Archive for May 2012

The US and our hunger for torture

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm by

Abu Zubaydah RedactedMarch 28 marked the ten-year anniversary of when Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, was captured by the CIA and, along with some others like him, held in secret prison complexes organized by the United States government.  Over the course of the past ten years, Abu Zubaydah was transferred from secret facility to secret facility, leaving the prisons when it seemed like those responsible for holding him were about to get caught. Throughout these ten years, he was tortured by CIA officials. His condition has deteriorated significantly as a result.

He suffers from serious mental and physical health problems and debilitating on-going pain and suffering. Publicly available records describe how prior injuries were exacerbated by his ill-treatment and by his extended isolation. As a consequence, he has permanent brain damage and physical impairment. He suffers blinding headaches, and has an excruciating sensitivity to sound. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, he experienced more than 300 seizures. At some point during his captivity, the CIA removed his left eye. His physical pain is compounded by his awareness that his mind is slipping away. He suffers partial amnesia, and has trouble remembering his family.

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News Digest 5/31/12

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

FBI looks to expand surveillance capabilities of social media sites

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 3:02 pm by

Facebook: The privacy saga continuesAs Americans continue to vocalize the importance of online privacy, the FBI has requested for Congress to amend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to allow the FBI to mandate social media sites and other communication devices to provide “back door” access into their users’ accounts.

Essentially, “peer-to-peer” networks such as Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, AIM, Google Chat, and so on, would be required to rewrite their software to provide the FBI a path of access to all activity done or associated with a user. Communication devices such as iPhones and other smartphones would also be required to have a way to decrypt messages sent on them.

The installation of monitoring systems on sites like Facebook is potentially far more dangerous than the normal surveillance method of tapping phones. To many, Facebook serves as a daily journal, chock full of sensitive information; people post about their work, political and social beliefs, consumer preferences, family happenings, and their everyday behaviors.

The FBI would still be required to have a warrant to enable these monitoring systems, but under the notoriously rights-abusive FBI Director Robert Mueller, this should give little comfort to anyone. The FBI’s ongoing record illustrates its complete disregard for constitutional rights.

Perhaps most troublesome is how this amendment could fall into the FBI’s plan to expand its facial recognition database. Facebook has millions of pictures on it and video forms of communication, like FaceTime and Skype, could also be used for voice and face recognition datasets.

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Cyber Security Act of 2012 threatens Internet privacy

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 11:05 am by

World War Web Advisory #5: CyberWar: First SOPA/PIPA/PCIPA/S2105, Now HR2096/HR3523/HR3674/S1152/S2111After the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and the SECURE IT Act, a new bill claiming to enforce greater cyber security is on the floor this year—the Cyber Security Act of 2012, also known as S. 2105.  Although the bill claims to be a measure to reduce cyber-terrorism and regulate cyber-crime, its provisions infringe on Internet freedom and privacy and directly attack civil liberties.

The Cyber Security Act of 2012, which was introduced on February 14 by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), contains information-sharing provisions that allow entities to share sensitive private information with government authorities without adequate accountability or protection of privacy. It provides legal immunity to Internet service providers and web companies to share information with external parties such as the government without the permission of their users. This Act violates the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution and threatens individual privacy and Internet security.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee signed a coalition letter against S. 2105 on May 10, joining dozens of other organizations in raising concerns about the Cyber Security Act and emphasizing how the so-called counter-measures against cyber crime contained in the bill actually undermine cybersecurity and online  privacy.

S. 2105 undermines privacy and cybersecurity by expanding without justification the authority for companies to monitor their clients’ and customers’ Internet usage for broadly-defined “cybersecurity threats,” by authorizing ill-defined “countermeasures” against such”cybersecurity threats,” and by immunizing companies against liability for monitoring activities that violate their own contractual obligations.

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Trends in criminal justice reveal continued racial bias throughout system

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm by

Racism and PrisonsThe Unites States now incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.  This month The Sentencing Project, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that works to address unjust racial disparities and practices, announced its newest publication: Trends in U.S. Corrections.  The comprehensive data, presented in a convenient visual format, covers changes in the criminal justice system over several decades.  Specifically, the publication reveals, among other things, an ongoing racial bias in the corrections system.  Indeed, “more than 60% of people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.  For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.”  Moreover, of all persons in prison for drug offenses, two-thirds are people of color.  The relationship between the “war on drugs” and these trends is clear.

Recently, Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, discussed the case of Trayvon Martin, which raises issues around race and the American justice system on public radio’s To the Point.  While The Sentencing Project works to reform sentencing policy and advocate for alternatives to incarceration, other organizations raise awareness on racial bias in our criminal justice system by addressing the related practice of  profiling.  The NAACP, ACLU, and BORDC are all working to stop this flawed and discriminatory method of investigation that extends to people of all races and ethnicities, as well as religions.

As reported by BORDC, anti-profiling legislation has reached the halls of Congress.  The End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), introduced in 2011, was the subject of a Senate hearing earlier this year and there is strong support from groups like the Rights Working Group and their end racial profiling campaign.

In 2009, the ACLU and the Rights Working Group documented racial and ethnic profiling in 22 states and under a variety of federal programs.  Racial profiling reaches communities all over the country.  BORDC and others urge an effective end to this practice or we risk even more shocking statistics than those revealed by The Sentencing Project.

News Digest 5/30/12

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Case challenging privatized torture allowed to proceed

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm by

Earlier this month, on Friday, May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled to allow the Abu Ghraib torture lawsuits against private military contractors to proceed. In an 11-3 decision following an en banc hearing, the Circuit Court revived torture claims that had been previously dismissed.

Although the Court did not rule on the merits, it did determine that the presiding judges may review the evidence in the case before reviewing the contractors’ claims to immunity.

Beginning in 2004, numerous soldiers and private contractors at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq committed human rights violations against Iraqi detainees, including sexual assault and rape, physical beatings, food, water and sleep deprivation, and other unauthorized interrogation tactics deemed torture under international law.

Two corporate military contractors, CACI and L-3 have claimed “absolute official immunity” from litigation under the government contractor defense (GCD), a federal doctrine that shields contractors from criminal liability when the federal government controlled and delegated its actions, thereby extending absolute immunity to civilian individuals who act as agents of the federal government. Over the objections, the Court held that the case may be reinstated and proceed to the discovery phase.

The tragic case of Abu Ghraib—which, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, reflected torture policies far beyond an isolated incident—illustrates the increasingly common practice of outsourcing armed conflict to corporations.

When military warfare is delegated to privatized companies, they are in fact acting as agents for the government. As agents, these contractors are authorized to act on behalf of a government, offering their services to engage in activities such as combat, logistical support, and sometimes, interrogations.

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Occupy Wall Street sues New York over books seized in police raid

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 8:39 am by

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is suing the city of New York for not returning or damaging almost 2,800 books. The books were seized when police raided Zuccotti Park, the main encampment for the Occupy movement, in the early hours of November 15, 2011.

October 5, 2011When the park was raided, at least 3,600 books were taken from the “People’s Library.” Only 1,000 were recovered, but 200 of these were so badly damaged that they were illegible. The books seized include texts on economics, politics, histories of resistance, and even Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s own autobiography. All in all, OWS is seeking at least $48,000 in damages: $47,000 in compensation for seized books and equipment and $1,000 in punitive damages.

Writing on the official blog for the People’s Library, OWS librarians argue that the city of New York’s actions were unconstitutional:

We believe that the raid and its aftermath violated our First-Amendment rights to free expression, Fourth-Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure, and Fourteenth-Amendment rights to due process, as well as the laws of the City of New York regarding the vouchsafing of seized property.

Or as Norman Siegel, one of the lawyers representing OWS phrased it, “You don’t nuke books.”

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Of course drones in America will be used judiciously by local authorities

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm by

It is very good news that, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), local governments have the power regarding the rules of drone surveillance in the U.S.

Several events have occurred in recent weeks. First, Congress passed a bill in February instructing the FAA to “open national airspace to drones.” Then on Monday, May 14, new rules were established by the FAA that “streamlined the process” of the implementation of the drones.

At first, the FAA refused EFF’s request to provide a list of local agencies that have been authorized to utilize drones. However, the organization initiated a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the information. As it happens, dozens of cities have already been authorized including Seattle, WA.

It turned out Seattle’s city council—which oversees the police department—was just as surprised as many citizens to see Seattle Police Department’s name on the list. The city council learned about the drones through a reporter asking questions related to EFF’s lawsuit, not through official channels. After front page stories in the Seattle Times and an official apology from the Seattle police department, Seattle is now the first city to consider privacy safeguards for drone use by law enforcement.

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News Digest 5/29/12

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm by