Posts Tagged ‘detention’

Letters to the president: Closing Guantanamo

Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:09 am by

EvidencePresident Obama’s 2009 promise to close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, infamous for its flagrant denial of human rights, was met with much support throughout the United States and the world.  Human rights advocates throughout the world felt justice would finally be served by transferring and releasing detainees from the Guantanamo detention facility.  Individuals within the U.S. hoped that Obama’s promise to close the facility would re-solidify the country’s position as the self-proclaimed exemplar of moral and ethical leadership.

Unfortunately, four years later, Guantanamo remains open, still imprisoning detainees who are held without charge, and without access to judge or lawyer.  In January of 2012, several retired generals and admirals drafted a letter to President Obama urging the transfer of Guantanamo detainees cleared by the Task Force, under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Security Waver.  They write:

We recognize the political opposition you have faced in attempting to honor your commitment. Congress has repeatedly restricted your ability to transfer detainees held there who have been cleared for release. Congress has also restricted your authority to bring criminal suspects held at Guantanamo to justice in our time-honored federal criminal courts. However, despite these restrictions, we are asking you to act within the discretion available to you to move our nation forward in closing Guantanamo once and for all.

Political opposition (particularly in the House of Representatives) has been one of the defining challenges of Obama’s presidency, and while it is a legitimate hurdle, it does not excuse Obama’s unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo.  The President must be held accountable as well.


Las Vegas passes Due Process resolution vs NDAA

Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:07 am by

Opposition to the domestic detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) continues to grow around the country. On March 20, the Las Vegas City Council passed a resolution aiming to restore Due Process in the face of the NDAA by a 5-2 vote.

Under the terms of the 2012 NDAA, the US military could arrest and imprison indefinitely any person accused of “belligerent acts” or assciational crimes without trial or proof of crime.

The Las Vegas resolution, based largely on the model developed by BORDC that  was also recently adopted by a unanimous vote in San Francisco, expressed widespread concerns that the NDAA could be used — whether by the current administration or another — to deprive Americans of our rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. The resolution also obliges Las Vegas officials to refuse requests by federal agencies operating under the NDAA and also asks that federal employees defer to the local law when working in the city.

The Nevada chapter of People Against the NDAA (PANDA) has been active in its resistance to the federal law. On their website, they write, ”In short, the 2012 NDAA enables the government to make any person on US soil a prisoner of war.”

PANDA praised the passage of the bill and hoped it will inspire more resistance to the federal law in other areas. Daphne Lee, the head of PANDA’s Clark County Chapter, thanked Council members and the mayor for their support of the resolution. She said, “This action will support other cities, counties and states all over the country who seek to take a stand to protect constitutional rights.”

The resolution has passed the City Council and now faces approval from the Board of Country Commissioners. If it passes at the county level, it will become the nation’s first joint city/council resolution condemning the NDAA. PANDA is also pressing for similar legislation to be adopted in northern Nevada.

Further, Nevada Senator Don Gustavson has submitted a bill to the state legislature, the Nevada Liberty Preservation Act, that would invalidate NDAA on the statewide level. Similar bills are pending in a dozen other states, including California, New Hampshire, and Michigan.

Groups opposing the NDAA can be found on Facebook; state groups have been formed in CaliforniaArizonaColoradoIndianaKansasMichigan,  MissouriNevada,  New York, OhioSouth CarolinaTexasWashington, and Wyoming.

Hopefully this happening in Vegas will not just stay in Vegas, but instead continue growing around the country.

Is there hope for the rule of law?

Friday, March 22, 2013 at 7:14 am by

As we wrote about recently, the Supreme Court’s decision in Clapper vs Amnesty Int’l  has now made it nearly impossibly to review through civil lawsuits many of the government’s most egregious tactics in the war on terror. While the decision in Clapper is new, it reflects a continuing saga of a war not on terror, but on the rule of law. Another part of that saga has involved our government’s treatment of, and denial of due process to, those accused of terrorism.

Guantanamo captives in January 2002

The prison at Guantánamo Bay has been plagued both by the continued specter of mistreatment of prisoners and the major deficiencies in the legal process afforded prisoners, namely military commission proceedings. Only months after the prison’s November 13, 2001 creation, the government faced a habeas corpus legal challenge for failure to provide access to attorneys, or even charge detainees, in Rasul vs Bush.

Since then, legal justifications for torture have surfaced, public outrage has waxed and waned, and President Obama has failed to fulfill his campaign promise to close Guantánamo. In fact, he has made it clear that there will be no prosecution for those who justified and committed torture at the camp.

At the same time, prisoners have been subjected to military commissions rather than civilian trials, and many of the procedures related to those commissions have faced challenges.

Most recently, in filings submitted to the Court of Military Commissions Review, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins agreed that the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit had the right to hear the challenge to the military court’s practices. Yet Martins defended a security regime in military commission hearings at Guantánamo challenged by fourteen media organizations and the ACLU, who argue that military restrictions amount to censorship.

This comes after a major struggle among military lawyers last year over an order issued by the commanding officer at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral D. B. Woods, which created a regime for screening of confidential attorney-client communications.


The tragedy of Stephen Slevin: torture within the US

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 11:10 am by

News broke on March 7 that a man held in solitary confinement for 22 months won a settlement of $15.5 million.  In August 2005, Stephen Slevin had been pulled over in New Mexico and accused of drunk driving a stolen vehicle  (though Slevin explained that a friend had lent him the car for a cross-country road trip). Slevin claims he never saw a judge after being arrested, and when he refused to post a $40,000 bond, he was transferred to a cell in total isolation ”in [a] jail near the Mexican border without explanation.”

Slevin was allegedly severely depressed when he was arrested. Once put into a padded cell without any natural light and in total isolation for 23 hours a day, he was deemed suicidal.  He faced total neglect as his psychological and physical condition deteriorated, developing a facial fungus and an infected tooth that he was forced to remove himself when denied access to a dentist.  His toenails grew so long that they curled under his feet.   He developed bedsores on his legs.

His lawyer, Matt Coyte, explained:

As your insanity builds, some people holler or throw feces out their cell doors…Others rock back and forth under a blanket for a year or more, which is what my client did….


Senator Ron Wyden and the strengthening grip of FISA

Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 10:14 am by

For the month of February, sequestration held the focus of the political arena, but in March, that focus has shifted to issues of government surveillance and Americans’ constitutional rights.  Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been spearheading the political debate over surveillance and privacy, spurred by the warrantless wiretapping activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), but also by the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, and the release of the white paper explaining the process behind Obama’s “kill list.”

The white paper is not a legal document, but rather a summary of a classified memo prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.  Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says the publication of the memo affirms:

The power that the government has to carry out the targeted killing of American citizens who are located far away from any battlefield, even when they have not been charged with a crime, even when they do not present any imminent threat in any ordinary meaning of that word. So it’s a pretty sweeping power that’s been set out.

The memo argues that, “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

According to the memo, then, the government does not need any evidence to justify the targeted killing of American citizens. (more…)

Killing us softly

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm by

Why Holder’s letter carries little water

Last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-TX) forced a long overdue conversation in Washington about checks and balances on executive power. Yet few observers recognize the ultimate importance of his actions, or why the Senate’s confirmation of the new CIA director remained premature.

Prompted by Sen. Paul’s filibuster last Wednesday, Attorney General Holder wrote a letter the following day, acknowledging that our government lacks authority to execute Americans within the US without trial.

His concession is welcome, but must be taken with a grain of salt. It behooves observers to understand why, for several reasons, Holder’s statement may be less secure than we would ideally hope.

Accepting disclosure without investigation

Much of the controversy surrounding Brennan’s nomination concerned mere disclosure: whether the executive branch would let Congress read the administration’s legal analysis governing the targeted assassination program. President Obama apparently heard the message, admitting in his State of the Union address that more transparency is required.

The result proved underwhelming. One congressional committee received a single legal memo among several, which did not even purport to delineate the boundaries of the assassination program, but rather explored the use of deadly authority against a single target among several hundred who have been killed, including at least four US citizens.

Mere disclosure of some OLC memos to some Senators is insufficient.

Meaningful congressional oversight requires full access to all the legal memos, as well as active investigation of the underlying facts. It is not enough to simply read executive legal analyses paying lip service to constitutional values routinely violated on the ground.

The congressional intelligence committees, after all, were founded after robust investigations revealed widespread abuses by intelligence agencies, including the CIA, spanning decades and the terms of several presidents. Factual investigation has revealed more recent abuses, as well.

Last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded a thorough investigation of torture, which produced a report recognizing torture as an international human rights abuse that ultimately undermined US national security by producing false intelligence, eroding pro American sentiment abroad, and helping our enemies recruit foot soldiers.

Yet, reflecting its pattern of embracing secrecy while claiming transparency, the Obama administration has refused to declassify the report. It is only because neither the press nor the public know the facts that irresponsible Hollywood fiction proved so problematic and controversial.

Forgotten in commentary on Brennan’s confirmation were some troubling details suggesting that, on both torture and drone strikes, transparency remains inadequate.

First, Senators had to fight tooth & nail to secure even the most minimal disclosure from the White House. Second, other congressional committees also sought access to the OLC assassination memos, but were denied.

Finally, beyond disclosure of the OLC’s legal memos are important questions about how the standards in them are applied to real facts. The Obama administration and CIA still refuse to answer congressional questions beyond the memos—such as, “How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?” These questions are crucial, but Brennan’s confirmation could ensure that Congress receives few answers.

How the facts suggest elastic powers

Brennan spoke to the committee of the “great care” taken to ensure that drone strikes kill only their intended targets. What little we know about them suggests otherwise.


The sequester: a promise of immigration reform?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm by

President Obama has had a complex (and somewhat contradictory) stance on immigration for as long as he has been in office.  His administration has proudly touted its aim to deport record numbers of  undocumented immigrants, while simultaneously pushing for the passage of the DREAM act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants who fall into one of two socially acceptable categories: those willing to risk their lives for the United States military, and those who are interested in pursuing a college degree.

Immigrants not interested in either of the two straight-and-narrow paths offered by the DREAM act can say goodbye to a life in the U.S.

The exact number of undocumented immigrants deported under Obama is somewhat unclear. Some sources report over 400,000 in the 2012 fiscal year alone and a continuous increase in removals since President Bush left office, while other sources suggest these numbers have been inflated, and that there has actually been a steady decrease in deportation since Obama first came to office in 2008.


Hunger strike in Guantanamo over conditions

Friday, March 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm by

Worsening conditions for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison have caused many of the detainees to hold a mass hunger strike for the last three weeks. According to the detainees’ lawyers, the hunger strike is in reaction to searches of personal belongings, including mail and religious items. They said that the handling of their Qur’ans “amounted to desecration” and that the guards were often disrespectful during prayer times. Although the lawyers claim that almost all of the 166 prisoners are refusing food, a Guantanamo spokesperson denied that there are protests or any mishandling of religious items.

The prison  did later admit that six prisoners have missed enough meals to reach the army’s classification of hunger strike, and are now being force fed liquid protein to keep them alive. However, just how many meals and in what condition it takes to be classified as on a hunger strike is unclear. One lawyer reported that his client had not eaten in 23 days, but was still considered healthy enough to not require force feeding. The health of others like him on the hunger strike, “appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level.” Prisoners have reportedly begun coughing up blood and fainting.

Further, this is only one of the slew of human rights related charges against the facility in recent weeks. Other recent news includes a guard shooting a “non-lethal” round of gunfire at prisoners on January 2, 2013 in what is being called a standard “crowd dispersal procedures.”  Also, Egyptians are pressing for the release of Tariq al-Sawah, who is not charged with any crimes but remains imprisoned. Al-Sawah appears to be in extremely bad health but is refused medical treatment by prison authorities.


Brown liars and the rise of ‘Warrior Academics’

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:12 am by

Two War Fronts (6)In just two months, in April, 2013, Yale University will officially open its doors to the United States Special Forces as the University debuts its first ever training center for military interrogators.  Yale and the U.S. Department of Defense see New Haven’s large immigrant community as a perfect test population for the lie detection and interrogation techniques they will be developing at the center.

In 2006, the New York Times called New Haven, Connecticut one of the poorest cities in the United States, where almost 25% of the population lives below the poverty line and the per capita income hovered at $16,393 in 2011.  The large majority of New Haven’s population is non-white; non-Hispanic whites made up 31.8% of the city’s population in 2010.  New Haven’s stark racial and economic divide is further emphasized by the presence of Yale University, a symbol of economic and racial privilege, which is now using these privileges to coerce its immigrant population into the role of guinea pig in the new center for “warrior academics.”

Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and head of the University’s new interrogation training program, euphemistically referred to “warrior academics” as fostering “people skills.”  He will specifically require the center’s test subjects to be brown-skinned immigrants, specifically naming “Moroccans, Colombians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others” as possible participants.  These individuals will be financially compensated for their participation, but far from being benevolent, this compensation stands as proof that the Military Industrial Complex (now inextricably linked with academic institutions) preys upon the economic vulnerability of marginalized populations to advance its own agenda.

The use of brown faces (which Professor Morgan hopes signifies “someone [soldiers] can’t necessarily identify with”) will only continue to disadvantage global and local non-white populations.  Here on  U.S. soil, New Haven’s non-white populations will be postured as unfamiliar racial “others.”  Abroad, it is likely that American soldiers will enter interrogation settings being predisposed to mistrust brown faces and with the supposition that all brown people “must belong to the same ‘category’ of liar” (which the center naturally assumes is a different category than white liars) as Guest Columnists for the Yale Daily News Nathalie Batraville and Alex Law argue.


Panelists discuss legal challenge to NDAA

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 11:13 am by

Just hours after the Hedges v. Obama oral argument at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month, an amazing panel of activists – many of whom are co-plaintiffs on the lawsuit – joined together at the Culture Project in New York City. The discussion, moderated by Matt Sledge of Huffington Post and Natasha Lennard of, was divided into two panels: the first on updates from the case against indefinite detention, and a second discussing patterns of government abuse more generally.

I arrived during the second panel to a packed room, and stood near the doorway.  Michael Moore described his views on movement-building in response to government abuses of power.  He used the metaphor of creating enough pin pricks along the roof of a building to lead to a watershed, and the opportunity to fundamentally change the existing paradigm.  Moore referenced the recent Newtown tragedy. He then asked the audience and fellow panelists the chilling question, “What do we do to prevent the Newtown of this [government pattern of abuse, detention, and secrecy] from happening?”

One point of the conversation, however, concerned me.  Chris Hedges made some broad generalizations about corporations that are not clearly linked to the detention powers of the NDAA.  Although he accurately noted the disconcerting relationship between Goldman Sachs and the NYPD, as well as the destructive environmental track record of Shell, he failed to clearly link specific corporate activity to the NDAA case.

At one point, moderator Matt Sledge asked Hedges (viewable on this Democracy Now! clip), “Which of the corporations [that you are referencing] are lobbying for Section 1021 of the NDAA?”  Hedges implausibly replied, “All of them. Who writes our legislation but corporate lobbyists?”  Having acknowledged Hedge’s concerns about corporate power in other contexts, are all companies in the world really involved in promoting indefinite military detention under the NDAA?  A simple logical test of that blanket assertion results in a negative.

In general, it makes sense to identify specific circumstances whereby corporations may be linked to civil liberty violations, such as the telecom industry’s increased role in surveillance.  I do acknowledge and understand his mentions of corporate lobbyists and links to climate change.  Vague generalizations linking all corporations to the NDAA case, however, can only lead to vague actions in response.  As a journalist who communicates messages of social justice to the broader population, Hedges should be less reckless with his language so that audiences who receive his message are enabled to take effective actions in response.

During the Q&A, Michael Moore was challenged to defend his public decision to vote for Obama in 2012.  His initial response: “I drive.”  Then he went on to claim that simply by living in our society today, we are implicitly involved in all kinds of harmful and toxic structures (e.g. damaging the environment and depleting resources by burning fossil fuels).  After illustrating his own personal family background of working in auto factories in Michigan, he emphasized that his decision to vote for the president does not lessen the need to criticize him.  In fact, we need to work harder, yell louder, and hold the Obama administration more accountable now that the election is over.

Adding to Moore’s assessment of the Obama Administration, renowned Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg noted that Obama’s election has silenced many natural critics who were skeptical or even outspoken under the Bush administration.  “We should not be holding back [our criticism],” he affirmed.  Additionally, an audience member asked what kind of criticism Obama deserved, to which Ellsberg responded that the word “secrecy” has not been used enough in reference to his administration.  Ellsberg continued to paint a somber macro-level picture of Obama’s desire to continue his global program of illegal assassination.

The panelists encouraged the audience members to visit, where you can read the latest updates about the Hedges case. Visit BORDC’s campaign to restore due process for more information about how you can take local action against indefinite detention, as activists in San Francisco did just last week.