How the US and Israeli justice systems whitewash state crimes
posted by Keito
2012-08-29 20:41:50'Courts are supposed to check the abuse of executive power, not cravenly serve it. But in the US and Israel, that is now the case.
The US military announced on Monday that no criminal charges would be brought against the US marines in Afghanistan who videotaped themselves urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. Nor, the military announced, would any criminal charges be filed against the US troops who "tried to burn about 500 copies of the Qur'an as part of a badly bungled security sweep at an Afghan prison in February, despite repeated warnings from Afghan soldiers that they were making a colossal mistake".
In doing so, the US military, as usual, brushed aside demands of Afghan officials for legal accountability for the destructive acts of foreign soldiers in their country. The US instead imposed "disciplinary measures" in both cases, ones that "could include letters of reprimand, a reduction in rank, forfeit of some pay, physical restriction to a military base, extra duties or some combination of those measures". Both incidents triggered intense protests and rioting that left dozens dead, back in February this year.
Parallel to that, an Israeli judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against the Israeli government brought by the family of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American student and pro-Palestinian activist who was killed by a military bulldozer in 2003 as she protested the demolition of a house in Gaza whose family she had come to befriend. Upon learning of the suit's dismissal, Corrie's mother, Cindy, said:
"I believe this was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel."
Despite Corrie's wearing a bright orange vest, Judge Oded Gershon, in a 62-page decision, ruled that the bulldozer driver did not see her and her death was thus an accident. He went on to heap blame on Corrie for her own killing, arguing that, contrary to what "any reasonable person would have done", she "chose to put herself in danger" by trying to impede "a military activity meant to prevent terrorist activity".
The commonality in all three of these episodes is self-evident: the perversion of the justice system and rule of law as nothing more than a weapon to legitimize even the most destructive state actions, while severely punishing those who oppose them. The US and its loyal thinktank scholars have long demanded that other states maintain an "independent judiciary" as one of the key ingredients for living under the rule of law. But these latest episodes demonstrate, yet again, that the judiciary in the US, along with the one in its prime Middle East client state, is anything but "independent": its primary function is to shield government actors from accountability.
The US military has continuously imposed pitifully light "punishments" on its soldiers even for the most heinous atrocities. The wanton slaughter of two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq and the severe and even lethal torture of Afghan detainees generated, at worst, shockingly short jail time for the killers and, usually, little more than letters of reprimand.
Contrast this tepid, reluctant wrist-slapping for the brutal crimes of occupying soldiers with what a UN investigation found was the US government's "cruel and inhuman treatment" of Bradley Manning before he was convicted of anything. Manning has been imprisoned for more than two years now without having been found guilty of any crimes – already longer than any of the perpetrators of these fatal abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. He faces life in prison at the age of 23 for the alleged "crime" of disclosing to the world overwhelming evidence of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world's most powerful factions: disclosures that helped thwart the Obama administration's efforts to keep US troops in Iraq, and which, as even WikiLeaks' harshest critics acknowledge, played some substantial role in helping to spark the Arab spring.
Notably, the first disclosure for which Manning was allegedly responsible – the videotape of an Apache helicopter gunning down unarmed Reuters journalists and then the rescuers who came to help the wounded, including two young children – resulted in zero accountability: the US military exonerated everyone involved. Instead, it is Manning, the person accused of exposing these crimes, who is punished as the real criminal.
And herein lies the real function of the American justice system, clearly revealed time and again. It is to protect high-level actors from accountability even for the most egregious of crimes, while severely punishing those who reveal or take a stand against those crimes, thus deterring and intimidating any future opposition.
That is the mentality that has led the Obama department of justice to aggressively shield all Bush officials from any and all accountability for their torture and surveillance crimes, while launching an unprecedented persecution campaign against whistleblowers. As always in US justice, the "real" criminals are those who alert the world to high-level crimes, not those who commit them. That is why the only person to suffer any repercussions from the Bush NSA eavesdropping scandal was Thomas Tamm: the mid-level DOJ lawyer who learned of the illegal program and alerted the New York Times about it. Those who authorized those crimes have been fully shielded from any form of punishment.
It is this same mentality that has led the US federal judiciary to produce the most disgraceful political fact of the last decade. Not a single victim of America's "war on terror" abuses – even those now acknowledged by the US government to have been completely innocent – have been allowed even to have their cases heard in an American court on the merits. They've all had the courthouse doors slammed shut in the faces by courts that have accepted the US government's claims that its own secrecy powers and immunity rights bar any such justice. Crimes committed by the state or in advancement of its agenda are simply immune from the rule of law in the US.
The same exploitation of the justice system is glaringly evident in the Rachel Corrie travesty. As the Guardian's former Israel (and now Washington) correspondent Chris McGreal writes, the dismissal of this suit is simply a by-product of the "virtual impunity for Israeli troops no matter who they killed or in what circumstances". That's because Israeli courts, like American courts, have submissively accepted the supreme fiction of both governments: anyone impeding government actions is a terrorist or terrorist-enabler who gets what they deserve, while the actions of the state, no matter how savage, can never be anything other than legitimate.
Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, said after the verdict that Israel "employed a 'well-heeled system' to protect its soldiers and provide them with immunity". Indeed, the Israeli "investigation" into Corrie's death has been such a laughable whitewash that even the US ambassador to Israel last week told the Corrie family that he "did not believe the Israeli military investigation had been 'thorough, credible and transparent', as had been promised by Israel." All of this, writes McGreal, shows how "covering up the truth about the killings of innocents, including Corrie, became an important part of the survival strategy because of the damage the truth could do to the military's standing, not only in the rest of the world but also among Israelis."
As I noted on Sunday, it is expected, inevitable, that those who wield political power will abuse it for corrupt and self-serving ends. That is why there are institutions designed to check and combat that abuse. The rule of law, and an independent judiciary applying it, is ostensibly one of those institutions. But – like establishment media outlets and most academics – this justice system now does the opposite: it is merely another weapon used to legitimize crimes by the powerful and crush those who oppose them.
All three of this week's travesties, in the US and in Israel, are hardly surprising. To the contrary, they are the inevitable by-products of societies that recruit every institution in service of defending even the most wanton abuses by the state.'
The NSA Domestic Spying Program: The program Binney created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward on his own country
posted by Keito
2012-08-24 19:42:22'It took me a few days to work up the nerve to phone William Binney. As someone already a “target” of the United States government, I found it difficult not to worry about the chain of unintended consequences I might unleash by calling Mr. Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency turned whistle-blower. He picked up. I nervously explained I was a documentary filmmaker and wanted to speak to him. To my surprise he replied: “I’m tired of my government harassing me and violating the Constitution. Yes, I’ll talk to you.”
Two weeks later, driving past the headquarters of the N.S.A. in Maryland, outside Washington, Mr. Binney described details about Stellar Wind, the N.S.A.’s top-secret domestic spying program begun after 9/11, which was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest, in 2004.
“The decision must have been made in September 2001,” Mr. Binney told me and the cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. “That’s when the equipment started coming in.” In this Op-Doc, Mr. Binney explains how the program he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward on this country. He resigned over this in 2001 and began speaking out publicly in the last year. He is among a group of N.S.A. whistle-blowers, including Thomas A. Drake, who have each risked everything — their freedom, livelihoods and personal relationships — to warn Americans about the dangers of N.S.A. domestic spying.
To those who understand state surveillance as an abstraction, I will try to describe a little about how it has affected me. The United States apparently placed me on a “watch-list” in 2006 after I completed a film about the Iraq war. I have been detained at the border more than 40 times. Once, in 2011, when I was stopped at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and asserted my First Amendment right not to answer questions about my work, the border agent replied, “If you don’t answer our questions, we’ll find our answers on your electronics.”’ As a filmmaker and journalist entrusted to protect the people who share information with me, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to work in the United States. Although I take every effort to secure my material, I know the N.S.A. has technical abilities that are nearly impossible to defend against if you are targeted.
The 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which oversees the N.S.A. activities, are up for renewal in December. Two members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, both Democrats, are trying to revise the amendments to insure greater privacy protections. They have been warning about “secret interpretations” of laws and backdoor “loopholes” that allow the government to collect our private communications. Thirteen senators have signed a letter expressing concern about a “loophole” in the law that permits the collection of United States data. The A.C.L.U. and other groups have also challenged the constitutionality of the law, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case on Oct. 29.
Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker who has been nominated for an Academy Award and whose work was exhibited in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. She is working on a trilogy of films about post-9/11 America. This Op-Doc is adapted from a work in progress to be released in 2013.'
posted by Keito
TrapWire: Privacy No More? All-seeing eye tracks your every move
posted by Keito
"We Don’t Live in a Free Country": Jacob Appelbaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance
posted by Keito
2012-08-15 17:20:55'We speak with Jacob Appelbaum, a computer researcher who has faced a stream of interrogations and electronic surveillance since he volunteered with the whistleblowing website, WikiLeaks. He describes being detained more than a dozen times at the airport and interrogated by federal agents who asked about his political views and confiscated his cellphone and laptop. When asked why he cannot talk about what happened after he was questioned, Appelbaum says, "Because we don’t live in a free country. And if I did, I guess I could tell you about it." A federal judge ordered Twitter to hand over information about Appelbaum’s account. Meanwhile, he continues to work on the Tor Project, an anonymity network that ensures every person has the right to browse the internet without restriction and the right to speak freely.'
This interview is part of a 5-part special on growing state surveillance.
-==========|| Transcript ||==========-
JUAN GONZALEZ: Jacob, your experiences entering the United States at various times?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, after the summer of 2010, my life became a little hectic with regard to flying. I do a lot of traveling, working with the Tor Project. And after the summer of 2010, where I gave a speech at Hackers on Planet Earth in place of Julian Assange, I was targeted by the U.S. government and essentially, until the last four times that I’ve flown, I was detained basically every time. Sometimes men would meet me at the jetway, similarly, with guns.
AMY GOODMAN: Let us play that moment when you went to the HOPE conference.
JACOB APPELBAUM: Oh, dear.
AMY GOODMAN: Hackers on Planet Earth. Julian Assange was supposed to be there. He wasn’t. You stood up. This is the beginning of what you said.
JACOB APPELBAUM: Hello to all my friends and fans in domestic and international surveillance. I’m here today because I believe that we can make a better world.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you go on to say?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Basically, I went on to talk about how I feel that people like Bill need to come forward to talk about what the U.S. government is doing, so that we can make informed choices as a democracy. And I went on to talk about how WikiLeaks is a part of making that happen. And as long as we have excessive classification and secrecy, that we need a WikiLeaks, and we need to stand in solidarity together, so that people will have the information that they need to understand what’s actually happening in their names.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You mentioned the Tor Project that you work with. What is it?
JACOB APPELBAUM: The Tor Project is an anonymity network, which ensures that each person has the right to read, without restriction, and the right to speak freely, with no exception.
AMY GOODMAN: T-O-R?
JACOB APPELBAUM: TorProject.org. And the basic idea is that every person in the world has the right to read and the right to speak freely. And using their software, using principles of mutual aid and solidarity—something familiar to Democracy Now! viewers, I imagine—it’s possible for everybody to use this anonymity network, spread out across the planet. It’s a thing that’s useful for resisting so-called lawful interception. So, for example, when Mubarak in Egypt wants to wiretap someone, they only see an activist talking to the Tor network; they don’t see that person connecting to Twitter. And that is something that can be used by everybody everywhere to resist so-called lawful interception.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you use a program that was actually developed by the U.S. government?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, yeah. So, originally, the Tor Project is born from ideas that come from the anonymity community, of which the U.S. military has actually contributed quite heavily to. But since the times of the original onion routing patents, it has become a free software project, where, as far as I know, the U.S. Navy has contributed zero lines of code to it, but certainly lots of good ideas, because they understand, as many other people do, that if everyone has anonymous communication, that means everyone does, and if only special people do, it means that you can tell that those are special people that have special privileges, and you can basically see who they are.
So, for example, the Riseup Collective, which you mentioned earlier on the show, they run a number of tor nodes. And I run some, and many other people do. And as long as you get one good one, you have some of the properties that you need. And this helps people to resist not just so-called lawful interception, but also to resist censorship. So if you can’t see inside of the communications, you can’t selectively discriminate based on the content.
AMY GOODMAN: Just to say that in our news headlines today, we said the FBI has just seized a computer server at the New York facility shared by the internet organization Riseup Networks and May First/People Link. But I want to go back to your experience at the airport. If you could just briefly say—I mean, it’s been dozens and dozens of times that you have—
JACOB APPELBAUM: I don’t fly as much as Laura, and Laura has been at it for a lot longer than I have. But in the period of time since they’ve started detaining me, around a dozen-plus times. I’ve been detained a number of times. The first time I was actually detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I was put into a special room, where they frisked me, put me up against the wall. One guy cupped me in a particularly uncomfortable way. Another one held my wrists. They took my cellphones. I’m not really actually able to talk about what happened to those next.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Because we don’t live in a free country. And if I did, I guess I could tell you about it, right? And they took my laptop, but they gave it back. They were a little surprised it didn’t have a hard drive. I guess that threw them for a loop. And, you know, then they interrogated me, denied me access to a lawyer. And when they did the interrogation, they has a member of the U.S. Army, on American soil. And they refused to let me go. They tried—you know, they tried their usual scare tactics. So they sort of implied that if I didn’t make a deal with them, that I’d be sexually assaulted in prison, you know, which is the thing that they do these days as a method of punitive punishment, and they of course suggested that would happen.
AMY GOODMAN: How did they imply this?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, you know, they say, "You know, computer hackers like to think they’re all tough. But really, when it comes down to it, you don’t look like you’re going to do so good in prison." You know, that kind of stuff.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the main thrust of the questions they were asking you?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, they wanted to know about my political views. They wanted to know about my work in any capacity as a journalist, actually, the notion that I could be in some way associated with Julian. They wanted, basically, to know any—
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange.
JACOB APPELBAUM: Julian Assange, the one and only. And they wanted—they wanted, essentially, to ask me questions about the Iraq war, the Afghan war, what I thought politically. They didn’t ask me anything about terrorism. They didn’t ask me anything about smuggling or drugs or any of the customs things that you would expect customs to be doing. They didn’t ask me if I had anything to declare about taxes, for example, or about importing things. They did it purely for political reasons and to intimidate me, denied me a lawyer. They gave me water, but refused me a bathroom, to give you an idea about what they were doing.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to your Twitter account?
JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, the U.S. government, as I learned while I was in Iceland, actually, sent what’s called an administrative subpoena, or a 2703(d) order. And this is, essentially, less than a search warrant, and it asserts that you can get just the metadata and that the third party really doesn’t have a standing to challenge it, although in our case we were very lucky, in that we got to have—Twitter actually did challenge it, which was really wonderful. And we have been fighting this in court.
And without going into too much detail about the current court proceedings, we lost a stay recently, which says that Twitter has to give the data to the government. Twitter did, as I understand it, produce that data, I was told. And that metadata actually paints—you know, metadata and aggregate is content, and it paints a picture. So that’s all the IP addresses I logged in from. It’s all of the, you know, communications that are about my communications, which is Bill’s specialty, and he can, I’m sure, talk about how dangerous that metadata is.