Archive for category Transparency

Judge May Order Pentagon to Release Torture ‘Mementos’

Via Firedoglake (why does cable news ignore this?)

The United States government has been given a week to appeal or comply with a federal judge’s order to provide a justification for why approximately 2,100 photographs of torture and abuse of prisoners must remain secret.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein pointed out that the Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009 clearly says the Secretary of Defense must issue a certification for a photograph in order to keep it secret. It does not refer to photographs collectively. So, a process that attempts to justify blanket certification for secrecy is not in line with the law.

Journalist Jason Leopold reported last year that documents from the Defense Department show the photos come from “203 closed criminal investigations into detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Leopold’s report suggested the soldiers had wanted to hold on to these photos as “mementos.”

Judge Orders Thousands of Torture Photos to Be Disclosed After US Government Fails to Justify Secrecy

The government is “required to disclose each and all the photographs responsive” to the Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),” according to the order by Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Hellerstein found that the government still had failed to justify keeping each individual photograph secret. However, the judge stayed the order for 60 days so the Solicitor General could determine whether to file an appeal.


Christmas Eve Document Dump Reveals US Spy Agencies Broke The Law And Violated Privacy

NSA surveillance

So far, nothing about this on cable TV news. Not even from MSNBC. Via Think Progress:

Around 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the National Security Agency released hundreds of pages of heavily-redacted reports detailing numerous instances over the past decade in which agents intentionally or unintentionally violated the law and improperly collected private data. The revelations, triggered by a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union, still fail to disclose how many violations occurred and how many were unlawful.

…Jesselyn Radack with the Government Accountability Project, who has been working on Edward Snowden’s legal team, emphasized that these revelations would never have been possible without her fugitive client. “The ACLU only knew what to ask for because of the Snowden leaks,” she said. “There’s been semantics games with the NSA not using regular definitions for words like ‘collection’ and ‘analysis,’ which makes it very difficult to find the documents we’re looking for. Now, at least we have a road map and we know names of specific programs to ask about.”

Radack also told ThinkProgress that she suspects the release of the documents intentionally came at a time few would be paying attention. “It was an extremely conspicuous and shameless move to release this on Christmas Eve, but it’s entirely in keeping with the fact that the Director of National Intelligence has done similar kinds of document dumps on Friday afternoons in order to avoid the media cycle,” she said.

Of course, ALL the programs of widespread warrantless surveillance of Americans in their entirety violate the law because they are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.


Senator Mark Udall’s Rare Opportunity: Release The Torture Report Now

In the Guardian, Trevor Timm points out that while Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) lost his bid for re-election, that gives him a one-time chance to bring transparency to the CIA’s secret torture program.

Udall’s loss doesn’t have to be all bad. The lame-duck transparency advocate now has a rare opportunity to truly show his principles in the final two months of his Senate career and finally expose, in great detail, the secret government wrongdoing he’s been criticizing for years. On his way out the door, Udall can use congressional immunity provided to him by the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause to read the Senate’s still-classified 6,000-page CIA torture report into the Congressional record – on the floor, on TV, for the world to see.

How about it, Senator Udall?


President Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’… And We Still Do

Last Friday, President Obama informed a White House press conference that the U.S. government has engaged in torture as a matter of policy. Not that he plans to do anything about that. In fact, he hasn’t even banned every torture technique in use by the CIA and the military.

“We tortured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law-enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”

The fallacy here, whether or not it’s intentional, lies in the fact that torture (in addition to being a crime under federal law) is not an intelligence interrogation technique. The experts will all tell you that torture is good for one thing only: extracting false confessions. The Bush administration employed torture to get some detainees to say what they wanted to hear, namely that Saddam Hussein’s regime was tied in with al-Qaeda. For example the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, provided false information regarding chemical weapons training between Iraq and al-Qaeda that was used by the Bush Administration in their efforts to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq. Al-Libi recanted in January 2004. This sort of thing is what they now call “faulty intelligence” instead of lies.

President Obama is getting credit simply for using the dreaded “T” word that the media usually avoid by talking about American “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Of course reporters are not afraid say “torture” to describe what China does to prisoners, for example, even if it’s the exact same thing the CIA did.

On FDL, Jeff Kaye picks up on something important. Here’s what else the president said, referring to the still-secret Senate Select Committee torture report (emphasis added):

And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

Kaye notes:

Only “some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques”? Not all? Was this merely a slip of the tongue by the President? No one in the press corp seemed to notice, and no one took him up on the issue… though it is very much worth noting that Jeremy Scahill reported in July 2011 on the CIA’s continuing use of black sites and torture in an important article in The Nation. Others had surmised as much even earlier.

Apparently President Obama, whether he meant to or not, has confirmed for the record that torture is still practiced by the U.S. government.

More info:
Obama Admits He Banned Only “Some” of the CIA’s Torture Techniques


Fox Gives Liz Cheney A Platform To Attack Obama For Mentioning Torture
White House To Make Torture Report ‘Impossible To Understand’


Maine Senators Use The Word “Torture” To Describe CIA Torture

Torture posterWell, this is amazing. Following months of public pressure, the Senate intelligence committee voted 11-3 on Thursday to declassify portions of the lengthy investigation into the CIA’s use of torture at secret black sites around the world. The executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the Senate panel’s 6,300-page report will be released.

Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) supported the release of the Senate Torture Report, using a word that nobody thought Washington politicians have in their vocabulary (emphasis added):

We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA’s management of this program.

Our vote to declassify this report does not signal our full endorsement of all of its conclusions or its methodology. The report has some intrinsic limitations because it did not involve direct interviews of CIA officials, contract personnel, or other Executive branch personnel. It also, unfortunately, did not include the participation of the staff of Republican Committee members. We do, however, believe in transparency and believe that the Executive Summary, and Additional and Dissenting Views, and the CIA’s rebuttal should be made public with appropriate redactions so the American public can reach their own conclusions about the conduct of this program.

Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program never happen again.


Bradley Manning’s Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel Prize

PFC Bradley Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Alfred Nobel’s will left funding for a prize to be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The intent of the prize was to fund this work. As a result of enormous legal expenses, Bradley Manning is in need of that funding (currently $1.2 million).

A record 259 nominations have been received for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, with candidates including PFC Manning and 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an education activist who was shot in the head by Taliban militants while on her way home from school in Pakistan. Around 50 of the nominations are for organizations. Last year, the prize went to the European Union for promoting peace and human rights in Europe following the devastation of World War II. Nobel Prize winners are usually announced in October.


Bradley Manning: The Face of Heroism

PVT Bradley ManningThrough his lawyer, 25-year-old Army Private Bradley Manning has pleaded guilty to 10 charges that include possessing and wilfully communicating to an unauthorized person all the main elements of the WikiLeaks disclosure. That covered the so-called “collateral murder” video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq; some US diplomatic cables including one of the early WikiLeaks publications the Reykjavik cable; portions of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, some of the files on detainees in Guantanamo; and two intelligence memos.

These lesser charges each carry a two-year maximum sentence, committing PVT Manning to a possible upper limit of 20 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to “aiding the enemy,” which carries a life sentence. Manning’s court martial is expected to begin on June 3.

For the first time, Bradley Manning explained why he decided to reveal U.S. government secrets to the media.

Manning spoke for over an hour as he read from a 35-page document detailing and explaining his actions that drove him to disclose what he said he “believed, and still believe… are some of the most significant documents of our time.”

…Manning’s motivations in leaking, he said, was to “spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general,” he said, and “cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.” Manning said he was in sound mind when he leaked, and did so deliberately, regardless of the legal circumstances.

Remarkably, Manning said he first tried to take his information to the Washington Post, the New York Times and Politico, before contacting WikiLeaks.

…He said he took “full responsibility” for a decision that will likely land him in prison for the next 20 years — and possibly the rest of his life.

Glenn Greenwald:

Without question, Manning’s leaks produced more significant international news scoops in 2010 than those of every media outlet on the planet combined.

This was all achieved because a then-22-year-old Army Private knowingly risked his liberty in order to inform the world about what he learned. He endured treatment which the top UN torture investigator deemed “cruel and inhuman”, and he now faces decades in prison if not life. He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.

Heroism is a slippery and ambiguous concept. But whatever it means, it is embodied by Bradley Manning and the acts which he unflinchingly acknowledged Friday he chose to undertake.

This is where we are today. We only learn about government crimes when someone in the know is courageous enough to risk torture and life imprisonment in order to reveal the truth. Consider how thousands of people had access to the same information, but only Bradley Manning did the right thing. By the way, nothing he gave to Wikileaks damaged operational security. The court-martial judge will determine whether publishing evidence of un-prosecuted war crimes amounts to “aiding the enemy.”

More info:
Wikileaks Obtains Video of 2007 War Crime (April 5, 2010)

UPDATE: Leaked Audio: US Citizens Can Now Hear Bradley Manning Give His Statement


Does The President Have the Power to Execute Americans Without Any Charges or Due Process?

Somebody has leaked a 16-page “white paper” (PDF) to NBC News’ Michael Isikoff. Prepared by the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, it tries to justify President Obama’s claim that he has the power to target even Americans for assassination without due process. This is not the primary Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo justifying Obama’s kill list – that is still classified – but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.

Glenn Greenwald:

This new memo is entitled: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”. It claims its conclusion is “reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen”. Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.

According to the “white paper,” if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death. The paper states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US.”

What is “an imminent threat”? The paper expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack… will take place in the immediate future.”

Basically, the Obama administration has asserted the power to kill anyone (including American citizens) anywhere, for any reason (or no reason – how do we know, because the decision is secret?), anytime they want to. And they are claiming that this is constitutional and legal.

I’m encouraged that not all Americans are buying this outrageous claim. A recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University found 48 percent of Americans think it is illegal to “target US citizens living in other countries with drones,” while 24 percent think it is legal. But the same poll found majority approval for the use of drone attacks against “people and other targets deemed to be a threat to the US” whether carried out by the CIA or the military, as long as those targets are not American citizens.

Ever since George W. Bush took power as a “unitary executive,” it seems that federal law, our Constitution and Bill of Rights have been all been subject to repeal via secret OLC memos. Illegal government actions became routine, mostly carried out in secret but sometimes we find out about them. The Obama administration hasn’t done much if anything to restore the rule of law, and they have instituted an unprecedented crackdown on whistle-blowers.

The trend is toward more illegality and less transparency.


Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz From Office

Via Glenn Greenwald:

Massachusetts’ U.S. attorney Carmen Ortiz and assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Heymann are under fire for their office’s abusive conduct in the two-year prosecution of Aaron Swartz, a 26-year-old Internet activist who killed himself last Friday. Just before his death, prosecutors rejected a plea offer and threatened to take Swartz to trial on 15 trumped-up felony counts, carrying a maximum penalty of 50 years in federal prison. What did he do? He was accused of retrieving over four million academic journal articles from the JSTOR database (he was allowed to access JSTOR, but not to perform a bulk download). That doesn’t even meet the definition of computer hacking – it was a terms of service violation at most.

Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz’s funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son “was killed by the government.”

…A petition on the White House’s website to fire Ortiz quickly exceeded the 25,000 signatures needed to compel a reply, and a similar petition aimed at Heymann has also attracted thousands of signatures, and is likely to gather steam in the wake of revelations that another young hacker committed suicide in 2008 in response to Heymann’s pursuit of him (You can [and I hope will] sign both petitions by clicking on those links; the Heymann petition in particular needs more signatures).

…This is not just prosecutorial abuse. It’s broader than that. It’s all part and parcel of the exploitation of law and the justice system to entrench those in power and shield themselves from meaningful dissent and challenge by making everyone petrified of the consequences of doing anything other than meekly submitting to the status quo.

Please go to the White House website and sign the petitions to remove Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann from office for prosecutorial abuse.

More info:
Prosecutor in Aaron Swartz ‘hacking’ case comes under fire
Petition To Remove Carmen Ortiz, Aaron Swartz Prosecutor, Reaches Threshold For White House Response

Aaron Swartz’s Suicide Triggers Response from Top U.S. Lawmakers

In a bill called “Aaron’s Law,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) aims to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which Massachusetts prosecutors used to charge Swartz… In a statement on Reddit, Rep. Lofgren said she wants to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in order to “prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users.” Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, is an outspoken voice on technology issues in the U.S. Congress.

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WikiLeaks Releases Prisoner Treatment Manual From Guantanamo


By Agence France-Presse

Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks website on Thursday started publishing more than 100 US Department of Defense documents including the first prisoner treatment manual for Guantanamo Bay.

…Among the documents is the 2002 manual for staff at Camp Delta at Guantanamo, shortly after it was set up by US President George W. Bush to house alleged Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees from the “war on terror”.

“This document is of significant historical importance. Guantanamo Bay has become the symbol for systematised human rights abuse in the West with good reason,” said Assange, the founder of the website.

He added: “‘The ‘Detainee Policies’ show the anatomy of the beast that is post-9/11 detention, the carving out of a dark space where law and rights do not apply, where persons can be detained without a trace at the convenience of the US Department of Defense.

“It shows the excesses of the early days of war against an unknown ‘enemy’ and how these policies matured and evolved, ultimately deriving into the permanent state of exception that the United States now finds itself in, a decade later.”

UPDATE: WikiLeaks Releases US Military Policies for Detention & Avoiding Accountability for Torture


Only In Utah!

Gary Herbert gets his way, one way or the other. :(

If you can’t pass a bill, appointed a shill.

I just hate it when my beloved state is used as a model for corruption.

Transparency is non-existent in my home state. Whether it’s your voting system or your right to know what’s happening in the legislature, it’s no longer your right to know. And it hasn’t been for a long, long time.

Just pledge allegiance and shut up!


President Obama Tells CNN He Can Kill You

From Roots Action:

President Obama told CNN this week that he can kill Americans or non-Americans, the difference being that with Americans their killing amounts to their Constitutionally guaranteed due process.

CNN asked Obama how he chooses names for his kill list, but he declined to say. Obama claimed that there are checks on his power, pointing only to checks by his own subordinates, not by courts, not by Congress, and not by the public — which he reassures with vague statements that amount to “trust me.”

Obama claimed that his preference is to capture people rather than to kill them. This does not fit with cases like that of Tariq Khan, a 16-year-old killed by drone strike following his participation in a conference at which he could have easily been captured. It does not fit with the lack of criminal charges against virtually any of the people killed.

Obama claimed that he avoids killing civilians, yet careful research has documented large numbers of civilians killed, including this week in Yemen.

President Obama claims to have the power to kill anyone anywhere in the world, including Americans, based on a secret memo written by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Department of Justice. This is the same process used by the Bush administration to claim that torture was all of a sudden legal. Unlike the Bush torture memos, Obama’s “kill list” memo remains classified.

Some drone war terms that have become public.

“Personality strike” – An attack aimed at named, so-called “high-value terrorists” (and their families).
“Signature strike” – An attack that targets allegedly suspicious compounds in areas controlled by “militants.”
“Double tap” – Following a drone strike with a second attack on first responders and rescuers, or later on the funeral for victims of the original attack.
“Combatant” – The Obama administration considers any military-age male in the vicinity of a bombing to be a combatant unless proven otherwise.

Michael V. Hayden, former head of the CIA (referring to the Bush administration’s program of torture):

“I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”

Dennis Blair, the former Director of National Intelligence, explains the attraction of waging war by drone:

“It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it might be a good time to debate the tactics and strategy of drone warfare. Unfortunately, both major political parties seem to be in agreement, so there is no debate.

More info: Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will

UPDATE: Senator Rand Paul: ‘Bomb Everybody Tomorrow’ Is ‘Typical’ Republican Policy

UPDATE: Yemen Claims Death Of Al-Qaeda Regional Head (possibly a drone attack, though not reported as such).


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