow cops arrested.
A 2013 federal court lawsuit alleges that Daniel Pantaleo and other officers subjected Darren Collins and Tommy Rice to “humiliating and unlawful strip searches in public view.” They said Pantaleo “slapped and tapped” their testicles. The officers insisted they acted reasonably and exercised their discretion, but the lawsuit was settled last year for $30,000.
Rylawn Walker’s 2012 lawsuit alleged Pantaleo and other officers falsely arrested him for marijuana. The charges against Walker were dismissed.
A third suit involved Kenneth Collins, who alleged Pantaleo violated his rights during a 2012 marijuana arrest, including “a degrading search of his genitals” (disposition unknown)
A 59-page report released by the United States Department of Justice on Thursday reveals widespread, excessive use of force by police officers in Cleveland. Cleveland is the city where cops recently killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while he was carrying a toy gun. Before that, Tanesha Anderson died in police hands when cops were supposed to be transporting her for mental health treatment.
In another incident from the report, a 300-pound officer sat on a 13 year-old boy and punched the boy in the face repeatedly while the boy was handcuffed in the back of a police car. In another incident, police used their stun gun on a juvenile suspect, despite the fact that the boy was being held on the ground by two officers. In a third incident, an officer fired upon a man who fled after repeatedly asking the officer to produce his badge in order to prove that he was, in fact, a cop. The cop did not do so.
The overarching conclusion of the report is that Cleveland police “too often use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution,” and that “supervisors tolerate this behavior and, in some cases, endorse it.”
More than 550 homicides by police officers between 2007 and 2012 were missing from the federal statistics or not attributed to the law enforcement agency involved, the Wall Street Journal reported.
This makes it nearly impossible to figure out how many people cops kill — justifiably or not — every year. To compile the report, the Journal looked at the internal figures of killings by police from 105 of the nation’s 110 largest police departments. Five declined the request for access. The internal records show at least 1,800 deaths during the aforementioned timeframe. That is about 45 percent higher than the FBI’s tally of 1,242. Some law enforcement agencies are not reporting all the police killings that happen on their watch.
Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.
One way of appreciating that stark disparity is to calculate how many more whites would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185 – more than one per week over the three year period the statistics cover.
ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police supports what has been an article of faith in the African American community: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.
Details matter. Did police always list the circumstances of the killings? No, there were many deadly shootings where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.
A grand jury will bring no charges against a white New York City cop who strangled an unarmed African-American man to death. Watch him die in the video.
Watch Him Die
Daniel Pantaelo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold on Staten Island on July 17, will not face charges for the killing, a grand jury decided yesterday. You can hear Garner, who was asthmatic, plead with police about his inability to breathe several times during the struggle that led to his death. Watch him die in the video.
The grand jury did not bring charges against Officer Pantaelo despite the fact that the NYPD’s own patrol guide explicitly prohibits the chokehold used to kill Garner.
The grand jury did not bring charges against Officer Pantaleo despite Garner’s death being ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner in August.
The cause of Garner’s death was “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police,” the medical examiner’s office said.
Eric Garner was a 43-year-old father of six. Police said they approached Garner because he was selling unlicensed cigarettes — known as loosies — and that he resisted arrest.
Watch him die in the video:
In preparation for the Garner decision today, the NYPD sent detectives to Ferguson during recent demonstrations to gather intelligence on so-called professional protesters. In New York, cops will be looking for outside agitators and vowed to arrest demonstrators interfering with traffic. There will be a heavy presence of cops on foot, in the air and on horseback throughout the city.
We are left at this point only to wonder under what circumstances a cop may actually be indicted after killing someone on the street. In the Garner case, there is no doubt that he was unarmed. He did raise his hands. He did not endanger the police, and they had no clear reason to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone around them. There is no question about the events that unfolded, as the entire scene was filmed at close range. The police office who did the killing used a chokehold, a technique specifically outlawed by the NYPD. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
This is not Michael Brown. There are no conflicting witnesses, no ambiguous testimony, no need to decide who to believe. Believe your eyes.
If under such conditions a grand jury comes to the conclusion that no crime was committed, it is hard to imagine what conditions could cause a grand jury to conclude a crime was committed.
No amount of police body cameras, or blue ribbon panels, or meetings or additional training will help. This is just a slaughter and the people who can stop it won’t. Watch him die in the video.
I woke up this morning with the worst kind of hangover: anger, confusion, wondering what happened last night. Without a drop of alcohol to explain how I felt. So here are some of the questions I have about Michael Brown, Darren Wilson and Ferguson.
Why was the Announcement Made as it Was?
The grand jury made its decision no later than early afternoon on Monday. Why was the announcement held until 9pm EST? That put the announcement at the end of hours of tension allowed to build, after dark, and suspiciously smack in TV prime time. There was nothing more to “get ready” on the streets except to allow crowds to gather and frustration to ramp up. Why not make the announcement as soon as a decision was rendered? Why not hold it until say 7am Tuesday morning when people were asleep and not yet gathered? In daytime? Wouldn’t those actions have reduced somewhat the potential for violence?
Why was the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, Seemingly Smirking?
Why was the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, whose very title implies his task before a grand jury, seemingly so pleased with the result? Throughout his press conference, he went out of his way to chastise the media and mock discrepancies among the witnesses to Brown’s shooting. This was unprofessional at the very minimum, and did nothing to calm tensions or create the impression of a fair process.
Every attorney knows that in any situation witnesses will disagree with one another. The shooting occurred within seconds, and each witness saw it from a different location, so of course statements will vary. And indeed it is possible in any criminal situation that some witnesses may lie. McCulloch essentially treated this as some sort of unique facet of the Brown case. He kept referring to the significant gaps between the physical evidence and witness statements, yet the key thing, what initially happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson at the window of the police car, was by its nature not able to be supported or refuted by any physical evidence (What was said? Who acted first? At what point did Wilson shoot?)
Why was the Physical Evidence of Wilson’s Injury Not Seen as More Significant?
A key element of showing Darren Wilson was justified in his use of deadly force was the claim that Michael Brown punched/attacked him in his police cruiser, causing Wilson to fear for his life and fire his weapon. The law governing this states “An officer may use lethal force only when the officer reasonably believes that the action is in defense of human life, including the officer’s own life.” To a casual observer, the injuries Wilson sustained, which appear to be minor bruises, do not support the criteria necessary to have fired the first shots or Wilson’s statements that his life was in danger. It was the action at the door of the police car precipitated everything that followed.
Wilson’s injuries were testified to on page 25 of the transcript. The questions appear only to describe for the record what was evident in the hospital photos, nothing more.
Given McCulloch’s Personal History, Which Creates the Appearance of Bias, Why did He Handle the Case?
Everyone knew the Brown killing was among the most controversial and sensitive cases Missouri had seen for a long time. Given the racial tensions and violence that both happened and were worried to happen, avoiding even the appearance of bias seemed a key element in helping tamp down concerns that the issue was treated unjustly. So why was McCulloch allowed to shepherd the case?
McCulloch has a tragic, close, familial connection to violence. In 1964 his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by an African-American man in a public housing complex. In 2000 McCulloch controversially declined to bring charges against two detectives accused of excessive force in the killing of two unarmed black men, who died after 20 shots were fired into their car by police.
McCulloch made questionable statements in August as protests unfolded in Ferguson. He criticized Missouri Governor Nixon for replacing St. Louis County police control of the Ferguson protests with officers and leadership from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch said at the time. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.” He also praised police: “The abuse that they took on that line was incredible,” he said, in reference to the SWAT and riot teams on call in Ferguson in the early days of the protests. “The use of force, while they were doing it under the circumstances, I don’t think was excessive,” he said.
A formal accusation of bias towards the police on the part of McCulloch is impossible to demonstrate. The appearance of bias is impossible to ignore. Given the controversy and sensitivity of the Brown killing, was there not anyone else in the state of Missouri who could have prosecuted the case? Why didn’t the governor appoint a special prosecutor as he was able to do?
Why Did the Grand Jury Take it Upon Themselves to Sort Out the Witnesses Conclusively?
The point of a grand jury is only to determine if probable cause of a crime, a very low legal hurdle, exists. If it does, they return an indictment and the case goes to trial for resolution. There, in open court with all sides publicly testifying, a jury selected for the specific case goes through all the evidence, and decides which witnesses to believe and which to discard. Cross-examination occurs, particularly of critical witnesses such as Darren Wilson.
The most significant elements of the case could only be accounted for by Wilson, or Brown. One is dead, and one is fighting for his life. The latter point is often a critical one in a criminal trial and a defendant’s statements exonerating themselves are often looked at very closely. One of the key points of even having a trial is for the trial jury to sort out conflicting evidence; absent a confession, every criminal case has some sort of conflicting evidence.
It appears that the grand jury took it upon itself not just to decide if probable cause existed, but to try Darren Wilson in secret, without the checks and balances of an open trial.
What was Said by Prosecutors in Front of the Grand Jury?
Did prosecutors actually ask for the grand jury to indict? If they did not believe the evidence supported an indictment, why did they take the case to the grand jury instead of dismissing the charges themselves as if normal procedure? It is clear that prosecutors went to great efforts to challenge the credibility of outside witnesses, going as far as labeling some as making up their stories to match publicly-available details.
Were the same standards applied to the ultimate witness, Darren Wilson? Were his conclusive statements, which some could consider to be self-serving, aggressively challenged? If they were, exposing that would help to calm tensions.
Wilson’s grand jury testimony is here; it does not appear to contain challenging questioning, but have a look yourself.
The key element in determining whether Wilson was justified in shooting was the the question of whether Wilson thought his own life was in mortal danger. Wilson made the following statements to the grand jury; were they seen by the jury as unbiased or self-serving, or simply truthful?
Brown had the “crazy” look of a “demon… It looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him,” Wilson told the grand jury
Wilson described Brown as “very aggressive” and was convinced the teen was “gonna kill me.” “It was just like intense,” the officer said. “I’ve never seen anybody look that, for lack of a better word, crazy.”
Wilson also stated: “He turned, looked at me, made like a grunting noise and had the most intense aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person.”
Wilson was a veteran cop. Did anyone challenge his assertion, after years on the streets, that 18-year-old Michael Brown did indeed display the “most intense aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person.”
By the way, Brown, according to Wilson on page 225 of the transcript, only made that aggressive face after Wilson shot him the first time.
So is This Over?
This one we pretty much know the answer to. With the grand jury’s decision, Darren Wilson will not be criminally charged for killing Michael Brown by the state of Missouri.
The Federal Department of Justice can charge Wilson with violating Brown’s civil rights, under the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, for “depriving him of his life.” Civil rights investigations can drag on for years. The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, is still active after two years with no results expected, well, for a long time.
More to Come
I am not a lawyer, and in the short time since the grand jury’s announcement have obviously not yet waded through all 70 hours of testimony and thousands of pages of written documentation, so it is possible that answers to some of these questions may already exist. I hope so, but I worry they don’t.
What happened in Ferguson matters to us all as Americans. Are we doomed to remain a nation hopelessly, violently adrift in a swamp of racism? Do we have a justice system that is indeed just? Can everyone expect to receive fair treatment in our system, from the moment police confront an alleged criminal to the moment some sort of final decision is reached? Do our police forces exist to “protect and serve,” or does that only apply to some groups of Americans, while for others the police are deadly enemies?
Without any disrespect, Michael Browns’ come and go. There have been young black men killed under dubious circumstances by the police before Brown, and God help us, there will be more killed under dubious circumstances by the police after Brown.
Until the real questions of Ferguson are answered, we will do this over and over and over again.
“Yep, we blew it,” said a sheepish spokesperson for the Ferguson, Missouri tourist promotion board. “We really, really picked a bad week to go all in on our ‘urban young people’ tourism promotion campaign– Ferguson, It’ll Be Cray-Cray Ya’ll!”
With a grand jury decision on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson expected Sunday, and with many predicting violence to follow that decision in the racially divided city, the tourism board admitted they had egg on their faces.
“At first we were kind of excited. The hashtag we had been promoting, #Ferguson, really blew up on Twitter, and we were hearing that media from all over the world were block-booking hotel rooms. We mistakenly took all that as signs that our social media campaign had really caught on, until we read about the whole grand jury thing and Michael Brown. I guess we should get a news app on our phones or something. Really, we checked Instagram three or four times and there was nothing. Awkward!”
In its own defense, the tourism board did emphasize that the campaign had been in the works for months, and that many of the contracts for advertising, billboards and fake friends on social media had to be lined up quite a while ago. “And besides,” said one anonymous staffer, “nobody at city hall returned a phone call or responded to even one of our emails for like, four months, so we just said to ourselves, better ‘go for it!'”
“And yes, we have already heard that saying we were specifically ‘targeting’ the African-American community with our promotional campaign is really awkward in so many ways. It’s just that our market research showed that so few African-Americans wanted to come to Ferguson for some reason that we figured they were an underserved demographic for us. Then we heard from two different restaurants in town that they actually don’t serve African-Americans, which we obviously misunderstood the meaning of. And who doesn’t make mistakes? That’s why pencils come with erasers. We feel really bad.”
“But the saddest part of all is that so many people are going to miss some of the great attractions we have here in Ferguson. We have a movie theatre, which we now hope will not be burned down, and the Rite Aid is still open despite the plywood they now have up. For military buffs, the National Guard is going to hold some sort of parade soon. And we heard the state is considering legalized casino gambling, so keep us on your vacation radar.”
“But maybe wait a week or so.”
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees your right against an illegal search by the police. Basically, you can only be searched under two conditions: a “lawful” search as defined by decades of Supreme Court decisions and with a warrant.
(Of course none of this is legal advice and I am not a lawyer. Never make decisions without the advice of a lawyer.)
Lawful vs. Warranted Search
What is and is not a “lawful” search can get complicated, and has been the subject of much case law. A really basic example is after you have been properly arrested and are on the way to jail, the cops can search you for weapons without your permission. A warranted search is everything else; the police need to go to court and get permission from a judge to search you. The latter especially applies to enclosed spaces such as your home and car.
If the cop thinks he has a clear lawful search that will stand up in court, he’ll just go ahead and do it. He does not need your permission. If the cop thinks he would otherwise need a warrant, he will ask your consent to search. If you grant such permission, the search automatically becomes “lawful.” You do not have to consent, and many lawyers will tell you never to do so without legal advice. The cops can be tricky, saying things like “Hey, you don’t mind if I just take a look?” or “So it’s cool if I just check inside, right?” If you nod, shrug or in some cases say nothing in response, that is often seen as granting permission. Some courts have held if you even open a door, or leave one unlocked, or allow the cops into your home “just to talk out of the rain,” that is “permission.” The clearest thing is to say “NO, I do not consent to a search” if that is your intent.
But the cops don’t always play by the rules. The video shows what happens when they don’t, and now, in America, what happens when you simply exercise your Constitutional rights.
What Really Happens
In yet another example of how police officers act today if they don’t know there’s a camera on, a New York sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay after a video that appears to show him slapping a young man went online. The cop is seen quickly losing patience with a man who did not want his car searched, as is his right under the Fourth Amendment. The cop was suspicious of the two men when he saw a .22-caliber rifle on the back seat of the car. Note that the right to lawfully possess a firearm is also protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The men involved stated they had parked their car at a local business and were walking to a nearby party when confronted by the cop. The man stated his friend had purchased the .22-caliber rifle earlier that day, had a receipt for the weapon.
“We’ll get a f*cking search warrant,” the cop says, apparently as a response to the man’s insistence that he did not consent to a search. “I wasn’t in my car when all this was happening,” the man says. “Why don’t you want to search my house or something?” The cops then replies “Let me see your f*cking keys.” When the man asks why, the cop is direct: “I’m going to search your f*cking car, that’s why… You wanna f*cking resist?” And that’s when the slap can be heard, although not seen.
The second man, who was filming, tells the officer what just happened was “intense,” and the cop answers: “You like that, huh? I can get a lot more intense, believe me.” The man replies “Slap me around?” The cop’s answer: “Yeah, I’ll rip your f*cking head off and sh*t down your neck.”
The cop was unapologetic when contacted by the media. He insisted he “was concerned [about] a public safety issue” and that if he “had to it all over again… I’d probably do the same thing.”
So there you go, simply another story of what life is like for citizens in Post-Constitutional America. Your rights? You’ll get them when the cops are darn well ready to let you have them.
Learn more about your right to video the police at Photography is Not a Crime.
The person Greenwald now knows as Edward Snowden began contacting him via open email, urging Greenwald to learn how to use encryption and other web tools to receive sensitive information. When Greenwald was slow to act, Snowden even made a video tutorial to baby-step him through the necessary procedures. Absent these extraordinary efforts by Snowden, who knows when or even if his game-changing NSA information would have come to light.
You don’t have to wait for some future Snowden to teach you how to communicate securely, thanks to Trevor Timm, co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped news organizations install SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that helps sources get documents to journalists in a much more anonymous and secure way than email. Currently, journalists at five major news organizations in the United States use SecureDrop. Here’s how to use it:
— Find a public wifi internet connection that is not connected to your work or home, such as a coffee shop. Take the bus to a new place you’ll not visit again.
— Download and install the Tor Browser Bundle. For more security, also install and use the Tails operating system. For maximum security, run all this off a flash drive you bought with cash, and throw away the drive after one use.
–Using the Tor Browser, enter in your news organization’s Onion URL (below). Only load this URL inside the Tor Browser.
— Follow the instructions on the SecureDrop screen.
Here are Onion URLs for the five groups of journalists currently operating SecureDrop:
The Intercept: y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion
New Yorker: strngbxhwyuu37a3.onion
Wired’s Kevin Poulsen: poulsensqiv6ocq4.onion
A Plea to Computer People
I have heard from many journalists their concern that sources are unaware or incapable of communicating securely. Many times the journalist, who may or may not really understand this stuff, ends up trying to explain it to an already-nervous source whose computer skills may be basic at best. Every one of the writers say the same thing: someone please create a secure system for dummies.
So, computer people of the web, please consider this. Create a one-button click piece of software that installs all the software needed on a flash drive. The users need only plug in the flash drive and click one button. Create the necessary front ends so that the software can be used by anyone. Please don’t write in and say “But it is already so easy to use.” Experience is that it is not. Think software that your grandma could make work. For better or worse, many people who are or who might communicate important information to responsible journalists need your help. Without your help, many will either not communicate at all, or put themselves at increased risk by communicating insecurely.
Anyone takes great personal risk, including financial ruin and potential jail time, by transmitting to journalists, so all the warnings and caveats apply. Do not leak or transmit classified information. Courts are attacking journalists’ abilities to protect their sources. Though Snowden and others have endorsed the use of systems such as described here, there is no information now available on if/how the NSA can monitor such communications, now or in the future. The FBI has successfully, on a known, limited scale, monitored some parts of the Tor Network. Everything else. This is America, 2014. We’re on our own to fix our country.
There are basically only two messages in propaganda: our side is good, strong and will win, and their side is evil, weak and will lose. Everything else is just music and narration.
So to demonstrate how little propaganda statements towards whomever happens to be America’s enemy of the time change, let’s have a look at the 1943 propaganda film here, made to help stir up Americans for the long fight ahead to defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. Everybody likes Japan now, but remember the country that now makes our anime, manga and weird porn used to want to conquer us, even going as far as beheading hostages (sound familiar?)
What We Learn
In the video we learn many things about the evil Japanese (and ISIS):
– They are fighting a “Holy War” against the West (no change with ISIS);
— They are trying to establish a world government with everyone living their austere, Emperor-worshipping lifestyle, with their harsh laws (substitute Caliphate);
— They fight “fanatically,” and are willing to give their lives for the Emperor, believing Shinto paradise awaits them (substitute Allah and the same Paradise, less virgins on the Japanese side);
— You “cannot measure the way Japanese think by any Western standard. While their weapons are modern, their thinking and beliefs are 2000 years out of date” (no change with ISIS);
— The Japanese believe they have a “sacred duty” to fight for the Emperor against all others (ISIS, infidels, Allah, you get it)
— They are “fanatics, and we must kill them before they destroy our way of life” (no change with ISIS);
— The Japanese are not nice to their women (no change with ISIS);
— They hate us (no change with ISIS);
— They behead hostages (no change with ISIS)
The Long Con
Now, this all begs the question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today via the mass media about ISIS, does that tell us something? Is it that our enemies, as varied as Imperial Japan and ISIS across some sixty-five years of conflicts, are just so much alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it goes to the same playbook? After all, what works, works.
Why reinvent the scam?
Fear is good for our current way of life, allowing your opinion and votes to be manipulated, and to make sure you’ll go along with any terrible things the government wishes to do to you (surveillance, wars, detentions, quarantines, shredding of the bill of rights…)
So, in honor of Halloween, our scariest holiday other than election day, here is the Official Government-Approved List of Fears:
1) ISIS (they’re everywhere!)
2) Ebola (it’s everywhere!)
3) Al Qaeda (still around)
4) People who tell you not to be afraid (they’re working for the terrorists)
5) Something (as in “If you see SOMETHING, say something…”)
6) For Kids: Your hippie parents and Occupy-creepy older siblings (be sure and report them to the nearest friendly Homeland Security personnel, they’ll give you tasty candies!)
7) That Leatherface guy with the chainsaw and Twisty clown from the TV (they may be ISIS)
8) The thing under your bed (could be an ISIS thing, and you’re not imagining it, we believe you)
9) The Boogie-man as you choose to believe in him/her as a higher power (he has ebola and is a Muslim)
10) People who are not like you based on skin color, preferences, religion, politics and everything else all the time everywhere forever, just to be on the safe side!
Citizens remember, fear is your only protection against the forces of whatever, evil, so just stay afraid and you’ll be safe!
An audit shows the surveillance program is more extensive than widely known and that oversight protecting Americans is lax: 21 percent of the covers examined were approved without even the minimal required written authorization and 13 percent that did have authorization “were not adequately justified.” The Post Office has no standing review procedures.
Mail Cover is Nothing New, But…
The Post Office helping spy on Americans per se is nothing new; its program to record your mail’s “metadata,” who sent what to whom, complete with addresses and date/time stamps, has existed in the form of an overt program detailed in federal law called “mail cover” since well before the term metadata was even invented. As mail cover does not involve reading the mail’s contents, only information on the outside of the envelope or package that could be read by anyone seeing the item, it is not considered by precedent a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unwarranted searches.
Official versions of mail cover are acknowledged as far back as World War I. But like many such things– wiretapping, border detentions, searches and seizures, old Executive Orders, signing statements– its former existence, restrained in theory and often in practice in Constitutional America, is largely irrelevant now to all but historians. What has happened post-9/11 to mail covers is what has happened to America.
How Did Mail Cover Use to Work?
A mail cover has to be requested by a state or federal law enforcement agency. Following internal approval, postal workers intercept the target’s mail before delivery, and record the names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home. The Post Office does not notify the recipient or the sender that the cover is in place.
Prior to 9/11, the process had an old-timey feel to it, almost quaint. In a 2006 leaked instruction manual, agencies seeking a mail cover were told to first fill out a paper form, the External Law Enforcement Request for Mail Cover Template. Law enforcement was reminded to include the Zip +4 for all subjects. An electronic version of the form was supposedly available, but you had to telephone the Post Office personally to get one.
The template required a paper cover letter requesting the action on agency letterhead, signed by the requesting agent’s supervisor. The form would then need to be put into an envelope marked Restricted Information, with that sealed inside a second envelope, and then snail-mailed via the regular first class, unclassified, mail system, to the appropriate section of the Post Office. Information obtained by the Post Office would be sent back on a Form 2009.
Implementation was largely also a paper process. One subject learned his mail was being covered after he received a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home. “Show all mail to supv for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green. Another subject was told he was being covered by his regular mail delivery person.
The standards for law enforcement to request a mail cover were low; “reasonable grounds that demonstrate the information from the mail cover is necessary to develop evidence in a criminal investigation.” Covers were not to be used as the first step in an investigation (on an honor system) and could not include attorney-client mail if the attorney of record is known (on an honor system.)
The key point is that absent a specific request to monitor a specific person, the mail was simply delivered as it had been since the time of the pony express.
Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT)
Sometime after the anthrax attacks of 2001, when the mail was used to send the poison letters, and its public acknowledgement is 2013, the Post Office created the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) system.
Under the new MICT system, an imaging tool is used to photograph of the exterior of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States. The images are kept, the Post Office says, for 30 days, allowing them to retroactively track mail at the request of law enforcement. There are no stated limits on how long law enforcement may store any information they receive from the Post Office. In addition, mail covers can be extended indefinitely, meaning a flow of data-in for years can be done if desired. MICT is the companion program to the NSA’s efforts: collect everything, store it, and then dig in retroactively. As has been said of the NSA , why look for the needle now, when you can collect the whole haystack? Collect it all, tag it, store it and later, whatever it is you want, search for it.
Like the metadata obtained from cell phone records, mail covers are “a treasure trove of information,” James Wedick, a former FBI agent, told the New York Times. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with, all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”
As for those subpoenas, and any warrants thought to be needed to actually open and read mail of interest, George W. Bush asserted in a 2007 signing statement that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or in foreign intelligence cases. Others have argued such authority has existed since 1978 as part of the original FISA legislation.
It should be blindingly obvious how the mail cover system, particularly with the broad, digital sweep of MICT available, stands ready to be abused (examples of past abuses are the alternate, secret, mail cover program [HTLINGUAL] run for twenty some years by the CIA, and the FBI’s COUNTERINTELPRO work against Vietnam War opponents.) The current mail cover system operates under no judicial or outside oversight. It relies on numerous assertions, an honor system if you will, by law enforcement that the Post Office cannot verify. The system touches the mail of every American.
How many Americans have their mail subjected to this scrutiny? In 2013 alone, the Postal Office processed about 50,000 mail covers.
Abuse? A sample examined by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) “found some controls lacking.” For example, 21 percent of the covers examined were approved without even the minimal required written authorization and 13 percent that did have paper requests “were not adequately justified.” The audit also found hundreds of mail covers in active status even though their cover periods had ended. Part of the problem is that the Post Office has no standing review procedures for its own program.
Other than the referenced OIG report, the Post Office refuses to disclose how many requests for mail covers it has received, nor will it break down the requests by local law enforcement versus federal law enforcement, nor will it specify how many requests are related to criminal investigations and how many deal with national security investigations. In fact, the Post Office has provided false information to some of those questions to the media.
On a oddly positive note, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General’s report did find handling of mail cover requests tended to be sloppy and slow, and the case management software ineffective. Such are the things that stand now between Americans and the Post-Constitutional Dark State.
While small in size compared to the global operations of the NSA, the Post Office mail cover program shares many of the same hallmarks. It grew in size, complexity and technology post-9/11 without adequate safeguards built in, and has operated without those safeguards ever since. It is a secret program affecting all Americans, only disclosed by accident, Freedom of Information Act requests and a few journalists willing to look into the government’s actions. The program moved very quickly from targeting a select few Americans to covering every one of us. Like the actions of the NSA against Americans, the mail cover program at the very least rubs rough against the edges of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantees against unlawful searches, relying on legal precedents created in another era while using secrecy to thwart new legal challenges.
There are the “it’s just metadata” faux arguments. Can’t someone look over my shoulder at the Post Office anyway? Big deal. Actually, it is a big deal. What is significant about the many disparate elements of a global surveillance system is not pieces of data in isolation (I got a letter today) but how those small elements can be combined to create a comprehensive picture of someone. Location data from phones + credit card transactions + license plate trackers + text messages sent and received + pharmacy purchases + Facebook posts + mail sent and delivered… well, you get it.
And on perhaps a more personal note, one is left thinking, aw c’mon, now the Post Office too? The Post Office used to be one of the good guys, bringing packages and Christmas cards, creating a kind of a miracle that for about half a buck, a letter with details of Aunt Tillie’s surgery could journey from Ohio to Montana in just a few days. At some level, a lot of Americans were long-suspicious of the NSA, CIA. Sadly, post-9/11, the Post Office now too is just another tool of the surveillance state.
Two kinds of people are interested in Laura Pointras’ new documentary, CitizenFour, about Edward Snowden’s early contacts with journalists Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and herself. Let’s have a review of the film for each group, the Haters and the Everyone Else.
But First, a Quick Recap
Snowden worked deep inside America’s national security state. His last job was as a contract systems administrator for the NSA. Through this job he obtained a massive trove of documents which, when made public, demonstrated to the world U.S. government electronic surveillance and espionage on a scale even its worst critics had not fully described. The documents also validated the information provided by earlier NSA whistleblowers. Snowden left the U.S. for Hong Kong, where he met the journalists above, and where most of CitizenFour was filmed. Following U.S. government efforts to bring Snowden back to the U.S., he left for Moscow, likely enroute to some other place, possibly Ecuador. He instead spent weeks in suspended status at the Moscow Airport before being granted long-term residency.
With few exceptions, pretty much everyone can agree with that basic outline of the Snowden story to date, and CitizenFour does a very good job recounting most of it. It is there, however, where agreement ends. CitizenFour (the title comes from the codename Snowden choose for himself when first contacting filmmaker Pointras) cannot be understood independently from the greater Snowden story, and separate from the strong opinions of Snowden’s decisions.
Review for Real Haters
If you thought traitors like Chelsea Manning have their hate groups, they aren’t jack compared to what those on the right side (oh yes, pun intended) of the house will think of this film. To them, Pointras has created an evil-genius piece of propaganda, with the give-away starting point that she was a huge part of the Snowden story herself, throwing out any hint of objectivity. Her success at humanizing Snowden, portraying him as the amiable geek-nerd-manchild you could have a Lite beer with, is Riefenstahl-level work.
This is a celebrity “authorized biography” with all the integrity those have. Apart from making a traitor look good, they’ll say, Pointras also crudely tells only the tidy parts of the story. Snowden’s believed-espionage relationships with Russia and China are glossed over. Many details of his time in Hong Kong and sneaky flights in and out are absent. Nothing is said about why Snowden won’t return to the U.S. to defend his so-called honorable acts in court like a real man would do. Nothing is said about how the NSA keeps America safe from Americans. Snowden is a starry-eyed savior of the left who’d likely smirk from his cozy Russian lair as America is attacked again.
Review for Everyone Else
CitizenFour is impressive filmmaking. Pointras starts with the problem of telling a story most people already know, in an engaging way, trying to reach a broad audience in many cases polarized as to her subject, and her Subject. She succeeds brilliantly, and if CitizenFour is not awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary then that award no longer is relevant.
To be fair to other films in award contention, Pointras starts from, and makes the most of, some very significant advantages. She is indeed part of the story (a fact she never hides nor diminishes) and thus enjoys a level of trust and access with her subjects almost unavailable to other documentarians. The viewer is in the room as the journalists with Snowden struggle to understand the story he is trying to tell them, working to interpret the documents he shows them and creating on the fly the most effective way to bring this information to the public. It is heady stuff.
The interplay between Snowden and the journalists is dramatic, but in the sense that it is real human stuff. When Snowden claims he does not care if he is exposed as the whistleblower– he encourages the journalists to name him– they back him off a step, and try to make sure Snowden truly knows the impact such a decision will have on him and people he cares about. Funny things happen, particularly when Snowden realizes he is explaining some technical point to people who are nowhere near his level of expertise (an exchange about password security between Snowden and Greenwald is laugh-out-loud funny.)
Pointras skillfully weaves her story, presenting it sometimes as if it was a thriller (it is), other times as a classic movie brave journalist saga (it is) and often times as a profile of a man everyone thinks they know but does not (it is that too.)
Parts of Snowden’s journey from Hawaii to Moscow are omitted. Most sentient members of the audience will understand they have to be, given the global efforts underway to nab Snowden, and the need to protect the many people who played a role who choose to or need to remain anonymous. None of that is new in a documentary– turn on the evening news and witnesses speak in shadowy profile, while most docs about the CIA or the NSA alter voices and employ false names for the same reasons. Anyone expecting Pointras’ film to be a How to Catch Edward Snowden for Dummies will indeed be disappointed.
Perhaps most powerfully, Pointras’ portrait of Snowden is of a whistleblower for a new generation. He is passionate, but in a laid-back way, confident in his actions such that his passion comes from within, maybe call it a kind of intellectual hipster patriotism. He is political, but in a small “p” way, moving through classic Left and Right into a place where many people feel more comfortable today, with a focus on issues such as privacy and authoritarianism above two sides shouting “Facist!” and “Hippie!” at each other in some news show’s clumsy attempt at their parents’ version of balance. When dealing with the older journalists in that hotel room, Snowden at times sounds like many young people do explaining how the DVR works to moms and dads dully mystified by but stuck being dependent on new technologies.
And there (partisan now, no shame) lies CitizenFour’s most long-lasting contribution. There are millions of young men and women working inside the Dark State, often times with impressive levels of access to information. Like Snowden, they have seen evidence of government wrongdoing, obscenities directed at the Constitution, harm done to ordinary citizens. Almost every one of those people will remain silent, partners to the crimes. But maybe– just maybe– one out of a million will see a role model, an example, that rings true in CitizenFour, and stand to speak.
If it was up to me, I’d have this movie play in every theatre in the Washington DC area 24/7, because s/he is out there.
New York and New Jersey this week instituted mandatory confinement for certain people exposed to ebola. Illinois announced its own mandatory quarantine, and Florida has instituted a home-quarantine version.
Is it legal for a state (or the federal) government to detain and quarantine you against your will for health reasons? Yes. Has this sort of thing been done before? Yes. Will it be effective? No. Is it just a political ploy to garner votes from a panicked public? Oh my yes.
Is it legal for a state (or the federal) government to detain and quarantine you against your will for health reasons?
Yes. The federal government derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Under the Public Health Service Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases.
The authority for carrying out these measures is been delegated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Under 42 Code of Federal Regulations parts 70 and 71, CDC is authorized to apprehend, detain, and examine people arriving to the United States and traveling between states who are suspected of carrying communicable diseases.
Though the paranoid-a-sphere rediscovers these provisions on a regular basis and makes much of them, the basic idea of the government forcibly quarantining people for the sake of public health goes back into the 19th century.
That said, the power to detain and quarantine often is left to the states, and both New York and New Jersey law provide for it. New York allows the decision to be challenged in a magistrate court; New Jersey does not have a similar law, though technically any form of detention can be broadly challenged under habeas corpus. But good luck with that– the Florida Supreme Court laid down the precedent in saying “The constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and property, of which a person cannot be deprived without due process of law, do not limit the exercise of the police power of the State to preserve the public health so long as that power is reasonably and fairly exercised and not abused.”
Has this sort of thing been done before?
Yes. The Florida precedent case cited above dealt with forced quarantine of a tuberculous patient in 1952.
Just recently in Dallas, Texas, after her boyfriend was diagnosed as the first ebola case in the United States, Louise Troh and her family were asked not to leave their home. When Troh tried to leave anyway, a Dallas judge issued a confinement order, forcing a quarantine on Troh and her family. Police stationed outside of the family’s home enforced the order.
In 2007, a 27-year-old man was forcibly placed in a Phoenix hospital ward reserved for sick prisoners. The man suffered from a deadly strain of tuberculosis known as XDR-TB. Doctors say he is virtually untreatable. He has been forced to live in a hospital cell in complete isolation.
Though never implemented, in 1985 at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a majority of Americans favored quarantine of patients, with 48 percent approving of identity cards for those who tested HIV-positive, and 15 percent of Americans even supporting tattooing those with AIDS to mark them as “dangerous.”
Further back in America’s history are multiple examples of forced quarantine, including Hawaiian leper colonies, and the isolated TB wards and Ellis Island medical isolations of the 19th century.
The record is not pretty, but the record exists.
Will it be effective for ebola?
No. The New York and New Jersey quarantine laws at present only apply to a) health care workers b) returning from African “hot zone” countries through c) only two airports, JFK and Newark who d) had contact with ebola. That’s a very select group, chosen largely because New York’s sole ebola patient fit that exact profile. Persons such as regular travelers who fit the same profile,or persons who just flew internationally with the profiled individuals, are not included.
In addition, the New York and New Jersey plans seem to rely 100 percent on individuals who fit the profile self-identifying themselves for the mandatory quarantine. Anyone who wished to avoid it, especially a health professional who knew s/he was not an active carrier based on clearly identifiable and well-known symptoms such as a high fever, could just dummy up at the airport. Alternately, s/he could route flights to land somewhere else and take the bus home to Manhattan.
What does happen when a healthcare worker enters this quarantine system? There is only one example in New Jersey so far, and it is not a pretty one. Kaci Hickox, returning from volunteer work in Sierra Leone, was detained against her will for seven hours at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday before being forcibly transferred to a local hospital, escorted by eight police cars, where she will be held for an unspecified period of time. Hickox did not have a fever when brought to the hospital and has tested negative for ebola, yet is inside the system now and those things do not appear to matter.
Quarantining actually infectious people, who may indeed be a danger to public health is one thing. But like taking off our shoes and other security theatre that followed 9/11, the quarantine plan seems designed more for show than any hint of practicality.
Is it just a political ploy to garner votes from a panicked public?
Oh my yes. All of the state governors who pushed the plan through without the endorsement of the CDC or New York’s mayor are in election battles. The governors of New York, Illinois and Florida are up for reelection in about a week, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie is famously testing the waters for a possible 2016 presidential run. New York’s mayor is not up for reelection for years.
Fear-mongering works; ask any politician who has beaten the drum of “9/11, 9/11, 9/11″ since, well, 9/11. People are scared, mostly based on ignorance fanned by media who themselves seek to profit from fear.
That sort of disease seems more dangerous in the long run than a handful of ebola patients.