Friday, April 27, 2007


By William Fisher

As a new report charged that the US Department of Homeland Security is illegally delaying the citizenship applications of thousands of immigrants by profiling Muslims and subjecting them to indefinite security checks, a major Arab-American advocacy group launched a campaign to end a controversial post-9/11 program it says discriminates against Muslim visitors to the US and, in a surprise move, the Pentagon itself announced it wants to close a domestic terrorism spying venture that has drawn heated criticism from civil and humans rights advocates.

The Pentagon program, known as TALON -- Threat and Local Observation Notice -- has been attacked by civil and human rights organizations for collecting information on peaceful activists inside the United States.

According to a Pentagon spokesman, the new undersecretary of defense for intelligence, James Clapper, found “disappointing results” during a review of the TALON database.

Clapper "has assessed the results of the TALON program and does not believe they merit continuing the program as currently constituted, particularly in light of
its image in Congress and the media," Ryder said.

The Pentagon acknowledged last year that part of the information collected in the database "either should have been purged, or was data that was not appropriate for reporting in that system."

The TALON program began in 2003 to track suspects with possible links to terrorists as part of the post-9/11 "war on terror."

But information leaked to news reporters revealed that the Pentagon was collecting information on peace activists and monitoring anti-war protests across the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last year filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking to uncover the identities of peace groups being spied on by the Pentagon.

The filing was on behalf of several national groups and seven Florida-based peace activist groups, including Florida members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker religious-based peace group.

"We found there were any number of things with respect to that program where there were data that was maintained in a database where they probably should have not been maintained there," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly has not yet made a formal decision to shut down the program.

TALON has also attracted the wrath of influential members of Congress. For example, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, says, "There are ways to protect defense facilities and military personnel without this kind of overreaching." He lauded the Pentagon's will to put an end to the program.

"Talon was another costly, controversial and poorly focused venture that did not make us any safer," Leahy said.

"Without clear rules and close oversight, databases like this can easily be abused to violate the public's constitutional and privacy rights," he added.

At the same time, a new report from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at the New York University School of Law charges that the US government is illegally delaying the naturalization applications of thousands of immigrants by profiling individuals it perceives to be Muslim and documents the impact of expanded security checks on the lives of those experiencing citizenship delays, often for years.

The report -- “Americans on Hold: Profiling, Citizenship, and the War on Terror” – analyzes these delays and their impact within an international human rights framework, and offers specific policy recommendations to help end discrimination in access to citizenship and other human rights violations.

“Citizenship delays are not just bureaucratic inconveniences; they are the result of discriminatory, ineffective, and undemocratic policies that violate fundamental human rights,” said Prof. Smita Narula, CHRGJ’s Faculty Director.

In the name of fighting a ‘war on terror,’ the government is breaking up families, engendering fear and insecurity, and disenfranchising entire communities,” he says.

The report contends that since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, “US immigration policy has been heavily influenced by counter-terorism eforts. The government has folded immigration bodies into national security institutions and has institutionalized a policy of discrimination against immigrants perceived to be Muslim on the basis of their name, race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.”

It says, “Increased security checks in the citizenship application process, manifested in a substantial expansion of FBI name check procedures, have illegally delayed the processing of applications from Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian men.”

The result, the report says, is that “Thousands of immigrants have chosen the United States as their new home; they abide by U.S. laws, pay U.S. taxes, contribute to our nation’s economy, and strengthen its multi-cultural foundations. They have passed every test, and fulfilled every requirement related to the naturalization process, but continue to wait for security clearance on their application. In response to repeated inquiries to immigration authorities, applicants are simply told that their applicationis pending security clearance.

The organization quotes one applicant as saying, “They only have two words for us: ‘security check.’ That’s it.” Another is quoted as recounting, “I have been to Federal Plaza (ten times), and the supervisor there told me, ‘It could be one day or it can be 99 years.’

The report alleges that individuals experiencing citizenship delays are unable to file visa petitions for their immediate relatives, are greatly hindered in their ability to travel to see sick relatives, and often endure restrictions on their ability to work or receive life-saving benefits.

Federal law requires US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), now part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to grant or deny citizenship within 120 days of an applicant’s examination. USCIS has also set a policy goal of processing applications within six months from the time of filing.

But the CHRGJ report says that DHS data “reveals that more than two-thirds of the over 2.2 million applications filed since April 1, 2001 were not processed within 180 days; more than 776,000 applicants had been waiting for more than a year; approximately 158,000 applicants had been waiting for more than two years; while approximately 41,000 had been waiting for three years or more.”

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, prolonged name checks “significantly delay adjudication of immigration benefits for many applicants, hinder backlog reduction efforts, and rarely, if ever, achieve their intended national security objectives,” the report says.

Jayne Huckerby, CHRGJ’s Research Director, says, “Discriminatory profiling is illegal under international law and is a poor substitute for real intelligence work.
Taking years to identify individuals who are security threats does not make us safer. Ensuring timely and good faith completions of background checks will help the US advance its national security goals.”

Huckerby adds, “As a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the U.S. is obligated to ensure non-discrimination in access to citizenship as well as other human rights. A number of expert human rights bodies have affirmed that the “war on terror” cannot be invoked to deny non-citizens’ rights.”

She points out that profiling affects a number of human rights, including the right to liberty of movement, the right to profess and practice religion, and the right to non-discrimination in access to public health and social services.

“Profiled immigrants may be stopped, delayed, detained, and subjected to extended and unnerving security checks while traveling. Prior to September 11,2001 the list of individuals suspected of terrorism and banned from air travel contained only 16 names; as of October 2006, the “no-fly” list contained 44,000 names. Airport officials are reportedly required to stop anyone with a “Muslim name” and name-check that individual against the list. Airport computers throw up red flags even when names are merely similar to those found on the list,” the CHRGJ report charges.

“Muslim immigrants or those perceived to be Muslims (such as members of the Sikh community) have also altered their physical appearance for fear of being profiled. Many immigrants have curtailed the extent to which they pray or worship publicly, and some have even changed their names – the very hallmark of their religious and cultural identity. Delays also affect the ability of naturalization applicants to receive life saving benefits, and inurn their aces to healthcare and food.”

Meanwhile, other advocacy groups are demanding an end to what they describe as DHS-sponsored anti-Muslim programs. One of them is known as NSEERS -- the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.

For example, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has launched an advertising campaign called, "End the Shame of NSEERS." Its objective is “to shed light on the continuing problems faced by thousands of individuals as a result of the discriminatory and poorly constructed and implemented ‘Special Registration Program’."

ADC’s ads are appearing this month in the Arab American News, the largest and oldest Arab American newspaper in the United States, Washington Monthly Magazine, and the program of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 2007 Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Awards Dinner.

In the ads, ADC calls on President George W. Bush, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to terminate the NSEERS program and address its negative residual effects.

Launched by the Department of Justice in late 2002, and later transferred to the newly organized Department of Homeland Security, NSEERS requires male visitors to voluntarily comply with the program. But ADC says, “Failure to adequately publicize the program and to train immigration officers sufficiently led to poor implementation of NSEERS. Thousands of men who were required to register failed to do so many, no doubt, due to lack of notice, and are now vulnerable to NSEERS penalties.”

The organization charges that “Hundreds of individuals who had voluntarily appeared to register at Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices around the country were arrested and detained without reasonable justification.”

The program was initially portrayed as an anti-terrorism measure that required male visitors to the US (from 25 Arab and Muslim countries, and North Korea) to be fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned by immigration officers. At the time, INS officials acknowledged they were ill prepared to carry out this special call in registration and acknowledged numerous shortcomings. However, despite DHS’s suspension of a few requirements in 2004, there were and still are criminal and civil penalties associated with failure to comply with NSEERS, including arrest, detention, monetary fines and/or removal from the United States.

INS was renamed and became part of the Department of Homeland Security upon its founding after the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Civil liberties organizations have said that NSEERS was so poorly conceived and badly managed that it created chaos and fear. Trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement was severely strained, and in the end, there was no evidence that any terrorists were apprehended as a result of the effort.

ADC has noted that “Approximately 84,000 Arabs and Muslims registered voluntarily and subsequently about 14,000 were subjected to deportation hearings for voluntarily complying with the program. Yet, no registrants were charged with terrorism. In December 2004, the NSEERS program was modified by DHS, but many elements remain and are subject to abuse including: departure registration; registration at ports of entry; as well as the potential for the re-initiation of the call-in phase.”

The organization says, “It seems clear that NSEERS has become just another tool used in immigration enforcement and law enforcement in general, which raises serious constitutional issues as the program clearly discriminates on the basis of national origin.”

ADC adds that several members of Congress, including key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and numerous civil libertarians and immigrants rights advocates, have taken issue with the constitutional legality of NSEERS discrimination based on national origin.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


By William Fisher

A small but increasingly vocal group of protesters is charging that a United States Attorney in northern New York has pursued a series of terror-related “political prosecutions” to enhance his reputation as “a loyal Bushie” and thus avoid the fate of eight of his colleagues recently fired by Alberto Gonzales’ Department of Justice.

A spokesman for the group, Madis Senner, claims that US Attorney Glenn Suddaby prosecuted Dr. Rafil Dhafir, Yassin Muhiddin Aref and his
co-defendant, Mohammed Mosharref Hossain, and the so-called St. Patrick’s Four, to win “political trophies” in the Global War on Terror.

The group has been holding a series of “witnesses” in Syracuse, NY, and other upstate communities to register their opposition to what they label “terror trophy” prosecutions by Suddaby.

“We are hoping to get (Sen. Charles) Schumer (D-NY) and (Rep. John) Conyers (D-MI) to look beyond the firing of those that would not play ball with the Bush administration, and to focus on those such as Suddaby who were all too willing to do whatever their master asked. If we can do that, it will help free Dhafir, Aref, Hossain and a lot of other Muslim and Arab Americans that have been unjustly punished since 9/11, “ Senner told Truthout.

Suddaby has repeatedly denied that any of the prosecutions were politically motivated. He was not immediately available for comment.

The prosecution of Dr. Dhafir, an oncologist from Manlius, NY, a community near Syracuse, was arguably the most high-profile of these prosecutions. Dhafir was arrested in February 2003 in a raid that drew nationwide media coverage. Long before his trial began, he was labeled “a terrorist” by then Attorney General John Ashcroft and New York Gov. George Pataki. But reference to terrorism or to Dhafir’s Muslim faith was not permitted in court, and no terrorism charges were ever brought against him. His supporters claim he was “selectively prosecuted.”

Dhafir was convicted in February 2005 of 59 criminal counts, including money laundering, conspiracy to violate US sanctions against Iraq, misusing $2 million that donors contributed to his unlicensed charity, Help the Needy, spending $544,000 for his own purposes, defrauding Medicare out of $316,000, and evading $400,000 in federal income tax payments by writing off the illegal charity donations.

Prosecutors said Dhafir's Syracuse-based charity solicited more than $5 million over the Internet and by mail between 1995 and February 2002, claiming it would help starving Iraqi orphans and poor children. The government was able to trace only about $160,000 in Iraq.

But according to Dhafir’s attorney, Deveraux L. Cannick, “When the government failed to link him to any terrorists or terrorist groups, it charged him with fraud to save face. Other individuals and corporations that sent money to Iraq received only civil penalties, not criminal charges,” he said.

Dhafir was denied bail four times -- he was deemed a flight risk -- and held for nearly two years while awaiting trial. Cannick said Dhafir's detention hindered his defense and violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union protested Dhafir’s conviction and sentence. He is currently appealing. His supporters have set up several websites, including, and

Now 60, Dhafir is serving his 22-year prison sentence in the recently created Communications Management Unit, or CMU, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Most of the unit's initial group of inmates are Arab Muslims, including five members of the so-called Lackawanna Six, a group of Yemeni nationals who pleaded guilty in 2003 to attending an al-Qaeda training camp.

The CMU closely monitors all telephone calls and mail and limits the number of phone calls and visits. Inmate conversations must be conducted in English unless otherwise negotiated.

"The government targeted Dr. Dhafir to be a trophy in the war on terror," said protester Madis Senner.

"They called him a terrorist. They denied him bail. They made it so he couldn't even defend himself properly. This was all done on Mr. Ashcroft's watch. We want to hear his explanation," Senner said.

"We have to wonder whether the Bush administration selected, orchestrated and directed Dr. Dhafir's prosecution," Senner told the Associated Press.

Ashcroft recently spoke at Syracuse University's Goldstein Auditorium at the invitation of the school's College Republicans organization. The former US Senator was Attorney General from 2001 to 2005, orchestrated the round-ups and detention of hundreds of Muslims and South Asians following the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, and played a leading role in passage of the USA Patriot Act.

Suddaby also prosecuted a group that came to be known as the St. Patrick’s Four, because their arrest took place on St. Patrick’s Day of 2003. The four peace activists from Ithaca, New York, poured their own blood on the walls, posters, windows, and a US flag at a military recruiting center in order to try to stop the imminent invasion of Iraq.

The group admitted their actions, which claimed they were based on international law, then knelt in prayer and waited to be arrested.

Charged in state court, they convinced nine jurors that their actions were consistent with international law. Daniel Burns, 43, Clare Grady, 45, Teresa Grady 38, and Peter DeMott, 57, are all members of the Magnificat Catholic Worker community in Ithaca, NY.

They testified that they risked arrest in order to protect members of the US military and civilians in Iraq.

Following their acquittal, the local District Attorney announced he would not re-prosecute them. But the US Attorney, Glenn Suddaby, stepped into the case and pressed four federal charges arising from the same incident: Federal conspiracy "by force, intimidation, and threat" to impede an officer of the United States - a felony charge punishable by up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine – and criminal damage to property and two counts of trespass, charges punishable by up to an additional two years in prison.

A jury acquitted the four of the felony charges but convicted them of the lesser misdemeanor charges. They served prison sentences ranging from four to eight months. All have since been released.

According to Senner, the St. Patrick's Four ( “were also selectively prosecuted.” After a local jury could not convict them, “Suddaby's office brought federal conspiracy charges against them. Bill Quigley, the defense lawyer for the four, said he could find no similar case of federal conspiracy charges, going back to the Nixon era. He called it an attempt to ‘hyper-criminalize dissent’."

In nearby Albany, NY, the state’s capital, US Attorney Suddaby also led the prosecution of Yassin Muhiddin Aref, 36, of Albany, and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain, 51, both of Albany. Aref was a local part-time ambulette driver and the imam, or spiritual leader, of the Central Avenue mosque. Hossain was an Albany pizzeria owner who also owned rental properties in the community.

The men were charged with promoting terrorism and conspiring to launder money with an FBI informant who baited both men with a phony scheme to purchase a surface-to-air rocket launcher for a fictitious plot to assassinate a Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations.

They were denied bail as flight risks, despite a declaration by the judge in the case that there was "less than overwhelming evidence" against them.

The judge said that the question of whether or not entrapment comes into play in the case is a matter for a jury to decide. However, he said, the "weight of evidence" against both defendants on their willingness to "associate themselves" with the rocket purchase and terrorist plot is another story entirely.”

Hossain's attorney, Kevin Luibrand, said the government’s entire case was based on entrapment and that his client had been a hard-working American citizen for 10 years and had no criminal past over the 20 year he's spent in this country.
"Entrapment is the central issue here. ... They (FBI) didn't go to a church or synagogue, they went to Muslims," said Luibrand. "This guy is an American citizen who works like a dog and could give a damn about terrorism."

"The Albany Muslim community finds the allegations against Yasin Aref and Mohammed Hossain deeply troubling," said Faisal Ahmed, a teacher at Masjid-As-Salam. "The idea that such (men) could be deliberately involved in violent activity is unbelievable."

After a month-long trial that ended in October 2006, both were found guilty of conspiracy to engage in money laundering, money laundering, conspiracy to provide material support in connection with an attack with a weapon of mass destruction, two substantive acts of material support in connection with an attack involving a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to provide material support to a known terrorist organization, two acts of material support to a designated terrorist organization, and one count of lying to the FBI.

Each was sentenced to a to a 15-year prison term.

US Attorney Suddaby contended there was “ample justification to initiate a sting operation.” He added, “The FBI has an obligation to use all available investigative tools, including a sting operation, to remove those ready and willing to help terrorists from our streets. The jury’s verdict – representing the jury’s thoughtful consideration of testimony and evidence presented during the month-long trial – makes clear that both Aref and Hossain fall into this category.”

Suddaby denies he ever felt any pressure from the Justice Department to bring, or to decline to bring, any prosecution. But he readily acknowledges that counter-terrorism has been the number one DOJ priority.

In a recent interview, Syracuse Post-Standard reporter Hart Seely asked Suddaby how the 9/11 terrorist attacks affected the priorities and track record of his office.

Suddaby responded, “It changed everything. The FBI, the major federal investigative agency, all of a sudden, became a terrorism prevention agency... A majority of their investigative resources have been focused on terrorism, and that includes a lot of times doing 'intel.' They don't generate cases, but they're out there, pounding the pavement, trying to develop sources, talking to people, trying to get the information flow of what's going on in the community of the Northern District. If there is a threat, they want to feel confident that they're going to hear about it, that they're going to get tipped off in some way.”

But some legal authorities point out that there have been very few terrorism convictions since 9/11.

Independent activist Katherine Hughes, one of the leaders of the “Free Dhafir” movement, ( told Truthout, “When (Attorney General John) Ashcroft announced his resignation in November of 2004, he gave as evidence of success in the war on terror 211 criminal prosecutions, 478 deportations, and $124 million in frozen assets. But what he neglected to mention was that virtually none of these cases were actual terrorism convictions. Like Dhafir, other charity associates were convicted of white-collar crime and sanctions violation. Indeed, at the time of Ashcroft’s resignation there was only one bona fide terrorism conviction, that of the shoe-bomber Richard Reid.”

A former prosecutor who declined to be identified but who is familiar with the inner workings of Justice Department told Truthout, “US Attorneys are well aware of their bosses’ priorities. Since 9/11, all of them have been under pressure to bring terrorism prosecutions. In many cases, that has led them, and their superiors as well as prominent politicians, to call high-profile press conferences where they announce terrorism charges against people, but when they show up in court, there are no actual terrorism charges.”

US Attorneys “are instead prosecuting cases against people for providing material support for terrorists or terrorist organizations. There’s nothing illegal about that – it’s authorized by the Patriot Act. The question is always whether they’re stretching the evidence, or intentionally exploiting people’s fears of another 9/11, or being over-zealous to the point of committing prosecutorial misconduct. Just look at Jose Padilla – he was accused of being ‘the dirty bomber’ who was going to blow up an American city. But, after years in custody without charges, by the time he appeared in an actual courtroom, the dirty bomb charge had vanished.”

Citizen pushback against over-zealous prosecutors appears to be on the rise, and comes at a time when the controversy over the firings of US Attorneys has become a contentious political issue that threatens to trigger the early departure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The DOJ’s credibility has been further damaged by accounts of increasing departures of DOJ lawyers. The National Law Journal reported this week, “The number of attorneys defecting from the US Department of Justice to private practice is mounting as the head of the agency continues to fend off calls for his ouster over the firing of eight US Attorneys. In the last month alone, several attorneys in key posts at the DOJ have taken jobs at prominent law firms.”


Wednesday, April 18, 2007


By William Fisher

A top human rights advocate is characterizing as “a self-inflicted wound” the failure of the Bush Administration to find countries willing to grant asylum to Guantanamo prisoners it has cleared for release.

“The administration created this problem by repeatedly describing all Guantanamo detainees as ‘the worst of the worst’. “A lot of people are working very hard to find countries to take these people,” says Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA in an exclusive interview with Truthout. But, she adds, “Given the misleading rhetoric our government has used to describe these prisoners, we shouldn’t be surprised that no one wants to take them.”

Musa, who is Amnesty’s director of domestic human rights and international justice programs, told Truthout that the Bush Administration has also failed to seek help in relocation from groups such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

“In fact,” she says, “these groups have largely been shut out of any involvement in the relocation issue, despite their years of experience.”

In 2002, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to Guantanamo prisoners as "the worst of the worst." In June 2005, he said, "If you think of the people down there, these are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield. They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, (Osama bin Laden's) bodyguards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th 9/11 hijacker."

Other Bush Administration officials have been equally certain. For example, now retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "They were so vicious, if given the chance they would gnaw through the hydraulic lines of a C-17 while they were being flown to Cuba."

Nevertheless, of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the Pentagon reports that the military has now released all but approximately 385. Reliable evidence shows that, of the original number, many were not captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan, but kidnapped off the streets of Europe and various locations in the Middle East, and many others were "sold" to US authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan for bounties. It has also become clear that others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The fiercely nonpartisan National Journal magazine reported, "Notwithstanding Rumsfeld's description, the majority of (Guantanamo prisoners) were not caught by American soldiers on the battlefield. They came into American custody from third parties, mostly from Pakistan, some after targeted raids there, most after a dragnet for Arabs after 9/11."

And a February 2006 report by Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux and attorney Joshua Denbeaux found that 55 percent of the detainees were determined by the government to have committed no hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies. Their report also asserted that only 8 percent of the detainees were classified by the government as al Qaeda fighters.

Not even the CIA bought into Rumsfeld's "worst of the worst" characterization. Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency's bin Laden unit through 1999 and resigned in 2004, said, "By the fall of 2002, it was common knowledge around CIA circles that fewer than 10 percent of Guantanamo's prisoners were high-value terrorist operatives ... Most of the men were probably foot soldiers at best" who were "going to know absolutely nothing about terrorism."

The Center for Constitutional Rights, whose lawyers represent many of the Guantanamo detainees, characterizes as “myth” the notion that “The US wants to transfer detainees to the custody of other countries, but no country will take them. “ The CCR says the fact is that countries are willing to accept detainees but many are not willing to unlawfully detain them, as the US is requesting they do.”

Of the prisoners who have been released, some have been jailed by their new host countries “pending investigations”, while others have simply been freed. In all cases, US authorities have sought “diplomatic assurances” that the released prisoners will not be subjected to torture in custody. But many have been released to countries repeatedly cited by the US State Department for their long histories of prisoner abuse.

The bottom line, Musa says, is that 385 people are still in detention, many having been held for years, designated as enemy combatants, but without charges or trials. “Many of these have long been approved for release, but they are still incarcerated,” she declares.

Musa also asserts that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) “fails to provide any credible legal framework for assessing the status of these detainees, much less providing them with a fair trial.”

The Act, hurriedly passed by Congress after the Supreme Court struck down the administration’ s detention and adjudication policies because they lacked Congressional authorization, allows the use of hearsay testimony and evidence obtained through coercion and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and bars detainees from filing habeas corpus petitions to challenge their detention in federal court.

But not everyone agrees with the positions taken by Amnesty and by other human rights and legal organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. For example, James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, stated that he had heard the same kind of criticisms about U.S. policy during the Cold War.

"They were vacuous then and they are vacuous now," he told Cybercast News Service. "It is criticism without context or content. Carping from the sidelines by those who have no responsibility to do the job and have no respect for the magnitude of the challenge is not productive," Carafano added. "The challenge in any long war is to provide for security, promote economic growth, protect the liberties of your citizens, respect those of your allies, and promote human rights for all -- and win the war of ideas. Accomplishing all those tasks well is no easy challenge, but vital," he said. "US policies are trying hard to do all these equally."

The first legal action under the MCA was the “trial” of David Hicks, an Australian originally alleged to have conspired with the Taliban in Afghanistan to murder American soldiers. Hicks pled guilty to providing material support to terrorists and was given a given a seven year sentence with all but nine months suspended because of the plea agreement. His sentence will be served in an Australian prison. He also agreed to refrain from describing his detention to the media for a year.

Amnesty and many other human rights groups point out that because of his guilty plea, Hicks never had a trial.

And Amnesty’s Musa also questions the timing of the Hicks case. She told Truthout that it’s “curious” that Hicks “will be sitting in an Australian jail, barred from talking to the media, until well after the election of the next Australian prime minister.”

The case has become an election issue for Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a stalwart ally of President George W. Bush. He has been criticized for not doing more to secure Hicks’ release from Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, the MCA remains a contentious political issue in the US. A number of legislators have drafted measures to repeal the Military Commissions Act and to restore habeas corpus rights to detainees. The effort is being led by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Similar legislation has also been introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Amnesty’s Musa declined to predict the outcome of this proposed legislation. She told Truthout, “We see politicians acting like politicians, and the degree of resolve of the full Congress remains unclear.”

Musa’s comments came on the heels of Amnesty’s release of a new report on detainee conditions at Guantanamo.

The report charges that many detainees who remain at Guantánamo Bay are “held in cruel conditions of isolation.”

“Most detainees have suffered harsh treatment throughout their detention, confined to mesh cages or maximum security cells. Moreover, a new facility that opened in December 2006, known as Camp 6, has created even harsher and apparently more permanent conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation,” the report alleges.

Guantánamo Bay, it says, “is the festering symbol of the Bush administration’s continued contempt for international law and disregard for human rights - further diminishing our country’s moral standing," says Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director.

"The administration continues to think that it can justify ongoing human rights violations in the name of national security. Perhaps President Bush needs to think again, because the voices calling for the closure of this disgrace to American values are only getting louder," Cox adds.

According to the Amnesty report, “Detainees are reportedly confined for 22 hours a day to individual, enclosed, steel cells where they are almost completely cut off from human contact. The cells have no windows to the outside or access to natural light or fresh air. No activities are provided, and detainees are subjected to 24-hour lighting and constant observation by guards through the narrow windows in the cell doors. They exercise alone in a high-walled yard where little sunlight filters through; detainees are often only offered exercise at night and may not see daylight for days at a time.

US authorities have described Camp 6 as a "state of the art modern facility" that is safer for guards and "more comfortable" for the detainees, Amnesty says. But the advocacy group believes that the conditions, as shown in photographs and described by detainees and their attorneys, “contravene international standards for humane treatment. In some respects, they appear more severe than the most restrictive levels of ‘super-maximum’ custody on the US mainland, which have been criticized by international bodies as incompatible with human rights treaties and standards.”

Amnesty’s report says, “It appears that around 80 percent of the approximately 385 men currently held at Guantánamo are in isolation - a reversal of earlier moves to ease conditions and allow more socializing among detainees.”

According to the Pentagon, 165 detainees had been transferred to Camp 6 from other facilities on the base by mid-January 2007. A further 100 detainees are held in solitary confinement in Camp 5, another maximum security facility, the report asserts.

“As many as 20 detainees are also believed to be held in solitary confinement in Camp Echo, a facility set apart from others on the base, where conditions have been described by the International Committee of the Red Cross as "extremely harsh."

The report concludes, “While the United States has an obligation to protect its citizens and those living within its borders from attacks by armed groups, that does not relieve the United States from its responsibilities to comply with human rights and the rule of law. By rounding up men from all over the world and transporting them to an isolated penal colony, holding them without charge or trial, the United States has violated several US and international laws and treaties.”

Statements by the Bush administration that these men are "enemy combatants," "terrorists" or "very bad people" do not justify the complete lack of due process rights,” Amnesty says.

Says Jumana Musa, "It seems that detainees are being placed in extreme lockdown conditions not because of their individual behavior, but because of harsher camp operating procedures. Even men who have been cleared for release are being held in isolation."

Amnesty is urging the Bush administration to close the facility and either charge and try detainees under international fair trial norms or else release them. “US authorities must take immediate steps to ensure that no detainee is subjected to prolonged isolation in conditions of reduced sensory stimulation and allow detainees more association and activities as well as regular contact with their families with opportunities for phone calls and visits,” the organization declares.

It is also calling for independent health care professionals and human rights experts to be able to examine and visit detainees in private.

"Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is the latest US official, including President Bush, to say that Guantánamo should be closed. There's no reason to dawdle ... there's no reason to delay ... but there are many reasons to end one of the worst blemishes on the United States' human rights record," says Amnesty’s Larry Cox.

Asked by Truthout if closing Guantanamo might lead to its current detainees being transferred to ‘secret prisons’, Amnesty’s Musa says, “It’s hard to ‘disappear’ people whose names we already know. Now that the existence of the CIA’s ‘black sites’ has been acknowledged by President Bush, it is unlikely that any Guantanamo prisoner could be spirited away without public scrutiny.”

Thursday, April 12, 2007


By William Fisher

As the numbers of Iraqi refugees continue to grow exponentially, the American president who earned a reputation as a bumbler who couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time is increasingly being hailed as the hero who dealt effectively with a similar crisis forty years ago.

The president was Gerald R. Ford, and the similar crisis was in Vietnam. On the evening of April 10, 1975, President Ford appealed to a joint session of Congress to act to ensure the safety of “tens of thousands of South Vietnamese employees of the United States Government, of news agencies, of contractors and businesses for many years, whose lives, with their dependents, are in very grave peril. There are tens of thousands of other South Vietnamese intellectuals, professors, teachers, editors, and opinion leaders who have supported the South Vietnamese cause and the alliance with the United States to whom we have a profound moral obligation.”

Only a month later, Congress passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. As a result, more than 131,000 Vietnamese refugees were rescued from the chaos of South Vietnam, and brought to the security of the US.

Today, the refugee crises are largely in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Thus far, more than two million Iraqi refugees have fled from persecution and sectarian violence. They have mostly traveled to Jordan and Syria. In addition, at least 1.8 million are displaced within Iraq.

According to Human Rights First, tens of thousands of these refugees have been targeted because of their work for the US government, non-governmental organizations or the media. Iraqis who have served as translators for the US forces, for example, have frequently been attacked and threatened.

Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch and author of an extensive report on the situation, says, "As it turns out, many of the people who are fleeing are fleeing because of their associations with the United States."

The chances are President Ford would not have been proud of the US response to the current refugee crisis. At a January 2007 oversight hearing on “The Plight of Iraqi Refugees,” Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) expressed concern that the US admitted only 202 Iraqi refugees to the country during fiscal 2006 and that a special immigrant visa program for Iraqi and Afghan translators already had a six-year wait list. Since April 2003, the Bush Administration has admitted exactly 692 Iraqi refugees, and the number of those in need is growing by an estimated 50,000 a month.

In February 2007, under considerable pressure from congress and the media, the State Department announced that the US would admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees in through its resettlement program; create special programs to assist Iraqis who are at risk because of their employment or close association with the United States government; and contribute $18 million to the work of the UN High Commission for Refugees. But at the same time, the Bush Administration admitted that it probably would not be able to move more than two or three thousand Iraqis by the end of September, a period of eight months.

What accounts for this admittedly constipated performance? In 1975, President Ford confronted a public weary of an unpopular, unsuccessful war, but got Congress to deliver anyway. Today, President Bush faces similar sentiments regarding the five-year-plus US intervention in Iraq.

The difference, according to national security, human rights and governmental sources, is 9/11. Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, Americans have lived in an environment of fear. At the top of their fear list are Middle Eastern immigrants, who are seen as potential terrorists.

As a consequence of 9/11, the DHS established rigorous criteria for granting asylum to those from all other countries – and these criteria apply to people who have become refugees because of the American invasion of their country. The DHS, however, lacked and still lacks the resources to carry out its mandated security checks on would-be asylum-seekers. Each Iraqi must be interviewed individually, including translators, truck drivers and others who have worked for the US military, which presumably carried out its own security checks before they were hired.

Because of security concerns, they cannot be interviewed at the American Embassy in Baghdad. If they have fled to Jordan, Syria, or other countries in the region, they must be interviewed there. This means dispatching DHS or State Department screeners overseas, where few wish to go. And before interviews can take place, applicants must be referred to American authorities by the UN. That process calls for resources the UN doesn’t have, and predictably involves a mountain of bureaucratic paperwork.

For example, last year Congress passed legislation to offer special immigrant status to persons serving as translators with the US Armed Forces. Under this statute, a limited number of translators and their immediate family may immigrate to the United States in each fiscal year.

But applicants are required to jump through multiple bureaucratic hoops to qualify. They must be able to prove they have worked directly with the US Armed Forces as a translator for a period of at least 12 months; obtain a favorable written recommendation from a General or Flag Officer in the chain of command of the US Armed Forces unit that was supported by the translator; cleared a background check and screening as determined by a General or Flag Officer; is otherwise eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is otherwise admissible to the US for permanent residence.

Spouses and children of the translator may be able to follow or join after the translator has adjusted status or been issued an immigrant visa.

The bill specifies that the US Armed Forces unit is the “advocate” on behalf the translator and his/her immediate family. The translator must file the petition and related documents directly with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

There are clearly problems with this legislation. For one thing, for people who have fled their country in fear of their lives frequently have no access to the extensive documentation required by this law. Nor, if they have already left Iraq for another country, do they have access to the Generals or Flag Officers of the units they worked for.

But the most consequential provision of the legislation is its limited scope. The total number of Iraqi and Afghani translators who may be provided special immigrant translator status during each fiscal year cannot exceed 50. The Department of Homeland Security’s Nebraska Service Center is mandated to track this numerical cap. As of January, this cap was exceeded by more than 6,000 applicants.

This situation has produced major heartburn for Ellen R. Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, who has been grilled by both House and Senate oversight committees. Many of the members of these bodies strongly opposed her nomination to her current post based on lack of experience.

Ms. Sauerbrey was a recess appointment in January 2006. She is a two-time failed gubernatorial candidate in Maryland and previously served as US envoy on women's issues to the United Nations, where she opposed ratification of the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Sauerbrey has also worked as a Republican National Committeewoman, and is former Minority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. She was a Republican member of the House of Delegates from 1978 to 1994 and was candidate for governor in 1994 and 1998.

A former public school teacher, Sauerbrey has no prior experience dealing with refugee populations. She also has no experience dealing with human disasters.

Given that a large percentage of refugees tend to be women and children, Sauerbrey's stance on reproductive rights is relevant. According to Planned Parenthood, she is anti-abortion and believes that it is not a legitimate element of reproductive health assistance. She also approves withholding funding to the United Nations Population Fund and has denied that adolescents have any right to exercise autonomous control over their reproductive health.

With Democrats now in control of both the House and the Senate, Sauerbrey and the Bush Administration’s policies on Iraqi and Afghan refugees find themselves subjected to robust oversight for the first time. But even if Congress is able to bring about positive policy changes, and adopt regulations to streamline refugee processing, it remains unclear whether the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have the resources and the professional know-how to implement the changes efficiently.

Friday, April 06, 2007


By William Fisher

While headlines in the mainstream media front-page such controversies as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Syria and lawmakers’ standoff with the White House on timelines for American withdrawal from Iraq, the more mundane – but arguably no less important – work of the Congress goes on. Much of it continues under the radar, receiving little or no attention in the press. Some of it is actually bipartisan!

One example is an obscure measure known as H. Res. 100. What is House Resolution 100?

It is an effort by a large bipartisan group of representatives to try to end a deadly phenomenon known as “femicide” in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central and South America.

Introduced by Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) and 84 co-sponsors, and unanimously approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the resolution urges the US Government to bring pressure on Guatemala to address the unsolved murders of more than 2,000 women and girls since 2001.

Rep. Solis says, “Very few of these crimes have been investigated and even fewer perpetrators have been brought to justice for their crimes. Families of victims deserve honest answers and investigations into the murders of their wives, mothers and daughters murders, instead of being ignored and intimidated.
H.Res. 100 will raise awareness of the growing murder rate of women and girls in Guatemala, and increase the international pressure that is needed to stop the violence against women in that country.”

It is not known whether President Bush raised the issue with Guatemalan leaders during his recent trip to Latin America.

Efforts to raise awareness of femicide have been spearheaded by numerous immigration and human rights organizations. Chief among them is the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, University of California, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, working in partnership with Guatemalan groups.

Asked by Truthout why the US Government should take in interest in this issue, the Center’s Advocacy Coordinator and Communications Director, Felecia Bartow, noted that, in addition to human rights concerns, “The U.S. has provided millions of dollars in aid for Rule of Law programs in Guatemala – and yet the murders and impunity persist. In 2006, the Guatemalan government created the National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF) to improve criminal investigations and to prosecute those who commit crimes, including the murders of women. To date, the Guatemalan Congress has not provided INACIF with a budget and has not appointed any personnel – despite the fact that the State Department allocated $250,000 to INACIF in its FY2007 budget, and they have asked for another $250,000 that would come out of the FY2008 budget.

She added that the US Government has thus “not done enough” to address the issue of femicide. “The State Department needs to make it clear to the Guatemalan government that this situation cannot persist. There has been concern expressed about violence against women in Guatemala generally, but there have not been steps taken to hold the Guatemalan government accountable for the state of impunity that exists for those who murder women,” she told Truthout.

Femicide is also a problem elsewhere in Latin America. Last year, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala sent a delegation of activists to the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington to focus attention on the murders of innocent women.

The delegation asserted that, “In addition to the deaths in Guatemala, incomplete murder rates presented to the Commission cite 373 known murders of women in Bolivia from 2003 to 2004, and 143 in Peru during 2003. In Colombia, a woman is reportedly killed every six days by her partner or ex-partner. Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City, Mexico, two cities where the femicide trend was first widely noticed, have suffered the murder of more than 500 women from multiple causes since 1993, according to press and other sources. Dozens more remain missing. Globally, the problem is no less severe. In many parts of South Asia and the Middle East, for example, so-called ‘honor killings’ usually go unpunished.”

In a joint letter to prospective supporters of the Solis resolution, Karen Musalo, Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and Barb Gottlieb, Director of Outreach & Membership for the Women's Edge Coalition, said, “As of August 2006, 2,300 Guatemalan women had been murdered since the beginning of 2000, and only 17 cases had been resolved, including both convictions and exonerations. In fact, so few convictions have been handed down that there is almost complete impunity for those who murder women in Guatemala. Investigators mishandle crime scenes and officials blame the victims themselves, often deciding that their murders are not worth investigating because they are deemed to be ‘nobodies’."

The organizations said, “During Guatemala's decades of internal armed conflict, state-sponsored violence was widespread, and rape was commonly used as a weapon of war against women. Numerous investigations have concluded that the vast majority of these human rights violations were conducted by members of the Guatemalan Army or intelligence services. Today, a decade after the conflict's resolution, many of those responsible have escaped prosecution and now work with the police or private security forces. Perhaps it is no wonder that violence against women continues unabated, and that the perpetrators are virtually never brought to justice.”

The original cosponsors of the House Resolution include Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), the Chair of the full House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, and Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Rep. Burton introduced a similar resolution in the 109th Congress last year, but it did not come to a vote before the end of the year.

Consideration of the Solis resolution by the full House is expected in the coming months. A similar resolution is expected to be introduced in the Senate.

The Solis resolution is endorsed by numerous human rights and legal organizations, including Amnesty International, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Human Rights First, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

The Hastings Center’s Karen Musalo told Truthout, “The brutal murders of thousands of women with total impunity has gone on for all too long, and we are grateful that the House of Representatives has now gone on record calling for the Guatemalan government to bring an end to this disgraceful impunity.”

The plight of women in Latin America and elsewhere is exacerbated by the absence of US immigration regulations that would grant asylum to victims of domestic violence.

In a highly publicized case, a Guatemalan refugee named Rodi Alvarado became the poster child for this immigration dilemma. Mrs. Alvarado’s husband, a former soldier in the Guatemalan military, brutally beat her over a period of 10 years while the Guatemalan police and courts ignored her repeated attempts to get help. When she ran away, her husband found her and beat her unconscious. Finally, in 1995, she fled to the U.S. in search of safety.

An immigration judge granted her asylum, but that decision was reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Two successive Attorneys General – Janet Reno and John Ashcroft – have personally intervened, but her case has yet to be decided.

Ashcroft said a decision should await new regulations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which supervises most immigration matters. But DHS and the Department of Justice have been unable to agree on a position.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Alvarado remains in legal limbo. She continues to work as a housekeeper at a convent in San Francisco. The DHS says it will not press for her deportation regardless of how much longer it may take the agency to finalize the new regulations. But while she can remain in the US, she cannot be reunited with her children, who remain in Guatemala.

The government started working on such regulations many years ago, long before the DHS was created. Under US law, asylum applicants have to show they can't go home because they face persecution because of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In a regulation proposed during the Clinton Administration by Attorney General Janet Reno, battered women would have been considered members of a social group.

But with the change in administrations and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the proposal languished. Opponents have said new asylum rules would lead to a surge in claims, an assertion disputed by advocates.

According to Human Rights First, an advocacy group that has worked on this issue for several years, "DHS recognized, in Rodi Alvarado’s case, that women who have suffered these kinds of abuses are entitled to this country’s protection, if they can satisfy certain criteria.”

HRF adds, "Three years later, however, the Department of Justice and DHS have still not issued regulations consistent with the DHS position. Not only is this failure disturbing because of its impact on Ms. Alvarado and other women, but it is particularly inexplicable given the extensive bipartisan support, which includes support from conservative advocacy and religious groups."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


By William Fisher

The human rights community responded angrily today to the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the cases of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until they have exhausted all other legal avenues.

The effect of the high court’s decision is to deny civil judicial review to the 300-plus prisoners still held at the controversial U.S. military base until their cases have gone through the process set up by the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which allows limited civil court appeals of decisions reached by military review panels.

Reaction from human rights and legal advocacy groups was quick and scathing.

Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights – the group that filed the petition on behalf of three Guantanamo detainees – said, "The Supreme Court has once more delayed the resolution of the fate of these detainees - three quarters of whom the military admits it will never charge - who have languished without any meaningful way to challenge their detention for more than five years."

He added, "The processes the government put in place are a sham -- they allow the use of evidence obtained through torture and no real review of the facts. DTA review is not an adequate substitute for the right of habeas corpus. We hope our clients survive until they finally get their day in court."

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents many of the detainees at Guantánamo and coordinates the work of nearly 500 pro bono attorneys.

Gabor Rona, International Legal Director of Human Rights First, told IPS, “After having endured up to five years of waiting in vain for justice, Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have never been charged with any hostile act against Americans but all of whom have endured severe and abusive conditions and treatment in violation of international law, are now told to take their claims back to the very same lower courts that have denied their right to even file a judicial challenge to their detention. With justice repeatedly delayed and thus denied, it is all the more important that Congress step in with a fix that restores America's commitment to its traditional values of a fair hearing for all whose freedom is denied. Not only for the sake of the detainees, but more importantly in the fight against terrorism, in order to heal our self-inflicted wounds.”

His view was echoed by other legal scholars and advocacy groups. Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA told IPS, “The so-called ‘war on terror’ has become a war on human rights. And Monday's Supreme Court decision is another disturbing consequence of the Military Commissions Act, which turned bad administration policy into bad law. Amnesty International urges Congress to take immediate action to restore habeas corpus rights to all detainees in U.S. custody.”

The two justices who issued the statement, Kennedy and Stevens, wrote that they wanted to see the process put in place by the DTA played out to determine if it is an adequate substitute for habeas corpus before they rule. The DTA allows detainees to challenge in the Court of Appeals the decisions of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT's) determining they are so-called "enemy combatants."

CCR attorneys called the CSRT's “a sham process where the government controls what evidence and witnesses are permitted, evidence obtained by torture is permissible, and the detainees have no lawyer representing them and no guarantee of due process. The DTA review in the Court of Appeals only allows review of whether the government adhered to its own rules, and contains no provision for considering additional facts not allowed to be considered in the CSRT process. The scope of whom the president can label an "enemy combatant" is ever-shifting and virtually without limit.”

CCR lawyers pointed out that “Some detainees were sent through the CSRT process as many as three times until they were found guilty-the process is designed to get the government the results it wants.”

Monday’s denial was not a ruling on the merits of the cases brought, but on the question of whether the Court should take up the cases at this moment. Justices Stevens and Kennedy issued the following warning:

"If petitioners later seek to establish that the Government has unreasonably delayed proceedings under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005…or some other and ongoing injury, alternative means exist for us to consider our jurisdiction over the allegations made by petitioners before the Court of Appeals."

Justice Breyer wrote in his dissent, "It is unreasonable to suggest that the D.C. Circuit in future proceedings under the DTA will provide review that affords petitioners the rights that the Circuit has already concluded they do not have."

The Supreme Court has twice affirmed the detainees' right to habeas corpus review, first in a landmark case known as Rasul v. Bush in 2004, and later in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006.

In Rasul v. Bush, the high court held in June 2004, that foreign nationals imprisoned without charge at the Guantanamo Bay interrogation camps were entitled to bring legal action challenging their captivity in U.S. federal civilian courts. A five-justice majority ruled that the military commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order on Nov. 13, 2001, were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.

The court thus rejected a signature Bush anti-terrorism measure and the broad assertion of executive power upon which the president had based it.

In its Hamdan decision, the court ruled that no military commission can try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the former aide to Osama bin Laden whose case was before the justices, or anyone else, unless the president does one of two things he has resisted doing for more than four years: operate the commissions by the rules of regular military courts-martial, or ask Congress for specific permission to proceed differently.

President Bush responded by pressing congress to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006. Like its predecessors, the MCA denies detainees any right to habeas corpus suits.

The MCA is itself the subject both of pending litigation and also of action in congress to repeal sections of it. The Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Pat Leahy of Vermont and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have introduced legislation to repeal the MCA.

The Detainee Treatment Act contains the so-called “McCain Amendment”, named for its chief proponent, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who is one of the leading contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination. The McCain Amendment cites the U.S. Army's Field Manual on interrogation as the authoritative guide to interrogation techniques. But in December 2006, the New York Times reported that the Army Field Manual had been rewritten by the Pentagon. Previously, the manual's interrogation techniques section could be read freely on the Internet. But the new edition's includes 10 classified pages in the interrogation technique section.

The McCain Amendment's anti-torture provisions were modified by the Graham-Levin Amendment, which was also attached to the $453-billion 2006 Defense Budget Bill. The Graham-Levin Amendment permits the Department of Defense to consider evidence obtained through torture of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and expands the prohibition of habeas corpus for redetainees, which subsequently leaves detainees no legal recourse if they're tortured. It is named for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Sen. Carl Levin of Illinois.

Critics contend that these two actions deflate the McCain Amendment from having any real power in stopping torture by the U.S. Government, and claim that these were the true reasons President Bush "conceded" to McCain's demands.

Amnesty International claims that the amendment's loopholes actually signal that torture is now official U.S. policy.

The Detainee Treatment Act was further complicated by a “signing statement” issued by President George W. Bush after he approved the bill. A signing statement is an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

After signing the DTA into law, Bush wrote:

"The executive branch shall construe (the section of the Act), relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President… of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

The Boston Globe quoted an anonymous senior administration official saying, "Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, (but) he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case. We are not expecting that those two responsibilities will come into conflict, but it's possible that they will."

Critics of the president have charged that Bush’s numerous signing statements have the effect of allowing the president to decide which parts of what laws he intends to comply with.

Monday, April 02, 2007


By William Fisher

Leading voices in the Conservative movement are demanding that the Democrat-controlled congress restore checks and balances within the government and rein in the power President George W. Bush.

But their point of view is consistently being drowned out by the ‘Anne Coulter wing’ of the Republican Party, fed by the “ignorance of members of Congress about the principles of a Constitutional democracy.”

This is the view expressed in an exclusive interview with Truthout by Bruce Fein, who served as Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, and is a founder of a conservative movement known as the Liberty Coalition. The Coalition has launched a new initiative, known as the American Freedom Agenda. The AFA’s-point action program calls on Congress to:

• End the use of military commissions to prosecute crimes.
• Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture.
• Prohibit the detention of American citizens as enemy combatants without proof.
• Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien combatants.
• End National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping.
• Challenge presidential signing statements.
• Bar executive use of the state secret privilege to deny justice.
• Prohibit the President from collaborating with foreign governments to kidnap,
detain of torture persons abroad.
• Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national
security matters without threat of persecution.
• Prohibit of the labeling of groups or individuals in the U.S. as global
terrorists based on secret evidence.

The AFA plans to draft legislation to achieve these goals and to lobby Congress to put the proposed measures on the House and Senate calendars.

The Coalition has also rebuffed the recent testimony of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller regarding the illegal use of National Security Letters (NSL's). Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller acknowledged that FBI personnel had violated laws and regulations and that the Bureau had failed to create effective internal oversight controls.

Truthout asked about the enthusiastic applause that followed the intemperate remarks of right-wing author Anne Coulter at the recent annual meeting of CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Washington, D.C. Coulter implied that Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards was a homosexual.

Fein told Truthout, “Imbeciles like Anne Coulter play to the basest instincts of the Conservative movement to give the President a blank check to grab whatever power he wishes.”

He said the CPAC audience was composed largely of younger conservatives. Without excusing her rhetoric, Fein said that Coulter was “simply giving them a pep talk.”

He expressed disappointment with the lack of any real pushback against Presidential power by congressional Democrats. “The Democrats in Congress have done absolutely nothing to tell the president he is not a king and we do not live in a monarchy. They are allowing him to trash the Constitution because most of them know nothing about the Constitution and are concerned only with making headlines about minor issues and getting themselves reelected.”

Fein acknowledged that things were probably worse when Congress was under Republican control, “but only marginally.”

“Neither party has shown the courage to assert the power of Congress as a co-equal branch of government. Congress should be telling the president it’s not OK to detain people without trials, to grab people off the streets and ‘render’ them to other countries to be tortured, to listen in to our telephone conversations, and to issue signing statements that nullify laws he doesn’t like.”

He added, “We elect members of Congress to lead, not to follow. If they are going to lead, they need to understand the Constitution and the vision of its framers, and then have the backbone to insist that the executive branch stop usurping the responsibilities assigned to the legislative and judicial branches of our government.”

Fein’s associates in the coalition include some of the best-known and most respected names in the American Conservative movement. They include former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, political marketing guru Richard Viguery, and David Keene, who has since 1984 been the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative lobbying organization.

Some, most notably Bob Barr, led a conservative drive last year to repeal sections of the USA Patriot Act and revise others in order to preserve civil liberties.

The Liberty Coalition includes such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, American Families United, Americans for Tax Reform, Amnesty International, the Arab American Institute, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee,

Common Cause, Concerned Foreign Service Officers, the Drug Policy Alliance,
the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Government Accountability Project,, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, People for the American Way, the Veterans Affairs Whistleblowers Coalition, and many others.

AFA plans to call on White House hopefuls to sign a Presidential pledge committing themselves to implement the AFA’s ten-point plan if elected. Thus far,
Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, is the only candidate to sign the pledge.

Fein told Truthout he doubted Sen. Hillary Clinton would sign the pledge. “Like her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Clinton believes in a strong executive branch of government,” Fein said.

He noted that he and his colleagues are criticized by Conservatives almost as much as by Liberals. “Too many people who call themselves Conservatives have lost their way. Those who support George W. Bush’s interpretation of executive power are not democrats, they are monarchists. And liberals don’t seem to understand that people with views like ours can be conservatives,” he said.

“We have many policy disagreements with liberals and progressives, as well as within the Conservative movement. But we should have no disagreement about what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” He added, “We welcome the participation and support of liberals and progressives who share that vision.”

Asked by Truthout about the current debate over so-called “activist judges,” Fein said that judicial independence was an underlying tenet of a functioning democracy. However, he added, “The solutions to most of our current problems lie not with the Courts, but with Congress. It is the responsibility of Congress to address the basic questions of executive authority and separation of powers.”

“Most people in Congress know nothing about the Constitution, have never read a Federalist paper, and are mostly concerned with currying favor with the White House and getting reelected,” he charged.

But the American voters who send representatives to Washington also bear a significant share of the responsibility for electing followers rather than leaders. “We get the government we deserve,” he said. “Our educational system has failed to teach our young people about our principles and what we stand for as a nation. Those young people grow up and vote and some of them run for public office and get elected, and they still know nothing about the principles on which government is supposed to be based.”

On the FBI National Security Letters controversy, Liberty Coalition national director Michael Ostrolenk said, "The FBI has clearly abused its power and violated the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of Americans. These actions must not be tolerated in a free society. While enhanced public scrutiny and Congressional oversight are a good first step, they are not enough to protect our Nation's liberty from abusive, unchecked power. Congress must act to stop the issuance of National Security Letters!"

National Security Letters are a controversial part of the USA Patriot Act. Civil
liberties advocates have long argued that these secret, coercive demands for
privacy records violate fundamental privacy rights. They allow the FBI to
require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus,
insurance companies and other businesses to produce highly personal records
about their customers without any evidence the person whose records are demanded has done anything wrong and without any judicial or independent check to protect individual rights. NSL recipients are placed under gag order and have no recourse to object to the FBI demands under sharp penalty of law.

A recent audit by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice found that FBI agents demanded individuals’ personal data without proper authorization and improperly obtained telephone records under the guise of "emergency" in non-emergency circumstances.

The IG’s report also found that the FBI significantly underreported to Congress for three years how it forced businesses to turn over customer data. The Justice Department also misled the American people and Congress about the explosion in the use of these intrusive demands, at one point denying investigative reporting that over 30,000 requests had been made in a single year—this report documented that, in fact, over 50,000 had been made in a year for a total of almost 150,000 in a three year period.

In his testimony, Director Mueller suggested a potential openness to using
Administrative Subpoenas in place of NSLs. Administrative Subpoenas are similar to NSLs, but have a very limited element of judicial oversight obtained after records have been obtained. Civil liberties advocates argue that the demands are also unconstitutional and are not an acceptable compromise.

"The choice between National Security Letters and Administrative Subpoenas is a false choice," Ostrlolenk said. "The Fourth Amendment demands a full and
vigorous review of Executive power by the Judiciary. Both National Security
Letters and Administrative Subpoenas are unconstitutional."

But Bruce Fein acknowledged that, with a timid and tiny Democratic majority in the House and Senate, and Republicans fearful of alienating even a greatly weakened lame-duck president, his group faces a daunting uphill battle to see its agenda enacted into law.