Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Fall and Rise of a Lovely Day

By William Fisher

So there I was, sitting in my living room, laptop perched on knees, I-Pod across the room belting out tunes from my collection of jazz, blues and gospel. It was September 28, 2010, the sun was trying to peek out, and I was looking forward to a lovely day.

And just to seal that deal, my I-Pod was playing an old favorite of mine:

America, America, God Shed His Grace on Thee,
And Crowned Thy Good With Brotherhood
From Sea to Shining Sea…

…wailed Ray Charles.

For the first time in a long time, I actually heard the words: And crowned thy good with brotherhood…
Must have been a portent because my next mouse click brought up a story by IPS, the news service I work for. The headline read Iran's "Blogfather" Gets 20-Year Prison Sentence.” The story ran:

SAN FRANCISCO, California, Sep 28, 2010 (IPS) - A week after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told heads of state gathered for the U.N. General Assembly in New York that his government does not jail its citizens for expressing their opinions, Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced Hossein Derakhshan, an internationally known Iranian-Canadian blogger, to 19 and a half years in prison.


For a lovely day, that’s a killer. What to do? I assess my situation:

Here I am, blessed with that rare breed of editor, who figures I know better than she knows what’s going down in my particular area of interest today. So she rarely assigns me anything to write; apparently used to living on the edge, each day she lets me write what I want to write. Then she edits it to keep me from looking like a fool.

Most of what I write is critical of the President, his Cabinet, or other government officials. The policy doesn’t make sense. Or the policy’s OK, but some particular agency doesn’t have the resources to execute the policy. A member of the Administration is behaving in a way that discredits his team. Members of Congress who’d rather retain campaign talking points by letting critical issues fester rather than by fixing them. A judicial decision I may find particularly shameful because it ruins someone’s career based on the decision of a judge who thinks furthering his ideological agenda is more precious than using the rule of law to further the Republic. The litany is endless. And angry-making.

Yet, I like to think my comments are constructively critical. “What’s gone wrong, why, and does anyone know how to make it better?” are the questions I ask myself as I sit down to write.

But today was to be different. I am not generally a flag-waving hand-on-heart type of guy; my patriotism is quieter, just about silent and always most undemonstrative. Maybe it was my mother, who admonished me: No Public Displays of Affection. Or it’s a British thing I learned during 20 summers in London; the Brits are understated in this way (and just about every other way) except when they find themselves at a football match.

But my hesitancy came before I read the words of Mr. Ahmadinejad, tried to digest his world-class hypocrisy and tried to comprehend how the impact of any blog could be so cataclysmic as to justify taking away 20 years of a young man’s life.

And that’s when the light went on. Sure, the NSA could be monitoring my blog but they can’t just throw me in jail and forget the key. And we do –- collectively. Those who really believe in our Constitution regularly go to court to demonstrate that our Bill of Rights may be suffering from some acute maladies, but reports of its demise are vastly exaggerated.

It is ironic, but the people who insisted that the Constitution contain a Bill of Rights were not afraid of journalists (or Tea Parties) ranting about Big Government encroaching on their freedoms. They were afraid of Big Government grabbing more and more power so as to seriously erode those freedoms.

And it still is. Not much has changed. But one of the things that has are the objectives of the anti-government protesters. These days its examples of “Government Grabbing Too Much Power” are such initiatives as health care, financial re-regulation, and gun control. Half of our country thinks these are the crowning achievements of our First Black President; the other half thinks such accrual of power is putting our country on the slippery slope to Socialism.

But whichever half they inhabit, the rule of law seems to be so deeply embedded in our political DNA that, no matter how bad things get, lawyers will always make a living.

Some of my Republican friends are deeply troubled about the lawyers. They would dearly like to enact legislation resulting in what they call “tort reform ” – which one way or another would limit who lawyers can sue and how much money they can collect if they win.

I think that’s a terrible idea, because the number of court cases lawyers bring each year has become for me something like a barometer of political strength. Yes, there are far too many ridiculous - - frivolous, they’re called -- lawsuits filed. Yes, there is prosecutorial misconduct we’ll probably never hear about. Yes, there is a deeply unjust set of sentencing rules that puts a hugely disproportionate number of African-Americans behind bars. And, yes, there are rallies in many streets by faux Colonials, whose participants are inspired by the know-nothings of the world, the Glenn Becks and the Sarah Palins – and nourished by the big money of giant corporations, the newest ventriloquists for “small business.”

What? You’d prefer riots in the streets? I don’t think so. Or agents of the “security services” swooping down on you and your wife and kids as they sleep and carting your whole family off to neverland, which means you will never be heard from again.

We’ve already seen – and we keep seeing – evidence that such outrages are in fact happening now, that they began to happen with some regularity after 9/11. That they are not happening on a far more toxic scale is attributable to one of the great and unique attributes of the United States of America.
The rule of law.

It is that glorious attribute that most conspicuously distinguishes America from Iran – and from all those countries to which we sell arms but who care not a jot about the people of their own country.

Try working this into a riff about Mr. Ahmadinejad :

Iran, Iran, God Shed His Grace on Thee,
And Crowned Thy Good With Brotherhood
From Sea to Shining Sea…

Is This How We Say Thank You?

By William Fisher

Election-year interparty political wrangling is threatening to again sabotage congressional efforts to provide medical help for tens of thousands of firefighters and other first responders whose health was damaged by the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

As of June 2010, 836 of those who worked at Ground Zero have died and an estimated 70 per cent of the more than 70,000 first responders have declared illnesses they say are related to the dust and other toxins present at the World Trade Center site during and after the attacks.

This week, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are poised to introduce virtually identical versions of the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act” that would provide long-term and health care and monitoring for people whose health has been compromised.

But in both Houses, Republicans are threatening to filibuster the measure because they say it adds billions of dollars to the federal deficit without any attempt at cost-cutting elsewhere. The GOP successfully blocked the measure last year on the same grounds, charging that it would create a new entitlement program and waste taxpayer dollars. Republicans also objected to the inclusion of undocumented workers who helped respond to the disaster and clean up 9/11 sites.

In addition, in the Senate, Democrats have included the legislation in a bill containing an amendment that would end the "don't ask, don't tell” policy regarding homosexuals in the military. Another amendment would give children of illegal immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship if they serve in the armed services or attend college. Republicans in Congress are overwhelmingly opposed to both these policy choices.

But some Democratic sources say that if the Senate can muster the three-fifths vote –60 senators – to break the filibuster, a majority would vote for the bill.

The legislation has drawn strong support from a wide range of individual and organizations, including human rights advocates.
Sharon Singh, Media Relations Director for Amnesty International USA, told IPS, "Amnesty International urges Congress to pass H.R. 847 as it would be a strong step to fulfilling the right of victims of crimes to reparations. This includes medical care and compensation.”

“The U.S. government needs to remember the people who put their lives in jeopardy and are involved in rescue, recovery and clean up endeavors. Nine years later, it is time to move beyond the rhetoric of being in 'solidarity' with victims and act. The U.S. government needs to actually pass the laws and adequately fund the programs that victims need," she said.

Detective James Zadroga, for whom the bill is named, was identified in 2006 as the first rescuer to die from inhaling dust at ground zero. However, the city’s medical examiner concluded that his death was not directly related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Nevertheless, his name remains on the legislation.

One of the most vocal among groups supporting the legislation is an organization known as “9/11 Health Now.” In a statement, the group said,
“ On September 11, 2001, tens of thousands of Americans converged on New York City’s World Trade Center site in the most impassioned rescue and recovery effort in the history of the country.”

“Unbeknownst to these American patriots, the conditions at Ground Zero --in spite of Federal and State warnings to the contrary -- were exceedingly toxic: hundreds of contaminants, including asbestos, lead, mercury and benzene--to name a few—were present in unprecedentedly high levels, both within the billowing dust cloud that settled over Lower Manhattan and the surrounding areas, and in the emissions from the Pile that smoldered for months afterward during the nine-month recovery and cleanup operation,” the group declared.

It characterized as “mind-boggling” what it called “the lack of protection offered to First Responders, volunteers and recovery personnel at the site: the majority were issued a paper dust mask, or -- more commonly -- no protection at all.”

At the time, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced that at Ground Zero “the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink."

Now, the group says, “more than nine years after the disaster, huge numbers of first responders, plus their fellow exposed New Yorkers are grievously ill. Afflictions range from chronic bronchial disease to asbestosis, leukemia and cancers, plus a host of other diseases including systemic organ failure.”

It adds that “The combined poisons of the dust and emissions are now widely considered to be one of the most toxic combinations in the history of US disaster relief, affecting not only First Responders, but hundreds of thousands of residents, workers and students of Lower Manhattan and the surrounding areas who returned to homes, jobsites and schools which--shockingly--received little or no government-mandated cleanup.”

The World Trade Center Health Registry estimates that 410,000 people have been ‘heavily exposed’ to WTC toxins (includes Responders), and may become seriously ill in the future.”

The legislation is supported by members of the New York and New Jersey Congressional delegations, including some Republicans, and by the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

The legislation would ensure:

That every 9/11 responder exposed to the toxins of Ground Zero and related
sites has a right to be medically monitored.

That every 9/11 responder who is sick as a result of exposure has a right to

That care is expanded to the exposed community, including residents, area
workers, students, and the thousands of people who came from across the country in response to the 9/11 attacks.

That the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund would be reopened to provide
compensation for economic loss and damages.

The legislation would continue funding and support of the ‘Centers of Excellence’ in New York and New Jersey (the New York City Fire Department, and a number of major hospitals and universities), which currently provide monitoring, support and care to First Responders.

It would also establish a Research and Support program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the diagnosis and treatment of WTC-related conditions and diseases.

Has J. Edgar Hoover Come Back to Haunt Us?

By William Fisher

The FBI’s recent raids on the homes and offices of Minneapolis and Chicago activists are being viewed by civil libertarians as further proof that the U.S. is morphing into a “surveillance state” where the right to privacy and other Constitutional protections are being quietly whittled away.

Last Friday morning agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the Minneapolis homes of five antiwar activists, the office of a Minneapolis antiwar organization, and the Chicago homes of the head of an Arab-American organization and a prominent peace activist.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported that the raids were part of a probe of "activities concerning the material support of terrorism." No one was arrested in any of the raids.

FBI spokesman Steve Warfield told the newspaper that the searches were conducted at about 7 a.m. Lawyers said the agents seized computers, cell phones and documents in the protesters' homes.

The outrage of the civil liberties community was summed up by Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Pitts told IPS, “The continued shocking harassment of peaceful anti-war, environmental, and other activists and dissidents under the Obama administration in this and other recent cases -- such as those highlighted in the DoJ Inspector General’s recent report -- is inexcusable and must stop.”

He said these actions “illegally deter future as well as current dissent, impoverish the marketplace of ideas, discourage rather than support the informed exercise by citizens of their duties, and make bad governance and decision-making more rather than less likely.”

He added: “This once again highlights the urgency for folks of all parties, ages, and viewpoints to join the civil liberties community in efforts to resist the growing surveillance state and restore the usual constitutional requirements for individualized suspicion that has been watered down by the Patriot Act and similar laws enacted in the post-9/11 climate of politically manipulated fear.”

Protest leaders are quoted by the Minneapolis newspaper as saying the raids “surprised them.” One of the targets, Mick Kelly, whose home was searched, played a central role in the 2008 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Asked by the Star Tribune if he was involved in illegal activities, he replied, "Absolutely not.''

The newspaper said Ted Dooley, Kelly's attorney, called the raids "a probe into the political beliefs of American citizens and any organization anywhere that opposes the American imperial design." He said the warrants cited a federal law making it a violation to provide or conspire to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.

The warrants were said to have focused on terrorist groups in the Palestinian territories and Colombia.

Subpoenas were issued to the activists to appear before a federal grand jury next month in Chicago. Raids also were conducted on two homes in Chicago, and grand jury subpoenas were issued in Michigan and North Carolina.

Attorney Bruce Nestor, who frequently represents the activists, told the Star Tribune that the FBI seemed to focus on allegations of support for foreign organizations designated as terrorist by executive order of the president.

"There is no process whereby you can contest the designation," he said. "Ever since these laws were passed in 1996, there is a concern that they reach so broadly as to certainly chill or intimidate people in speaking out on foreign policy or support for groups that oppose U.S. foreign policy."

Following the raids, anti-war and similar organizations began to strategize their response. Last Friday night, the Star Tribune reported that more than 100 people gathered at Walker Community United Methodist Church in Minneapolis to sign statements of solidarity with those whose homes were raided and to make plans for further protests.

"We refuse to let the accusations of a notoriously untruthful, repressive government divide us in any way," read the statement in the Star Tribune. "Our struggle will continue."

Word of the raids also sent a ripple throughout Chicago activist circles. The Chicago Tribune reported that one group of anti-war activists in Chicago called an "emergency meeting" on Chicago's South Side on Sunday to plan demonstrations and rallies for Monday and Tuesday.

"These raids are an attack on the entire anti-war movement," said Maureen Murphy, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Group in Chicago. "Everyone in peace and social justice is deeply concerned."

The anti-war activists targeted by FBI agents with search warrants Friday said they did nothing wrong, voicing resolve at a West Side rally today to continue opposing U.S. policy in the Middle East and South America.

Meanwhile, in a separate development , the New York Times reported this morning that the Obama administration is drawing up legislation to make it easier for US intelligence services to eavesdrop on the Internet, including email exchanges and social networks.

The White House intends to submit a bill before Congress next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order, including being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages, the Times reported.

The services would include encrypted email transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking websites like Facebook and peer-to-peer messaging software like Skype.

Washington Cowpuncher

By William Fisher

Thousands of firefighters and other first responders are still waiting for the government to help treat the illnesses they contracted while working in the toxic dust of Ground Zero.

But they are not alone. Others believe that they too have paid a price for their treatment in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And they are seeking redress through the courts.

Among them are hundreds of people who believe they were falsely detained and imprisoned by the Department of Justice in the wake of the attacks. The exact number of 9/11 detainees is unclear, as no lists were released publicly. According to a report released by the Office of the Inspector General in 2002, 475 9/11 detainees were arrested and detained in New York and New Jersey. Hundreds more were arrested across the country.

Some of these men are plaintiffs in a federal class action lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top officials in the administration of former President George W. Bush who were responsible for their illegal roundup, abuse and detention.

The suit charges that the detainees were kept in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day; placed under a communications blackout so that they could not seek the assistance of their attorneys, families and friends; subjected to physical and verbal abuse; forced to endure inhumane conditions of confinement; and obstructed in their efforts to practice their

Some of the abuse included beatings, repeated strip searches and sleep deprivation. The allegations of inhumane and degrading treatment have been substantiated by two reports of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and several defendants in the case have been convicted on federal charges of cover-ups and beatings of other prisoners around the same time period.

On September 13, six new plaintiffs joined the lawsuit, which is still a proposed class action; there has not yet been a ruling on class certification.

These plaintiffs include two Pakistani men, Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi and Anser Mehmood; two men from Egypt, Ahmed Khalifa and Saeed Hammouda; Benamar Benatta; an Algerian man who has sought and received refugee status in Canada; and Purna Raj Bajracharya, a Nepalese Buddhist whose prolonged detention after 9/11 prompted outrage not only by civil libertarians, but even by the FBI agent who originally investigated him.

Bajracharya was videotaping the sights of New York City for his family back in Nepal when he inadvertently included an FBI office. He was taken into custody, where officials found he had overstayed his tourist visa, a violation punishable by deportation. Instead, Bajracharya wound up in solitary confinement in a federal detention center for three months, weeping constantly, in a 6-by-9 cell where the lights were never turned off. Bajracharya, who speaks little English, might have been in there much longer if James Wynne, the FBI agent who investigated him, had not summoned Legal Aid.

Despite the fact that the government never charged any of them with a terrorism-related offense, immigration authorities kept the men in detention for up to eight months, long past the resolution of their immigration cases, according to attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the class action on behalf of the plaintiffs.

They say “the government treated these men as terrorists during that time, placing them in ultra-restrictive, super-maximum security confinement and abusing them. The treatment was based not on any actual evidence tying the men to terrorism, but merely because of their race, religion, and national origin.”

“I was deprived of my liberty and I was abused at the hands of the U.S. government simply because of my religion and ethnicity. Now, nine years later, I seek to vindicate my rights and hold the people who mistreated me accountable,” said Benamar Benatta. “My hope is that this never happens to
anyone again.”

Benatta succeeded in having a criminal charge for possession of false immigration documents thrown out of court when the federal judge in his case ruled that his immigration detention was a “subterfuge” and “sham” created to hide the reality that, because Benatta was an “Algerian citizen and a member of the Algerian Air Force, [he] was spirited off to the MDC (Metropolitan Detention Center) in Brooklyn…and held in the [Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit] as ‘high security’ for the purposes of providing an expeditious means of having [him] interrogated by
special agents of the FBI.”

“After 9/11 hundreds of men were swept up and detained in deplorable conditions based only on their religion and ethnicity. Nine years later, my clients are still determined to hold the masterminds of these sweeps accountable, and we will continue this fight until former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and his cronies, are forced to answer for their policy of profiling and abuse,” CCR Attorney Rachel Meeropol told IPS.

She added, “No matter what exalted position they hold, cannot get away with ordering abuse and racial profiling. This battle is far from over.”

The suit names as defendants then-Attorney General John Ashcroft; Robert Mueller, current Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); former immigration Commissioner James Ziglar; and officials at the MDC, where the plaintiffs were held.

It includes additional detail regarding high-level involvement in racial profiling and abuse, including allegations that former Attorney General Ashcroft ordered immigration authorities and the FBI to investigate individuals for ties to terrorism by, among other means, looking for Muslim-sounding names in the phonebook.

In the resulting dragnet, hundreds of men were arrested, many based solely on their physical appearance – “Middle Eastern-looking men.” Many other arrests were based on anonymous tips called in to the FBI. The complaint also discloses, in some cases for the first time, the “discriminatory and nonsensical tips” that led to each plaintiff’s arrest and detention, the CCR says.

Lead plaintiff Ibrahim Turkmen, for example, was arrested after his landlady called the FBI to report that she rented an apartment to several Middle Eastern men, and “she would feel awful if her tenants were involved in terrorism and she didn’t call.”

Among other documented abuses in detention, many of the 9/11 detainees had their faces smashed into a wall where guards had pinned a t-shirt with a picture of an American flag and the words, “These colors don’t run.” The men were slammed against the t-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told “welcome to America.”

The t-shirt was smeared with blood, yet it stayed up on the wall at MDC for months.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sikhs Need Not Apply

By William Fisher

A North Carolina man is joining a growing group of Sikhs who are looking to U.S. courts to remedy the “ignorance and intolerance” faced by practitioners of the religion, “especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which unleashed a torrent of discrimination.”

Latest to file a legal complaint is Surjit Singh Saund, who charges that M.M. Fowler, Inc., which owns and operates the Family Fare Convenience Store chain, denied him employment because he is a Sikh and wears a turban and beard, as required by the Sikh religion. If proven, this would be a violation of federal and state civil rights laws.

The federal lawsuit was filed last week by the public service law firm Public Justice and several private law firms.

Saund, a U.S. citizen who has worked in other convenience stores for nearly eight years, applied for a store operator position with Fowler in early 2008.

He was qualified for the position, but the company refused to hire him because of its alleged grooming policy. The company told Saund it would hire him, but only if he first removed his turban, cut his hair, and shaved his beard.

The lawsuit alleges that Fowler violated civil rights laws when it refused to make accommodations to its alleged grooming policy to allow him to work for the company with a turban and beard.

“I came from India to find a better life for me and my family in America, and I was looking for a better job,” said Saund. “M. M. Fowler wanted me to choose between a job and my religion. What they did was not right, and is not allowed in America.”

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. A monotheistic faith with origins in South Asia, it teaches honesty, compassion, humility, universal equality, and respect for all religions. Sikhs maintain uncut hair throughout their lives, and the turban as a head covering is a mandated article of their religious faith.

Approximately 500,000 Sikhs live in the United States. About 1,000 Sikhs live in North Carolina.

Victoria Ni, a Public Justice Senior Attorney representing Saund, told IPS, “Nothing about Mr. Saund’s turban and beard would interfere with his ability to run the cash register and manage a convenience store.”

“M. M. Fowler had a duty to try to accommodate Mr. Saund’s religious beliefs. It didn’t even try,” she added.

Fowler has approximately 70 convenience stores, located throughout North Carolina, which offer gasoline at self-service fuel dispensers.

Kavneet Singh, a board member and Managing Director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation’s oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy group, said, "Every day, Sikh Americans face employment discrimination, hate crimes, school bullying, and harassment due to misconceptions about the Sikh identity.”

“Religious intolerance is un-American, and even at a time of economic crisis, we must make sure to not lose sight of the ideals that our country was founded on," he said.

Although Sikhism is often confused with Islam, Sikhism and Islam are entirely unrelated religions.

In accordance with Sikhism, Saund, 59, has not cut his hair since birth, and has covered his hair since he was a young boy. Although he earned a college degree in chemistry in his native India, Saund could not find white-collar work after he relocated to the U.S. Since 2002, he has worked in convenience stores in New York and North Carolina.

Saund is permitted to wear an under-turban, called a patka, at his current job. A patka is a Sikh head covering which is worn by many Sikh children in preference to its bigger brother, the turban.

Saund now joins other Sikhs who are seeking relief through the U.S. justice system. For example, in December 2009, a federal lawsuit was brought by Inderjit Singh, an Indianapolis man who was denied a job as an airport shuttle bus driver because he wears a turban and beard.

In 2007, Singh, a U.S. citizen, applied for the job with Air Serv as at the Indianapolis International Airport. He passed a drug test and background check, but the company refused to hire him. At that time, the position paid $9.90 an hour.

"An investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already determined that there is a reason to believe that Air Serv violated the law," according to lawyer Ni, who added, "The company should make this right."

Public Justice's lawsuit is still pending.

Following the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General John Ashcroft, conducted widespread sweeps of major U.S. cities, arresting people thought to be Muslims and others whose appearance led law enforcement authorities to conclude they were “Middle Eastern” types.

This racial profiling led to hundreds of people being arrested and detained in federal prison facilities, without access to family members or legal counsel for long periods of time. Many were physically abused by prison guards.

While some of the detainees were deported for immigration violations, a civil abuse, none was ever charged with a criminal act.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights reported a sevenfold increase in hate crimes against Sikhs, Muslims and Arabs in 2001.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FBI Caught Fibbing!

By William Fisher

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) improperly spied on American activists involved in First Amendment-protected activities and mischaracterized nonviolent civil disobedience as terrorism, which placed innocent activists on terrorist watch lists, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charged today in response to a new report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine undertook his investigation after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the ACLU uncovered evidence that “the FBI was chilling political association and improperly investigating peaceful advocacy groups,” the civil rights group said in a statement.

The Inspector General (IG) found the improper investigations were often opened based on “factually weak” or even “speculative” justifications, and were sometimes extended in duration without sufficient basis.

The IG said that the low standard for opening investigations under the 2002 Attorney General Guidelines, which required only the “possibility” of a federal crime, contributed to the problem.

“The FBI also made false and misleading statements to Congress and the American public to mute criticism over its unlawful spying activities, including a false claim that improper surveillance of a 2002 anti-war protest in Pittsburgh was related to a separate, validly approved FBI investigation,” the report alleges, adding that this incorrect information was repeated by FBI Director Robert Mueller before Congress and in communications between the Bureau and Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who is chairman of the committee..

Michael German, ACLU Senior Policy Counsel and former FBI agent, told IPS, “Basically what the IG report shows is that the FBI spied on a lot of political activists for no good reason. This wasn't just a waste of time and resources that could have been better spent looking at real criminals and terrorists, it had real consequences for the victims, getting them placed in terrorism databases and watchlists that led to more spying and travel delays. And unfortunately in many of the cases, the IG said the FBI's rules allowed this inappropriate spying.

He explained further: “A 2002 revision of the Attorney General guidelines originally written after the COINTELPRO abuses in the 1970s said agents can investigate people based on the mere possibility that crime might occur. There's always the possibility that crime might occur, so none of us can feel safe. People used to say 'if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about,' but this report makes clear that the FBI investigated completely innocent people and put them on terrorist watchlists for years. And despite this abuse, in 2008 the AG guidelines were weakened even more.”

And the Washington Post quoted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights group that was among those monitored.

"The use of McCarthyite tactics against PETA and other groups that speak out against cruelty to animals and exploitative corporate and government practices is un-American, unconstitutional, and against the interests of a healthy democracy.''

But despite the public outcry over the 2006 disclosure that federal agents had investigated dozens of domestic political advocacy groups, the FBI was motivated by concerns that members of the groups might commit crimes and was not spying on them because of their political views, the IG’s report said.

However, the report is sharply critical of the FBI for characterizing certain nonviolent crimes related to protest activities as terrorism. And it attacked the bureau for making a series of “false and misleading statements to the public and to Congress” about its surveillance of an antiwar protest on Nov. 29, 2002.

The FBI was quick to revert to defensive mode. An FBI spokesman, Michael Kortan, said that the report’s most important finding was that after “an exhaustive
review of hundreds of investigative decisions the FBI made after the Sept. 11 attacks,” the IG’s office “did not uncover even a single instance where the FBI targeted any group based on the exercise of a First Amendment right.”

Kortan also said that the report did not suggest “any significant modifications” of the bureau’s investigative powers.

The report involved investigations of antiwar, environmentalist and animal rights groups from the 2001 terrorist attacks through much of the administration
of President George W. Bush.

In its extensive coverage of this report, New York Times writer Charlie Savage led with the report’s First Amendment conclusion. However, it went on to detail actions and activities that the IG found suspect.

For example, in the case of the 2002 Pittsburgh protest, The Times reports that an FBI agent who attended the event filed a two-page account labeled “results of investigation of Pittsburgh antiwar activity.”

It detailed leafleting by people associated with the Thomas Merton Center, The Times wrote, which the agent described as a “left-wing organization” that advocated pacifism, to protest the coming Iraq war.

The account described the leaflets as making such claims as that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and raised questions about whether the center was linked to Muslims.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center began in 1972 to protest the continuation of the war in Vietnam. The Center raised funds for medical aid to Indochina and provided information for schools and religious education programs on racism, poverty, and war.

The Times notes that, after the ACLU made the report public, the bureau’s press office told reporters that the agent attended the protest “as a direct result of information provided to the F.B.I. related to an ongoing investigation.”

Later, the FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III, told Congress that the agent was trying to “identify an individual who happened to be, we believed, in attendance at that rally.”

But the inspector general found this story to be false: a supervisor had sent the agent to the protest as a “make-work” assignment to see if any subjects of Pittsburgh terrorism investigations “happened to show up without having any reason to think any of them would be there.”

The Times reports that the agent later told the inspector general’s office that he had gone overboard in carrying out that task because he was a recent hire, and he described the report as “atrocious” and a “horrible mistake,” saying he could “understand why people would become inflamed about it.”

In 2006, officials in the Pittsburgh office apparently came up with the story that the agent had attended the protest in search of a specific individual as part of a terrorism investigation — a false “after-the-fact justification” that
made its way into the press statement and briefing materials for Director Mueller.

The report also criticized several episodes in which it characterized FBI agents as opening or continuing investigations despite scant evidence of a federal crime, and it criticized classifying some nonviolent protest-related actions, like trespassing on a military base, as “terrorism” matters. As a result, it said, some people are being inappropriately put or kept on terrorism watch lists.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Contractors, Contractors Everywhere!

By William Fisher

Three years after private security guards from Blackwater, a private security contractor working for the U.S. Department of State, killed 17 unarmed civilians in Baghdad, a leading human rights advocacy group is charging that not nearly enough has been done to improve oversight and accountability of private contractors abroad.

Its findings and recommendations come in a new report, “State of Affairs: Three Years After Nisoor Square,” issued by Human Rights First. The author of the report, attorney Melina Milazzo, told IPS that “the U.S. government has not done nearly enough to protect innocent civilians from trigger-happy contractors.” She added that it was urgent for Congress and President Obama to take action before the planned increase in the number of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nisoor Square is the major intersection in Baghdad where the killings took place in September 2007. Twenty other unarmed civilians were wounded. The security contractor involved, Blackwater Worldwide -- which later changed its name to Xe Services -- subsequently was expelled from the country by the Iraqi government and banned from working there in the future.

As the U.S. continues its drawdown of troops in Iraq, the Department of State plans to more than double the number of private security contractors it employs from 2,700 to 7,000. An additional 50,000 contractors – primarily working for the Department of Defense (DOD) – will be required to support the Afghan war.

The HRF report acknowledges that the Nisoor Square incident triggered some positive reforms in U.S. law and policy. For example, Congress has mandated greater agency oversight and coordination over private security and other contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Agencies have also, among other things, defined their responsibility for contractor oversight, increased their coordination over contractors, and established common principles governing contractor conduct.

But despite that progress, “serious deficiencies” in U.S. agencies’ reporting, investigation, prosecution and oversight of serious contractor incidents persist. Agencies still do not accurately track the number of contractors and subcontractors fielded abroad. Private contractors already far outnumber U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report charges.

“Many oversight and accountability gaps persist three years after Nisoor Square, putting civilians at risk and undermining U.S. national security,” said HRF’s Milazzo.

“Congress and the administration must work together to put solutions in place before additional contractors are deployed,” she urged.

Among the report’s 19 recommendations:

Congress should enact the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) of 2010 (H.R. 4567, S. 2979) to expand criminal jurisdiction over and increase investigative resources for serious crimes committed by U.S. contractors.

Agencies should require oversight bodies to track all serious incidents reported, investigate and remediate when necessary, and maintain all supporting documentation relating to such actions taken.

The Department of Justice should commit additional resources to investigate and prosecute contractor crime and formally announce that prosecution of contractor crime abroad is a Justice Department national priority.

Publication of the HRF report comes barely a week after the NATO command issued new guidelines for awarding billions of dollars worth of international contracts in Afghanistan. A memorandum from U.S. Afghanistan commander David H. Petraeus said that without proper oversight, taxpayer funds earmarked for contractors could end up in the hands of insurgents and criminals.

He added that if “we spend large quantities of international contracting funds quickly and with insufficient oversight, it is likely that some of those funds will unintentionally fuel corruption, finance insurgent organizations, strengthen criminal patronage networks and undermine our efforts in Afghanistan."

With proper oversight, “contracting can spur economic development and support the Afghan government and NATO's campaign objectives," Gen. Petraeus wrote in the
Memorandum, which was obtained by the Associated Press.

Afghan and foreign private contractors provide a wide range of services to U.S. and NATO forces – everything from food preparation and service to helping to build large capital projects to providing security escorts to traveling government officials and VIP civilians.

No official figures are available from the U.S. government regarding the exact amount of money paid to contractors. But generally accepted guessestimates put the figure at about $14 billion a year.

Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, has been outspokenly critical of individual contractors and of the international contracting process in general. He has charged that much of the money earmarked for important projects is siphoned off by high-priced contractors, subcontractors and brokers. The result, he has said, is that the Afghan people are being denied the benefits of these projects.

As noted by The New York Times, Afghans also complain that too many contracts are awarded to the same contractors.

This issue was also addressed in Gen. Petraeus’s memorandum. "Contracts with a broader range of Afghan companies will help break monopolies and weaken patronage networks that breed resentment" among the Afghan people, he wrote.

He said, "In situations where there is no alternative to powerbrokers with links to criminal networks, it may be preferable to forgo the project."

The new guidance said that contracts should go to Afghans first and if the military cannot contract with an Afghan company, the company that is awarded the contract should be encouraged to hire Afghan workers and subcontractors.

Blackwater (Xe) recently agreed pay the U.S. Government $42 million for violations that include illegal weapons export to Afghanistan and making unauthorized proposals to train troops in southern Sudan, The New York Times has reported

The company reportedly struck a deal with the U.S. state department to pay the fine in order to avoid criminal charges. This will also allow it to continue to obtain government contracts, including work in Afghanistan.

Xe Services still faces other legal troubles, including the indictment of five former executives on weapons and obstruction charges.

Two former guards have also been charged with murdering two Afghan civilians.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Xe's most recent government contract tasked the group with protecting CIA bases in Afghanistan. The report was confirmed by CIA Director Leon Panetta during a TV interview, the newspaper wrote.

Blackwater (Xe) has become a kind of poster-child for suspect business practices in wartime. During Congressional hearings last year, it was revealed that the company’s chairman, Erik Prince, has long had close financial and ideological ties to the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

One More Shot at Justice

By William Fisher

In a move legal experts are calling unusual, the one-vote court majority that tossed out the lawsuit brought by five men who claim they were tortured under the “extraordinary rendition” program of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency departed from customary practice in suggesting several other ways the victims might obtain justice.

This departure from the judicial norm is being seen by some as an indication of the extent to which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals “was
anguished by the treatment alleged by the plaintiffs,” according to Mike Doyle, legal reporter for McClatchy Newspapers.

Writing in his blog, “Suits and Sentences,” Doyle adds, “Another remarkable aspect of this split decision was the decision by the five dissenters to publish a 58-page appendix, spelling out the publicly available

The suit has gone through several years of litigation before various federal courts. Following yesterday’s narrow dismissal, the case is now headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. It has been more than 50 years since the Supreme Court issued a major ruling on the state secrets privilege.

The case accused Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc. of participating in the Bush administration's “extraordinary rendition program.” Under this program, terrorism suspects are kidnapped from a location, turned over to intelligence services in another country, where they are imprisoned, abused and tortured.

The suit charged that Jeppesen “knowingly participated in these renditions by providing critical flight planning and logistical support services to aircraft and crews used by the CIA to forcibly disappear these five men to torture, detention and interrogation.”

According to published reports cited by the ACLU, “Jeppesen had actual knowledge of the consequences of its activities. A former Jeppesen employee informed The New Yorker magazine that, at an internal corporate meeting, a senior Jeppesen official stated, ‘We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights - you know, the torture flights. Let's face it, some of these flights end up that way’."

The Bush administration intervened in the case, asserting the "state secrets" privilege in an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out and preventing the evidence – including evidence already in the public domain – from ever heard in court.

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government must invoke the state secrets privilege with respect to specific pieces of evidence – not over an entire lawsuit. The Obama administration, following exactly the same legal reasoning as its predecessor, appealed that ruling, and in December the appeal was heard by an en banc panel of all 11 Ninth Circuit judges. The result was yesterday’s decision.

According to the ACLU, that ruling “all but shuts the door on accountability for the illegal program.” The ACLU intends to seek Supreme Court review of the decision.

The majority decision, written by Judge Raymond Fisher, states, “This case requires us to address the difficult balance the state secrets doctrine strikes between fundamental principles of our liberty, including justice, transparency, accountability and national security. Although as judges we strive to honor all of these principles, there are times when exceptional circumstances create an irreconcilable conflict between them.”

However, Judge Fisher continued, “That the judicial branch may have deferred to the executive branch’s claim of privilege in the interest of national security does not preclude the government from honoring the fundamental principles of justice."

The opinion cited reparations made to Japanese-Americans interred during World War II as an example. It also suggested that Congress should investigate the torture allegations, reminded the plaintiffs that Congress has the power to pass private bills aiding individuals, and noted that Congress could also enact remedial legislation.

Ben Wizner, a senior ACLU lawyer who argued the case before the appeals court, said the group was disappointed in the ruling. “The world is watching closely to see whether torture victims will have any possibility of redress in U.S. courts. If the answer is no – if this decision is allowed to stand – then foreign judges and prosecutors will almost certainly reinvigorate their own criminal investigations into illegal U.S. practices,” he told IPS.

He added, “To this date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in court,” he said. “That makes this a sad day not only for the torture survivors who are seeking justice in this case, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our nation’s reputation in the world. If this decision stands, the United States will have closed its courts to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers.”

Once little-used, the state secrets doctrine became a favorite tactic of the Bush Administration to keep its national security cases out of court and away from judicial review. In 2007, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a similar rendition and torture ruling by the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia.

According to The New York Times, “The decision bolstered an array of ways in which the Obama administration has pressed forward with broad counter-terrorism policies after taking over from the Bush team, a degree of continuity that has departed from the expectations fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of President Bush’s approach.”

It added, “The Obama team has also placed a United States citizen on a targeted-killings list without a trial, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas-corpus lawsuits challenging their indefinite imprisonment, and continued the C.I.A. rendition program . . . .”

When he was a U.S. Senator from Illinois, and later as a candidate for president, Obama was sharply critical of the Bush administration’s use of the state-secrets privilege. His administration began channeling Bush Administration policies during its first few weeks.

Many view the current actions of the Obama Administration as part of its assertion of increased authority by the Executive Branch of Government.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


By William Fisher

Two of the nation’s most influential human rights organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the government's authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) charge that the authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow.

The organizations claim that, “outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military ‘kill lists’ through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats.”

The CCR and the ACLU were retained by Nasser Al-Aulaqi to bring the lawsuit in connection with the government's decision to authorize the targeted killing of his son, U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi, whom the CIA and Defense Department have marked for death. The complaint asks a court to rule that using lethal force far from any battlefield and without judicial process is illegal in all but the narrowest circumstances and to prohibit the government from carrying out targeted killings except in compliance with these standards. It also asks the court to order the government to disclose the standards it uses to place U.S. citizens on government kill lists.

al-Awlaki, 39, was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is an Islamic lecturer who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen. He is a spiritual leader and former imam who has purportedly inspired Islamic terrorists. His sermons are said to have been attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers.

Today’s lawsuit was filed against the CIA, Defense Department and the president in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to today’s legal complaint, the government has not disclosed the
standards it uses for authorizing the premeditated and deliberate killing of
U.S. citizens located far from any battlefield. The groups argue that the
American people are entitled to know the standards being used for these life and death decisions.

“The United States cannot simply execute people, including its own citizens,
anywhere in the world based on its own say-so,” said Vince Warren, Executive Director of CCR. “The law prohibits the government from killing without trial or conviction other than in the face of an imminent threat that leaves no time for deliberation or due process. That the government adds people to kill lists after a bureaucratic process and leaves them on the lists for months at a time flies in the face of the Constitution and international law.”

The groups charge that targeting individuals for execution who are suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged – without oversight, judicial process or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists – also poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people. In recent years, the U.S. government has detained many men as terrorists, only for courts or the government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or unreliable.

But a top Obama counterterrorism official is defending the government's right to target U.S. citizens perceived as terror threats for capture or killing, citing al-Awlaki as an example.

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, does not say whether al-Awlaki is on a U.S. targeting list, but a senior U.S. counterterrorism official has previously confirmed that the cleric is among terror targets sought to be captured or killed.

What does the law say about targeting and killing people?

Much of the discussion thus far has been about the Constitutionality of such killings. But, counter-intuitively, the Constitution is not the primary engine. It is largely the laws of war that are in play here.

Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First (HRF) explains to IPS, “Whether the target is a citizen isn't so important, because he's targetable if he's an enemy belligerent or civilian who's directly participating in hostilities against the United States.”

She adds, “The problem with the government's drone program is that it hasn't provided the public with enough information to determine whether the government is complying with those legal requirements. The fact that someone is suspected of having ties to al Qaeda or even supporting al Qaeda does not make them a member of a foreign force fighting the United States, or someone directly participating in hostilities against the United States.”

“Until the U.S. starts providing information about not only who they're targeting but what evidence exists that this person is a legitimate target, then we can't know if what they're doing is legal,” she says.

Scott Horton, a constitutional lawyer and contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, tells IPS, “There are two ways the government can justify the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen: one is when the person is in the act of a crime that threatens the lives of others, or serious injury to them, and no other means exists to stop him; the other is in the context of a war.”

“The Obama Administration appears to think that the second case is applicable with respect to Al-Awlaki, but if they have evidence to prove it, they certainly haven't advanced it to the public,” he says.

But even if they have such evidence, he adds, “they haven't explained why they don't simply have him arrested and brought back to stand charges based on the crimes they believe he has committed, which appear to include terrorist activities and perhaps treason. They obviously need to explain why that approach won't work before they go dropping bombs in circumstances that might kill large numbers of innocent civilians in addition to killing Al-Awlaki, “Horton tells IPS.

Col. Morris Davis, the Defense Department's former chief prosecutor for terrorism cases who argued on behalf of a terrorism suspect that the military justice system has been corrupted by politics and inappropriate influence from senior Pentagon officials, tells IPS:

“The 5th Amendment says U.S. citizens can’t be ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’ If the Constitution prohibits the government from taking your house without giving you a hearing and the opportunity to defend yourself it seems rather ironic that they might take your life with even less formality and less process.”

Glenn Greenwald, constitutional lawyer and contributor to, is similarly troubled by the targeting policy. He concludes: “We really are talking about a President who believes he has the right to send the CIA to murder American citizens based purely on allegations and suspicions of wrongdoing.”


By William Fisher

In what promises to be a contentious, high-profile series of debates, the forces of environmental protection will be lining up against those of the electric power industry over the future status of coal ash.

Environmentalists are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today to regulate toxic ash from coal-fired power plants as a hazardous waste. Industry spokespeople are claiming that Federal enforcement of coal-ash disposal rules would mean classifying the waste as hazardous, adding, costs and making it harder to recycle some of the waste to help hold down disposal costs.

Erich Pica of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth told an EPA panel that the December 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant was a graphic reminder that there are no federally enforceable standards for coal ash. The spill involved 5.4 million cubic yards of the substance.

"It's time the EPA begin to regulate coal ash as a toxic pollutant," Pica said at a public hearing.

The EPA is considering adopting the first-ever federal standards for the disposal of coal ash. Opponents of that position are pushing for coal ash to be regulated as a nonhazardous material with enforcement remaining in the hands of individual states. Environmental groups say the states have failed to protect the public and that the EPA should set a national standard and enforce it.

Yesterday’s hearing, held in Alexandria, Virginia, on the proposed federal rules is the first of seven that will be held across the country over the next month.

Scott Schlesinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, one of yesterday’s witnesses, wrote in his blog:

“What happens to the toxics that utilities remove from their stacks that used to pollute our skies? They now pollute our waters. During the past 30 years, the pollutants that used to go up the stack are now collected in ash. Administrations have been prodded by NRDC lawsuits to regulate these toxic wastes and have found excuses not to do so.”

He added, “Now, with new technology that better predicts the high levels of these toxics reaching groundwater, EPA has come forward with a plan to regulate coal ash and its metal components of arsenic, mercury, lead, antimony, and other toxic metals.”

A study released last week reveals that 39 sites in 21 states where coal-fired power plants dump their coal ash are contaminating water with toxic metals such as arsenic and other pollutants. The study reports that the problem is more extensive than previously estimated. The report shows that, even contained, stored ash can have led to water contamination and negative health impacts.

The electric power industry is lobbying to keep regulation up to individual

But Jeff Stant of the Environmental Integrity Project, director of the study, contends, "This is a huge and very real public health issue for Americans. Coal ash is putting drinking water around these sites at risk."

Most states don't require monitoring of drinking water near the waste sites. The study found five sites where monitoring figures were available, and all of them had some contamination. In four, tests showed problems at one or more drinking-water wells. In Joliet, Ill., where the information was too limited for analysis, at least 18 nearby wells were closed because of boron contamination, the report said.

The U.S. burns more than 1 billion tons of coal a year to generate about half of the nation's electricity. It ends up with at least 125 million tons of coal
waste, including ash and the sludge left from scrubbers that remove air

The report from the environmental groups said that more than a third of the
reused coal ash is for structural fill or to fill up empty mines. The report
said those uses could result in water contamination.

The report, by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, documents 39 additional coal-ash dump sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.

Experts from those groups found that, at every one of the coal-ash dump sites equipped with groundwater monitoring wells, concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic or lead exceeded federal health-based standards for drinking water, with concentrations at the Hatfield’s Ferry site in Pennsylvania reaching as high as 341 times the federal standard for arsenic.

This new report comes after a February 2010 report by Environmental Integrity and Earthjustice that documented water contamination from 31 coal-ash dump sites in 14 states. The report documents 39 additional coal-ash dump sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.

Experts from those groups found that, at every one of the coal-ash dump sites equipped with groundwater monitoring wells, concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic or lead exceeded federal health-based standards for drinking water, with concentrations at the Hatfield’s Ferry site in Pennsylvania reaching as high as 341 times the federal standard for arsenic.

This new report comes after a February 2010 report by Environmental Integrity and Earthjustice that documented water contamination from 31 coal-ash dump sites in 14 states. It also adds to the nearly 70 other sites previously identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel at Earthjustice, said: “There is no greater reason for coal ash regulation than preventing the poisoning of our water. We now have 39 more good reasons for a national coal ash rule. the mounting number of contaminated sites demonstrates that the states are unable or unwilling to solve this problem.”

Environmental groups want to see the Obama EPA take a more aggressive stance, and choose to more closely regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.

Jeff Stant, director of the Environmental Integrity Project’s Coal Combustion Waste Initiative, said:

“The contamination of water supplies, threats to people, and damage to the
environment documented in this report illustrate very real and dangerous harms that are prohibited by federal law but are going on in a largely unchecked fashion at today’s coal ash dump sites. Contamination of the environment and water supplies with toxic levels of arsenic, lead and other chemicals is a pervasive reality at America’s coal ash disposal sites because states are not preventing it.”