When communities attempt to police the police, they often get, well… policed.
In several states, organized groups that use police scanners and knowledge of checkpoints to collectively monitor police activities by legally and peacefully filming cops on duty have said they’ve experienced retaliation, including unjustified detainment and arrests as well as police intimidation.
The groups operate under many decentralized organizations, most notably CopWatch and Cop Block, and have proliferated across the United States in the last decade – and especially in the aftermath of the events that continue to unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, after officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown.
Many such groups have begun proactively patrolling their communities with cameras at various times during the week, rather than reactively turning on their cameras when police enter into their neighborhoods or when they happen to be around police activity.
Across the nation, local police departments are responding to organized cop watching patrols by targeting perceived leaders, making arrests, threatening arrests, yanking cameras out of hands and even labeling particular groups “domestic extremist” organizations and part of the sovereign citizens movement – the activities of which the FBI classifies as domestic terrorism.
Courts across the nation at all levels have upheld the right to film police activity. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and photographer’s associcationshave taken many similar incidents to court, consistently winning cases over the years. The Supreme Court has ruled police can’t search an individual’s cellphone data without a warrant. Police also can’t legally delete an individual’s photos or video images under any circumstances.
“Yet, a continuing stream of these incidents (often driven by police who have been fed ‘nonsense‘ about links between photography and terrorism) makes it clear that the problem is not going away,” writes Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
Sources who have participated in various organized cop watching groups in cities such as New York; Chicago; Cleveland; Las Vegas; Oakland; Arlington, Texas; Austin and lastly Ferguson, Missouri, told Truthout they have experienced a range of police intimidation tactics, some of which have been caught on film. Cop watchers told Truthout they have been arrested in several states, including Texas, New York, Ohio and California in retaliation for their filming activity.
More recently, in September, three cop watchers were arrested while monitoring police activity during a traffic stop in Arlington, Texas. A group of about 20 people, a few of them associated with the Tarrant County Peaceful Streets Project, gathered at the intersection of South Cooper Street and Lynda Lane during a Saturday night on September 6 to film police as they conducted a traffic stop. A video of what happened next was posted at YouTube.
Arlington police charged Janie Lucero, her husband, Kory Watkins, and Joseph Tye with interference of public duties. Lucero and Watkins were charged with obstructing a highway while Tye was arrested on charges of refusing to identify himself.
Arlington police have defended the arrests of the three cop watchers, but the watchers say they weren’t interfering with police work, and were told to move 150 feet away from the officers – around the corner of a building where they couldn’t film the officers.
“When we first started [cop watching, the police] seemed kind of bothered a little bit,” Watkins told Truthout. “There was a change somewhere where [the police] started becoming a little bit more offended, and we started having more cop watchers so I guess they felt like they needed to start bringing more officers to traffic stops.”
On the night of Watkin’s arrest, his group had previously monitored two other traffic stops without any confrontation with Arlington police officers before the incident that led to the arrests.
Sometimes, though, retaliation against cop watching groups goes far beyond arresting cop watchers on patrol.
Cops Label Cop Watch Groups Domestic Terrorists
On New Year’s Day in 2012, Antonio Buehler, a West Point graduate and former military officer, witnessed two Austin police officers assaulting a woman. He pulled out his phone.
As he began photographing the officers and asking questions about their activities, the cops assaulted and arrested him. He was charged with spitting in a cop’s face – a felony crime.
However, two witness videos of the incident surfaced and neither of them showed that Buehler spit in Officer Patrick Oborski’s face. A grand jury was finally convened in March 2013 and concluded there was not enough evidence to indict Buehler on any of the crimes he was charged with.
A few months after the New Year’s Day incident, Buehler and other Austin-based activists started the Peaceful Streets Project (PSP), an all-volunteer organization dedicated to stopping police abuse. The group has held “Know Your Rights” trainings and a Police Accountability Summit. The group also regularly organizes cop watch patrols in Austin.
Since the PSP was launched, the movement has grown, with local chapters popping up in other cities and states across the United States, including Texas’ Tarrant County chapter, which the three cop watchers arrested in Arlington were affiliated with.
But as the Peaceful Streets movement spread, police retaliation against the groups, and particularly Buehler himself, also escalated.
“[The Austin Police Department (APD)] sees us as a threat primarily because we shine a spotlight on their crimes,” Buehler said.
The group recently obtained documents from the APD through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that reveal Austin police colluded to arrest Buehler and other cop watchers affiliated with the Peaceful Streets Project. Since the New Year’s Day incident, Buehler has been arrested three more times by APD officers. At least four other members of PSP have been arrested on charges of interference or failing to identify themselves during their cop watching activities.
The emails indicate APD officers monitored Buehler’s social media posts and attempted to justify arresting him for another felony crime of online impersonation over an obviously satirical post he made on Facebook, as well as reveal that some APD officers coordinated efforts to stop PSP members’ legal and peaceful activities, even suggesting reaching out to the District Attorney’s office to see if anything could be done to incarcerate members of the group.
Another internal email from APD senior officer Justin Berry identifies PSP as a “domestic extremist” organization. Berry writes that he believes police accountability groups including PSP, CopWatch and Cop Block are part of a “national domestic extremism trend.” He believes he found “mirror warning signs” in “FBI intel.” Berry makes a strange attempt to lump police accountability activists and the hacker-collective Anonymous in with sovereign citizens groups as a collective revolutionary movement.
“Sovereign citizens” groups generally believe federal, state and local governments are illegitimate and operate illegally. Some self-described sovereign citizens create fake license plates, identification and forms of currency to circumvent official government institutions. The FBI classifies the activities of sovereign citizens groups as domestic terrorism, considering the groups a growing “domestic threat” to law enforcement.
Buehler told Truthout the APD is working with a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fusion center to attempt to identify PSP as a sovereign citizens group to associate its members with domestic terrorism with state and federal authorities. DHS fusion centers are designed to gather, analyze and promote the sharing of intelligence information between federal and state agencies.
“They have spent a fair amount of resources tracking us, spying on us and infiltrating our group, and we are just peaceful activists who are demanding accountability for the police,” Buehler told Truthout. “They have absolutely no evidence that we’ve engaged in any criminal activity or that we’ve tried to engage in criminal activity.”
APD officials did not respond to a request for comment.
“They’ve pushed us; they’ve assaulted us for filming them; they’ve used their horses against us and tried to run us into walls; they’ve driven their cars up on us; they illegally detained us and searched us; they get in our face and they yell at us; they threaten to use violent force against us,” Buehler said. “But we didn’t realize until these emails just how deep this intimidation, how deep these efforts were to harm us for trying to hold them accountable.”
Buehler also said the group has additional internal emails which have not been released yet that reveal the APD attempted to take another charge to the District Attorney against him for felony child endangerment over the activities of a teenaged member of PSP.
He said he and other members of PSP were interested in pursuing a joint civil action against the APD over their attempts to frame and arrest them for their First Amendment activities.
This is not the first time a municipal police department has labeled a local cop watching group as an extremist organization.
In 2002, internal files from the Denver Police Department’s (DPD) Intelligence Unit were leaked to the ACLU, revealing the unit had been spying on several activist groups in the city, and keeping extensive records about members of the activist groups. Many of these groups were branded as “criminal extremist” organizations in what later became a full-scale controversy widely known as the Denver police’s “spy files.” Some of the groups falsely branded as “criminal extremist” groups included three police accountability organizations: Denver CopWatch, End the Politics of Cruelty and Justice for Mena.
Again, from October 2003 through the Republican National Convention (RNC) in August 2004, intelligence digests produced by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) on dozens of activist groups, including several police accountability organizations, were made public under a federal court order. TheNYPD labeled participants of the “Operation CopWatch” effort as criminal extremists.
Those who participated in “Operation CopWatch” during the RNC hoped to identify undercover cops who might attempt to provoke violence during demonstrations and document police violence or misconduct against protesters.
Communities Benefiting From Cop Watch Patrols Resist Police Retaliation Against Watchers
In some major urban areas, rates of police harassment of individuals drop considerably after cop watchers take to the streets – and communities band together to defend cop watch patrols that experience police retaliation, say veteran cop watchers.
Veteran police accountability activist José Martín has trained and organized with several organizations that participate in cop watch activities. Martín has been detained and arrested several times while cop watching with organized patrols in New York and Chicago.
His arrests in New York are part of a widely documented problem in the city. In fact, retaliation in New York against cop watchers has been so widespread that the NYPD had to send out an official memo to remind officers that it is perfectly legal for civilians to film cops on duty.
Martín described an experience in Chicago in which he felt police unjustly retaliated against him after a local CopWatch group formed and began regularly patrolling Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. After the group became well-known by the Pilsen community, residents gathered around an officer who had detained Martín after a patrol one night in 2009, calling for his release. The officer let him go shortly after.
“When cop watchers are retaliated against, if the community is organized, if there is a strong relationship between cop watch patrols and the community, but most importantly, if the cop watchers are people of the community, that community has the power to push back against retaliation and prevent its escalation,” Martín said. “Retaliation doesn’t work if you stand together.”
Another veteran cop watcher, Jacob Crawford, co-founder of Oakland’s We Copwatch, is helping the community of Ferguson, Missouri, organize cop watch patrols and prepare the community for the potential of police retaliation. His group raised $6,000 to pass out 110 cameras to organizers and residents in Ferguson, and train them to monitor police activity in the aftermath of the upheavals that rocked the city after Wilson killed Brown.
“I do expect retaliation, I do expect that these things won’t be easy, but these folks are in it,” Crawford told Truthout. “This is something that makes more sense to them than not standing up for themselves.”
via TruthOut.comRead more
The militarization of police is harming civil liberties, impacting children, and transforming neighborhoods into war zones.
The “war on terror” has come home–and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.
The weapons used in the “war on terror” that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.
Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorize the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.
A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzoreported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what look like invading forces from an army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page (appendix and endnotes included) report titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that “American policing has become excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”
The information contained in the ACLU report, and in other investigations into the phenomenon, is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the lack of debate on the issue, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important–and horrifying–things you should know about the militarization of police.
1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary, who could in turn try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the number is actually higher.
Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.
2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children are caught up the crossfire–with devastating consequences.
In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flashbang grenade–despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was–and the grenade landed in his crib.
Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.
Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.
Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country…Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”
Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only case of children being impacted.
According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not.”
3. The use of SWAT teams is unnecessary. In many cases, using militarized teams of police is not needed. The ACLU report notes that the vast majority of cases where SWAT teams are deployed are in situations where a search warrant is being executed to just look for drugs. In other words, it’s not even 100% clear whether there are drugs at the place the police are going to. These situations are not why SWAT was created.
Furthermore, even when SWAT teams think there are weapons, they are often wrong. The ACLU report shows that in the cases where police thought weapons would be there, they were right only a third of the time.
4. The “war on terror” is fueling militarization. It was the “war on drugs” that introduced militarized policing to the U.S. But the “war on terror” has accelerated it.
A growing number of agencies have taken advantage of the Department of Defense’s “1033” program, which is passed every year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the budget for the Pentagon. The number of police agencies obtaining military equipment like mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles has increased since 2009,according to USA Today, which notes that this “surplus military equipment” is “left over from U.S. military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” This equipment is largely cost-free for the police agencies who receive them.
In addition to the Pentagon budget provision, another agency created in the aftermath of 9/11 is helping militarize the police. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) own grants funnel military-style equipment to local police departments nationwide. According to a 2011 Center for Investigative Reporting story published by The Daily Beast, at least $34 billion in DHS grants have gone to police agencies to buy military-style equipment. This money has gone to purchase drones, tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, tanks and more.
5. It’s a boon to contractor profits. The trend towards police militarization has given military contractors another lucrative market where they can shop their products. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackhawk Industries are making big bucks by selling their equipment to agencies flush with Department of Homeland Security grants.
In addition to the actual selling of equipment, contractors also sponsor training events for SWAT teams, like Urban Shield, a major arms expo that has attracted increasing attention from activists in recent years. SWAT teams, police agencies and military contractors converge on Urban Shield, which was held in California last year, to train and to promote equipment to buy.
6. Border militarization and police militarization go hand in hand. The “war on terror” and “war on drugs” aren’t the only wars helping police militarization. There’s also the war on undocumented immigrants.
The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for brutal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, is the paradigmatic example of this trend. According to the ACLU, Arpaio’s Maricopa County department has acquired a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks. In addition, he has 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and ten helicopters. Other law enforcement agencies in Arizona have obtained equipment like bomb suits and night-vision goggles.
Then there’s a non-local law enforcement agency on the border: the Border Patrol, which has obtained drones and attack helicopters. And Border Patrol agents are acting like they’re at war. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealedthat law enforcement experts had found that that the Border Patrol has killed 19 people from January 2010-October 2012, including some of whom when the agents were under no lethal, direct threat.
7. Police are cracking down on dissent. In 1999, massive protests rocked Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting. The police cracked down hard on the demonstrators using paramilitary tactics. Police fired tear gas at protesters, causing all hell to break loose.
Norm Stamper, the Seattle police chief at the time, criticized the militarized policing he presided over in a Nation article in 2011. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict,” wrote Stamper.
More than a decade after the Seattle protests, militarized policing to crack down on dissent returned with a vengeance during the wave of Occupy protests in 2011. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to break up protests in Oakland.Scott Olsen, an Occupy Oakland protester and war veteran, was struck in the head by a police projectile, causing a fractured skull, broken neck vertebrae and brain swelling.
8. Asset forfeitures are funding police militarization. In June, AlterNet’s Aaron Cantuoutlined how civil asset forfeiture laws work.
“It’s a legal fiction spun up hundreds of years ago to give the state the power to convict a person’s property of a crime, or at least, implicate its involvement in the committing of a crime. When that happened, the property was to be legally seized by the state,” wrote Cantu. He went on to explain that law enforcement justifies the seizing of property and cash as a way to break up narcotics rings’ infrastructure. But it can also be used in cases where a person is not convicted, or even charged with, a crime.
Asset forfeitures bring in millions of dollars for police agencies, who then spend the money for their own uses. And for some police departments, it goes to militarizing their police force.
New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman, who penned a deeply reported piece on asset forfeitures,wrote in August 2013 that“thousands of police departments nationwide have recently acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and other paramilitary equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.” So SWAT teams have an incentive to conduct raids where they seize property and cash. That money can then go into their budgets for more weapons.
9. Dubious informants are used for raids. As the New Yorker’s Stillman wrote in another piece,informants are “the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them.” Given SWAT teams’ focus on finding drugs, it’s no surprise that informants are used to gather information that lead to military-style police raids.
A 2006 policy paper by investigative journalist Radley Balko, who has done the most reporting on militarized policing, highlighted the negative impact using informants for these raids have. Most often, informants are “people who regularly seek out drug users and dealers and tip off the police in exchange for cash rewards” and other drug dealers, who inform to gain leniency or cash from the police. But these informants are quite unreliable–and the wrong information can lead to tragic consequences.
10. There’s been little debate and oversight. Despite the galloping march towards militarization, there is little public debate or oversight of the trend. The ACLU report notes that “there does not appear to be much, if any, local oversight of law enforcement agency receipt of equipment transfers.” One of the group’s recommendations to change that is for states and local municipalities to enact laws encouraging transparency and oversight of SWAT teams.
11. Communities of color bear the brunt. Across the country, communities of color are the people most targeted by police practices. In recent years, the abuse of “stop and frisk” tactics has attracted widespread attention because of the racially discriminatory way it has been applied.
Militarized policing has also targeted communities of color. According to the ACLU report, “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39 percent were Black, 11 percent were Latino, 20 were white.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latinos were related to drugs–another metric exposing how the “war on drugs” is racist to the core.Read more
The history of pilotless aircraft in the United States military stretches back to the days of the Wright brothers. It’s difficult to describe any good that emerges from warfare, but many modern technological advancements — computers, zippers, microwaves — can be traced back to conflicts of a bygone era. Today unmanned aerial vehicles are being used by a whole slew of people, the U.S. Department of Defense being just one primary example. While drones have been used routinely to support or undertake lethal force abroad for over a decade, their domestic applications are just now being given more serious consideration. The capabilities and contributions of UAVs have, up until recently, been propelled more or less exclusively by the defense community. UAV technology may currently be associated with what some would consider secretive and nefarious militarism, but in examining the range of practical, commercial applications we can only hope that drone technology will begin to move away from the dark side.
President Obama’s approach to counterterrorism has been marked by his embrace of drone technology to target terrorist operatives. But they’ve come a long way since their first strike operations: drone backpacks are now used by soldiers, and Predator drones come equipped with even more powerful warheads. U.S. DOD spending on drones increased from $284M in 2000 to $3.3B in October of 2012. Small surveillance drones, called Cicadas, are now being released from balloons to collect data on the ground in Iraq. In short, the military has a seemingly infinite range of uses for unmanned aerial vehicles, large and small. And the scope of drone missions only continues to expand, as the technology necessary to program and operate them becomes at once more commonplace and versatile. Over the next decade, the Pentagon anticipates that the number of “multirole” UAVs (those capable of both spying and striking) will nearly quadruple.
As of October 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration had issued 285 clearance certificates for drones inside the United States. Under pressure from the Unmanned Systems Caucus (or drone lobby) the Department of Homeland Security has accepted eight Predator drones for use along the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders. The FAA is set to further open skies to commercial drones by 2015, allowing civilians to finally explore and expand upon the uses of UAV technology. But even with the law by their side, can civilian companies ever hope to utilize drones to the extent in which they are employed by the military? Many recognize the civil potential of flying robots, but recognize that with certain valuable contributions also comes the possibility of tighter law enforcement and increased government surveillance.
The dualistic nature of drones is being explored by hobbyists and venture capitalists alike. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is even developing a program that will employ drones and satellite internet to deliver internet to disenfranchised communities throughout the world. While this probably speaks to Zuckerberg’s opportunism (and his desire to compete in the marketplace against Google’s Loon Project and HughesNet Internet) that isn’t to say that people in underserved communities don’t stand to benefit. The U.S. government already uses drones to protect endangered wildlife species, like the sandhill crane, and researchers in Indonesia and Malaysia are also using unmanned aerial devices to monitor the activity of similarly threatened orangutan populations. UAV systems are emerging as key tools in agricultural innovation and the monitoring of natural resources. Search and rescue missions, 3-D mapping and surveying projects, and hurricane tracking projects are also being carried out by UAVs. With unmanned aircraft, it seems the sky’s the limit for civil and commercial usage.
But the business of drones still comes with plenty of risks. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned of a “dystopian future” in which “mass, suspicionless searches of the general population” are the norm. Given the history of drones as advanced tools of the government and military, this doesn’t seem like an empty threat. And for now, the law still stands in the way of any real development on the commercial end. Despite the fact that many ideas for drones, from the delivery of Amazon parcels to Domino’s pizzas, have been suggested, the military still holds the key to their innovation from an American standpoint. Their function as a militaristic tool remains at the forefront of their continued growth, resulting in large spending increases for advanced cameras, sensors, and systems with attack capabilities. But the integration of drone technology into domestic airspace by law enforcement — and later, by corporations — seems inevitable. As technological improvements continue to catapult the UAV industry into the future, the true beneficiaries of these developments remain to be seen.Read more
Just over two weeks ago, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 terror suspects had a pre-trial hearing before the Guantanamo Bay commission. The judge presiding over the commission is Army Colonel James L. Pohl. Key issues argued were whether a forty-second daly between the press and courtroom was constitutional and whether the suspects could testify about being tortured by CIA interrogators or not.
John Knefel for The Nation traveled to Guantanamo Bay to cover the hearing. His dispatch on the proceedings he witnessed has been posted and it is worth reading.
As he reports, the court heard argument on ”whether the five co-defendants can be barred from testifying about their own experiences on the grounds that their thoughts, emotions and memories are classified information. The prosecution, on behalf of the government, has argued that all utterances by the accused should be “presumptively classified”—that is, every possible statement by should be treated as secret government information—but this request has since been weakened.”
He adds, “The prosecution’s argument is that the five defendants are in a “particularly credible position to confirm or deny” elements of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. Having been tortured, they are in possession to describe it, and the government has clear incentives to keep them from doing so.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed the effort to censor torture testimony. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, declares, “The government’s claim that it can keep from the public the defendants’ testimony about their ‘thoughts and experiences’ of torture is legally untenable and morally abhorrent.”
I was covering the latest hearing in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, when this was all unfolding weeks ago. I did not get a chance to highlight some of the government’s argument, but I think this is an appropriate opportunity to share some more of what the government’s argument is on classifying the memories of terror suspects. It nicely complements the totalitarian arguments proffered by government attorneys in support of the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which essentially legalized warrantless wiretapping that had been occurring under the administration of President George W. Bush.
Justice Department lawyer and deputy trial counsel for the prosecution Theresa Baltes stated in court on October 16 that an executive order issued by President Barack Obama was in force that authorized classification of “orally conveyed information that falls within the subsection of foreign or intelligence sources and methods.” Baltes was alluding to observations and memories of torture or, to use Vice President Dick Cheney’s phrase, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The “intelligence sources” are the agents who tortured them. The “methods” are how they were tortured and that is not something the government thinks the press or American public should ever find out about.
Baltes said to Judge Pohl later in the proceedings on October 16 the government had originally proposed an order that required defense attorneys to treat everything their client said as classified, including details on what their client had for lunch a day or two ago. The order was narrowed to protect statements on what occurred while in CIA custody.
“The prosecution is proposing that they only treat as classified and handle as classified statements that they know to be classified based on their security clearance,” Baltes told the commission. “And that would specifically include — or believe to be classified, and specifically include information about the CIA RDI program and their prior custody, detention, interrogation.” (RDI being the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program.)
Navy Lieutenant Commander Kevin Bogucki, who represents former CIA captive and former translator for Osama bin Laden, Muhammad Rahim, tried to outline the draconian and preposterous nature of the government’s position. He argued, “When the government voluntarily exposes someone outside their control to information, they are voluntarily relinquishing control over that information.” For example:
..[L]et’s say we are just imagining, for the sake of argument, that there is a classified CIA assassination program and one of the agents in this program goes and attempts to take out a target but fails, wounds the target but doesn’t kill him. That victim is now unable to describe the circumstances of the assault upon him because it might tend to reveal the personnel involved in this secret program, the means by which this program executes its duties? Clearly that makes no sense. It doesn’t matter how secret they kept it when they were planning and when they were working through the techniques of this secret program. Once they decide to execute that program in the real world and expose people outside their control to the essentially mechanisms or the product of that planning, they have now relinquished control over that. And to simply say, well, it relates to the secret program and therefore you can’t talk about it, goes far beyond what can properly be classified… [emphasis added]
Judge Pohl, at one point in the proceedings, notes that the government is not seeking to classify all experiences and memories. They have sough to limit the classification to certain dates and places. Bogucki countered by arguing the information has to be owned, produced or under the control of the US government.
…Now, the only one of those that the government can even arguably rely upon is under the control of the United States Government. If you can go to the next slide, please. So again here, they are relying upon the prong that this statement is arguably under the control of the United States Government….Okay, but the only reason that they think they have control over this information, the only reason that theythink that final prong is satisfied is because they are holding our clients essentially in isolation…
What Bogucki is suggesting is his client has been completely dehumanized. To the government, he is not a person. He is a vessel containing details that if disseminated would invite scrutiny or possibly undermined current operations or missions against terrorism. Therefore, this vessel cannot come in contact with other prisoners or else those prisoners might come into possession of this information that the government wishes to keep secret. So, Bogucki’s client must be held in solitary confinement and suffer under those conditions because some agents used classified methods of interrogation or torture on him.
Let’s return to Knefel’s piece. He puts this all into the larger context hinting at the reality that what the military commissions system is a second-class system of legal justice that has been constructed to ensure convictions. He also highlights how Obama says he intends to close Guantanamo but a person suspected of being involved in the Benghazi attack could potentially end up at Guantanamo. The moment new prisoners start arriving at Guantanamo under Obama is the moment that any more platitudes about closing Guantanamo are exposed to be completely hollow.
And Knefel writes, “The military commissions are just one piece of a larger, disturbing trend toward centralized presidential power with virtually no oversight or transparency.” He contends:
…The bigger problem is that a once radical idea—that the executive branch should have its own legal system to try so-called enemy combatants—has been normalized and codified under two separate administrations. Recent claims that the CIA and FBI are attempting to send a suspect in the Benghazi killing of Libya Ambassador Christopher Stevens to Guantánamo Bay underscore critics’ skepticism that military commissions will be a limited tool with a definite ending.
The same, of course, is true for the “War on Terror” more broadly, as evidenced by a chilling Washington Postreport on the “disposition matrix,” a counterterrorism tool that further entrenches the policy of “targeted killing” embraced by the Obama administration. As Spencer Ackerman writes, “Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy.” Indeed, as John Kiriakou, a whistleblower recently prosecuted for trying to shed light on the CIA’s torture program, knows too well, the Obama administration has charged more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous presidents combined…
The case of Kiriakou is a kind of bookend to the first term of a president, who pledged to be different from Bush and then decided to be completely subservient to the national security state like previous presidents. Kiriakou was subjected to a prosecution for revealing the name of a covert agent involved in the RDI program, who multiple people in the human rights community are believed to have known. He was prosecuted after he went on television and said the CIA had an official policy of torture because it did use waterboarding on detainees. That the CIA did not like and it made him a target. The government went after Kiriakou and in the process destroyed his life and the lives of his wife and five children by putting them through a prosecution that has left him impoverished and ruined.
What has happened to the torturers? How many people who actually engaged in torture of terror suspects have you heard about, whose lives have been wrecked because they were savages toward human beings? How many people have you read about in the news who authorized this policy and now are in jail because they instructed people lower than them to engage in torture and sought to cover it up with crafty legal justifications?
The answer is none. The answer is nobody. The answer is the US government remains committed to concealing details on methods of torture that were used on people now imprisoned at Guantanamo because the continuity of government was more important to the Obama administration than justice. And, the classification of the experiences and memories of terror suspects is supported by the government so agents, who engaged in torture, do not go through the kind of life-wrecking experience Kiriakou did.
via FireDogLakeRead more
A wild Washington Post story reports that the Obama administration has been developing plans to “institutionalize” its extrajudicial assassination program. The lede is bonkers:
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”
The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.
was developed by the NCTC, under former director Michael Leiter, to augment those organizations’ separate but overlapping kill lists, officials said.
Once information is acquired, the new guidelines authorize broad new search powers. As long NCTC says its search is aimed at identifying terrorism information, it may conduct queries that involve non-terrorism data points and pattern-based searches and analysis (data mining). The breadth and wrongheadedness of these changes are particularly noteworthy. Not only do they mean that anytime you interact with any government agency you essentially enter a lineup as a potential terrorist, they also rely on a technique, datamining, which has been thoroughly discredited as a useful tool for identifying terrorists. As far back as 2008 the National Academy of Sciences found that data mining for terrorism was scientifically “not feasible” as a methodology, and likely to have significant negative impacts on privacy and civil liberties.Perhaps most disturbing, once information is gathered (not necessarily connected to terrorism), in many cases it can be shared with “a federal, state, local, tribal, or foreign or international entity, or to an individual or entity not part of a government” – literally anyone. That sharing can happen in relation to national security and safety, drug investigations, if it’s evidence of a crime or to evaluate sources or contacts. This boundless sharing is broad enough to encompass disclosures to an employer or landlord about someone who NCTC may think is potentially a criminal, or at the request of local law enforcement for vetting an informant.All of this is happening with very little oversight.
“Its exactly what the founding fathers never wanted.” -Bill Binney, NSA WhistleblowerRead more
Today Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times published a thoughtful columndiscussing the untenable position taken by the government in response to the ACLU’s two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking information about the CIA’s targeted killing drone strike program, including its targeting of U.S. citizens. As Rosenthal explains, “the government is blocking any consideration of these petitions with one of the oldest, and most pathetic, dodges in the secrecy game. It says it cannot confirm or deny the existence of any drone strike policy or program.”
Rosenthal goes on to highlight the reasons why the government’s position is untenable:
That would be unacceptable under any condition, but it’s completely ridiculous when you take into account the fact that a) there have been voluminous news accounts of drone strikes, including the one on Mr. Awlaki, and b) pretty much every top government official involved in this issue has talked about the drone strikes in public.
He also highlights the arguments made in the ACLU’s latest legal brief in the cases, excerpting from our “13 pages of examples of how ‘the government has already specifically and officially acknowledged the program that the CIA now says is secret.'”
Perhaps most telling is Rosenthal’s comment about how little progress we have made since the worst secrecy abuses of the Bush era:
Governments have good reasons for keeping secrets – to protect soldiers in battle, or nuclear launch codes, or the identities of intelligence sources, undercover agents and witnesses against the mob. (Naturally that’s not an exhaustive list.) Governments also have bad reasons for keeping secrets – to avoid embarrassment, evade oversight or escape legal accountability.
The Bush administration kept secrets largely for bad reasons: It covered up its torture memos, the kidnapping of innocent foreign citizens, illegal wiretapping and other misdeeds. Barack Obama promised to bring more transparency to Washington in the 2008 campaign, but he has failed to do that. In some ways, his administration is even worse than the Bush team when it comes to abusing the privilege of secrecy.
So this is not a secret program, but the government continues to hide behind the secrecy shield to avoid turning over the legal document justifying (or at least rationalizing) it. It’s even using the “can’t confirm or deny” fabrication about the existence of the document itself.
My guess is that the Obama administration just wants to avoid public disclosure, scrutiny and accountability. I’d ask someone at the Justice Department, but they wouldn’t be able to tell me, because it’s a secret.
Rosenthal’s column joins the chorus of voices calling for greater transparencyaround targeted killing and for a sensible government response to the ACLU’s FOIA requests. The government must provide the public with the information it needs to assess the legality and wisdom of the CIA’s global targeted killing campaign.
By: Nathan Freed Wesser, March 29, 2012Read more