Friday, October 29, 2010

U.S. Slides in Corruption Survey

By William Fisher

Iraq and Afghanistan rank near rock-bottom in an index of corruption in 178 countries that found that “nearly three-quarters” of the countries surveyed
index showed serious corruption problems.

Iraq ranked 175 and Afghanistan 176 in the global index, just above Burma (Myanmar) and Somalia. These were the same ranks they achieved in 2009.

The United States, while still in the top 20 per cent of the world index, fell from 19th in 2009 to 22nd this year, again failing to score in the top 20. That put it behind Canada, Barbados and Chile in the Americas.

The survey was carried out by watchdog group Transparency International (TI) in Berlin. To form its index, TI compiles surveys that ask businessmen and analysts, both in and outside the countries they are analyzing, their perceptions of how corrupt a country is. Relying on the number of actual corruption cases would not work since laws and enforcement of laws differ significantly from country to country.

Scott Horton, a constitutional lawyer who is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, raised a delicate question in today’s column: “Is being occupied by the United States or receiving massive U.S. government contracts somehow correlated to corruption?”

Chip Pitts, a lecturer in law at Stanford University, at least partly answered Horton’s question. He told IPS, “The association between corruption and authoritarianism and war continues, but we shouldn’t forget that this is a ‘perceptions’ index. More subtle and masked corruption persists in nations like the US, where the role of the military-industrial-surveillance complex in fostering creeping authoritarianism at home and war abroad (in more overtly corrupt countries like Afghanistan and Iraq) is joined by massive, if under-appreciated theft like that in the recent financial bailout.”

He continued: “The publish-what-you-pay provisions in the latest financial reform legislation were a step ahead, but only a small step and still focused mainly on countries abroad. The ‘supply’ side of corruption here in the US (or e.g. in the EU nations and Japan) is also important and should be the subject of dramatically greater investigation, enforcement, and accountability, including against those illicitly profiting from 9/11 fears by incessantly and deceptively pushing the nation into trumped-up and privatized wars, war crimes, torture, ubiquitous surveillance, and airport and mobile bodyscanners. These ‘products’ clearly don’t work to make us safer -- but do add to the already obscene wealth of the merchants of fear, hate, and war.”

In his latest column in Harper’s, Horton wrote, “America is no longer seen as being in the top tier of least-corrupt countries, which includes Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Instead it belongs to the second tier, which includes Eastern and Southern Europe. The index has consistently shown the perception of corruption in the United States as steadily rising. My hunch is that this focuses on government contracting, but the notes released by TI point only to “widespread concern over a lack of government oversight.”

In the Index, Somalia, Afghanistan and Myanmar were found to be perceived as the most corrupt – the same rank as they had in the 2009 survey. And New Zealand, Denmark and Singapore were again seen as having the cleanest governments. Finland, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland and Norway completed the top ten.

Huguette Labelle, the former Canadian civil servant who serves as chairwoman of Transparency International, told The New York Times that “the financial crisis and its aftermath had weighed on the United States’ ranking.”

“Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, while not itself attributable to the
government, reveals some of the problems that made the crisis possible,” Ms. Labelle said, adding, “People rely on government for early warning signals.” Sometimes the problem is “a lack of regulation or a lack of enforcement.”

“There was a vacuum of enforcement that allowed people to do bad things.
The problem is widespread as many countries have regulations on
the books but don’t enforce them, either because the state is captured by
interests that don’t want them enforced or because regulatory bodies don’t have the resources to do their work.’’

As many as 20 countries in the 36-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) convention that bans the bribery of foreign officials show little or no enforcement of the rules, the survey found.

TI said this sent “the wrong signal about their commitment to curb corrupt practices.’’

The TI index is the most commonly used measure for corruption in countries worldwide, though it has received criticisms over the years. The principal criticism stems from the difficulty in measuring corruption, which by definition happens behind the scenes. The index therefore needs to rely on third-party surveys that have been criticized as potentially unreliable.

Data can vary widely depending on the public perception of a country, the completeness of the surveys and the methodology used. The second issue is that data cannot be compared from year to year because TI uses different methodologies and samples every year. This makes it difficult to evaluate the result of new policies. The authors reply to these criticisms by reminding that the index is meant to measure perception and not "reality". They argue that "perceptions matter in their own right, since... firms and individuals take actions based on perceptions".

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Averting a PR Disaster

By William Fisher

With tongue in cheek, Constitutional experts today congratulated the U.S. Government for negotiating a plea deal with Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr, thus avoiding a trial in the Military Commission “puppet theater” that would have subjected them to the embarrassment of “a publicity nightmare of the highest order.”

The consensus among legal scholars contacted by IPS is that “before the end of 2012, Khadr will be home in Canada, and in very short order, he will be a free man.”

Details of the plea deal are not yet fully known, but it appears that Khadr will serve an eight-year sentence, the last seven years of which will be in Canada, his home country. Most of those contacted by IPS believe the Canadian Government will free him since he was only 15 at the time of his offenses and should not have been tried before a Military Commission in the first place.

One IPS source, Constitutional lawyer Scott Horton, who writes for Harper’s Magazine, called the plea deal “a meaningless charade.” He told IPS, “My best guess is this: before the end of 2012, Khadr will be home in Canada, and in very short order, he will be a free man. This is because, as the Canadian courts have already recognized, the entire process at Guantánamo is illegitimate and it furnishes no basis upon which a person can be imprisoned, not even on a ludicrous and highly coerced guilty plea.”

The benefit to the U.S., he said, is that “The U.S. is saved the spectacle of a trial which would have been a publicity nightmare of the highest order. Khadr gets to go home and probably to go free before too long. And the prosecutors get just one thing: a number of gullible reporters who misunderstand what is going on, and report it as a complete victory for them.”

On Monday, Khadr pled guilty to five charges, including murder, for throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier in during a fierce firefight at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old at the time of the incident.
Khadr's defense team says he was pushed into fighting the US by his father, said to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden.

Khadr, now 24, also admitted planting improvised explosive devices and
receiving weapons training from al-Qaeda. His defense lawyers say that because Khadr was a child when the offenses occurred, he should not be tried for war-crimes.

David Frakt, who is widely known for his 2008 defense of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad, who, like Khadr, was facing charges for events alleged to have taken place when he was a minor, agrees.

He told IPS, “The conviction of this child soldier for non-existent war crimes is a disgraceful travesty and a stain on America's reputation. Although the plea bargain has saved the Administration from the unseemly spectacle of a trial, the United States will still go down in history as the first civilized nation to prosecute a child soldier as a war criminal.”

He added, “That this happened on President Obama's watch is beyond disappointing, and exposes the extreme hypocrisy of the Administration's claims of devotion to the rule of law and adherence to the laws of armed conflict.”

In defending Mohamed Jawad, Frakt argued that Jawad had been subjected to: "...pointless and sadistic treatment [in a] bleak underworld of barbarism and cruelty, of anything goes, of torture.” He was subsequently released on a writ of habeas corpus.

Frakt, now a professor at Barry University law school, told IPS he believes that the officers on the military commission jury are capable of rendering a fair verdict and sentence.

But, he added, “the way that the Military Commissions Act is written, and the way it has been interpreted by the Department of Defense and by Khadr's trial judge, would have virtually guaranteed conviction on most, if not all, of the charges, potentially subjecting Khadr to a very lengthy sentence. Given the unreasonableness of both the U.S. and Canadian governments' posture toward Mr. Khadr, his lawyers are probably wise to advise him to take this deal. At least he now has a chance to get out of confinement while he is still relatively young and lead some semblance of a normal life.”

Chip Pitts, a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School, told IPS, “This plea bargain shouldn’t be taken as indication of the legitimacy of the irredeemably tainted military commissions; it was precisely their illegitimacy and one-sidedness that led Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, a juvenile at the time of arrest who was brought into horror of war by his father and had maintained his innocence of the murder charges until the last minute, to finally succumb to the pressure of a potential life sentence and agree to a plea bargain (including to novel “war crimes” not recognized as such at the time).”

Pitts said the plea deal “will return him to Canada and freedom much earlier.”

But, he added, “The precedent set – of extracting a plea by threatening a child soldier with harsh charges and an unfair trial, instead of undertaking the rehabilitation contemplated by international treaties – is a notable setback for international human rights law. How is this different from Uganda’s bringing treason charges in 2002 against child soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the DRC’s military court prosecutions against child soldiers? The implications, especially for child victims of war and legal treatment of children with still-developing brains, are disturbing.”

Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at the Seton Hall Law School, joined others in questioning the legitimacy of the Military Commissions. He told IPS, “Khadr's case, which underscored the gross mistreatment of prisoners in U.S. custody and the extent the U.S. government would go to hide it, reminds us that military commissions will continue to spark controversy and lack legitimacy as long as they continue. Khadr's plea may help bring the debacle to an end in his case, but it provides another example of how military commissions are designed to deny justice, not to deliver it."

Human Rights organizations were unanimous in condemning the Khadr proceedings. Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s USA researcher said, “While military trial proceedings may be coming to an end in Khadr’s case, the obligation on the U.S. authorities to address serious concerns about human rights violations suffered by him does not end.”

He added, “The U.S. authorities have ignored their international duties in the treatment of children, which was the case when Khadr was arrested eight years ago.”

And Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), declared, "Khadr's plea deal means that the United States will be spared the embarrassment of trying a child soldier in a tribunal that most of the world sees as illegitimate. Khadr's case, however, is emblematic of a set of larger problems with the military commissions that won't be resolved by a plea deal. These tribunals are simply incapable of providing fair trials, and they ought to be shut down altogether.”

What the Pentagon Didn’t Tell Us.

By William Fisher

Two revelations await the reader of the Wikileaks’ section dealing with civilian deaths in the Iraq War: Iraqis are responsible for most of these deaths; and the number of total civilian casualties is substantially higher than has been previously reported.

There were numerous gruesome but seemingly isolated events that caught the interest and attention of the press and the public. For example, on August 31, 2005, more than 950 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad, after the crowd had been panicked by a number of earlier attacks. And on August 14, 2007, in a rural area near the Syrian border, truck bombs murdered more than 500 Iraqis.

But, even more than these horrendous crimes, the action that catapulted the mass killings off the charts was a carefully planned, systematic strategy of religious and tribal cleansing. That campaign, Wikileaks says, reached its zenith in December 2006, which it calls the worst month of the war, That month saw the deaths of some 3,800 civilians, along with the killings of about 1,300 police officers, insurgents and coalition soldiers.

American soldiers, too, share responsibility for civilian killings, Wikileaks says. It reports many instances of American soldiers killing Iraqi civilians at checkpoints, from helicopters, and in operations.

Wikileaks says these killings were a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country.

Detailed analyses of the 391,832 documents disclosed by Wikileaks were published by The New York Times and several other invited media organizations, based on tens of thousands of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq. In July, Wikileaks released a smaller number of reports dealing with the war in Afghanistan.

According to the New York Times account, the current archive “contains reports on at least four cases of lethal shootings from helicopters. In the bloodiest, on July 16, 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of them civilians. However, the tally was called in by two different people, and it is possible that the deaths were counted twice.”
Later, in February 2007, two Iraqi men believed to have been firing mortars, even though they made surrendering motions, were shot and killed by an Apache helicopter. The action was taken because, according to a military lawyer cited in the report, “they cannot surrender to aircraft, and are still valid targets.”

However, in three other instances, Iraqis surrendered to helicopter crews without being shot.

The Times writes that, “The pace of civilian deaths served as a kind of pulse, whose steady beat told of the success, or failure, of America’s war effort. Americans on both sides of the war debate argued bitterly over facts that grew hazier as the war deepened.”

While no one really has an exact body count of Iraqi deaths, the Wikileaks’ numbers appear to be in line with those of several sources, including Iraq Body Count. That organization used press reports to track civilian deaths, a method frequently criticized by the Bush administration as unreliable and producing inflated numbers.

In all, the five-year archive lists more than 100,000 dead from 2004 to 2009, though some deaths are reported more than once, and some reports have inconsistent casualty figures. A 2008 Congressional report warned that record keeping in the war had been so problematic that such statistics should be looked at only as “guideposts.”

In a statement on Friday, Iraq Body Count, which did a preliminary analysis of the archive, estimated that it listed 15,000 deaths that had not been previously disclosed anywhere.

There are thousands of painful anecdotes of loss about individuals and their families in the Wikileaks archive.

There were multiple “misunderstandings” at checkpoints and these were often lethal. In one, sunlight reflecting off the windshield of a car that did not slow down led to the shooting death of a mother and the wounding of three of her daughters and her husband.

The Times writes that, “according to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter.”

The Wikileaks documents provide context for one of the most heinous crimes committed by American soldiers, the shootings of at least 15 Iraqi civilians, including women and children in the western city of Haditha. This action, says The New York Times, “is misrepresented in the archives. The report stated that the civilians were killed by militants in a bomb attack, the same false version of the episode that was given to the news media.”

The Wikileaks documents do not detail the main causes of Iraqi deaths caused by Americans. And, since these reports cover the period starting in 2004, they do not report on civilian deaths caused by the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombardment preceding the U.S.-led invasion. But research by the International Committee of the Red Cross confirms that ten civilians die for every soldier killed in today’s wars.

Wikileaks is an international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources. Its website was launched in 2006.

The organization has described itself as having been founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the U.S., Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Newspaper articles and The New Yorker magazine (June 7, 2010) describe Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and Internet activist, as its director.

Pfc. Bradley Manning. They called on the US government to release Manning and decried the evidence of war crimes perpetrated by US armed soldiers depicted in the logs and videos released by Wikileaks. Protesters affirmed that, if Bradley Manning is the source of the leaks, he deserves the gratitude of the entire world and should be heralded as a hero for his sacrifice. The protesters included a wide range of groups including labor activists, queer rights activists, legal scholars, anti-war activists and veterans.

He also has the support of Daniel Ellsberg, the Defense Department official who in 1967 leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times. The top-secret documents revealed some of the untruths and deceptions that senior government officials foisted on the American public to win approval for the Vietnam War.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is Past Prologue?

By William Fisher

The publication of a motherlode of secret field reports from the Iraq War are shining a bright light on heretofore unknown or underreported
suspicions about the power of private security contractors and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by their fellow Iraqis, often with their U.S. military counterparts “turning a blind eye.”

The release of the 392,832 documents by Wikileaks – the same website responsible for the recent release of 77,000 secret reports covering six years of the Afghanistan War – drew an immediate response from the Pentagon and efforts by unfriendly nations to paint the American military in the most gruesome possible light.

Geoff Morrell, the Defense Department (DOD) press secretary, strongly condemned both WikiLeaks and the release of the Iraq documents.

“We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies,” he said.

Iran’s Press TV declared, “Whistleblower website Wikileaks has released documents suggesting that the Pentagon instructed US-led forces to ‘secretly’ torture detainees in Iraq.”

The document release also unleashed a flood of bickering among competing Iraqi politicians. For example, a senior member of the Iraqiya bloc led by former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi called for an investigation into possible connections between torture operations in Iraqi prisons and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The March 7 parliamentary elections produced a stalemate between Allawi and al-Maliki, and both are still chasing the prime minister’s job long after the election.

The Wikileaks disclosures fall into five categories: reliance on private contractors; the so-called “surge,” the addition of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to work with willing Iraqis; the deaths of Iraqi civilians — killed mostly by other Iraqis, but also by the American military; a litany of prisoner abuse by Iraqis —from which Americans sometimes turned a blind eye – even more lurid than the infamous photographs of torture from Abu Ghraib prison in 2004; and the “aggressive” intervention of Iran’s military providing “weapons, training and sanctuary” to Shiite combatants.

The Wikileaks documents are sparse on information about mistreatment of prisoners in American-run detention facilities, but heavy on the chilling details of abuse of Iraqis by Iraq’s own army and police.

During the period covered by the Wikileaks documents, at least six prisoners died in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Hundreds of reports referenced beatings, burnings and lashings. Such treatment appeared to be normal to the Iraqis.

According to The New York Times, ”In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees. And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate.”

U.S. military orders said that if American personnel were not directly involved in prisoner abuse, American soldiers need not take any action. This order caused U.S. forces to look the other way in cases of the abuse of Iraqis by Iraqis.

When Americans discovered and reported abuse, Iraqis frequently failed to act. One report said a police chief refused to file charges “as long as the abuse produced no marks.” Another police chief told military inspectors that his officers engaged in abuse “and supported it as a method of conducting investigations.”

The Wikileak documents also show that Americans sometimes used the threat of Iraqi brutality to persuade prisoners to cooperate with interrogators.

It was not until later in the war that some of the worst examples of Iraqi abuse came to light. For example, in August 2009, an Iraqi police commando unit reported that a detainee committed suicide in its custody, but an autopsy conducted in the presence of an American “found bruises and burns on the detainee’s body as well as visible injuries to the head, arm, torso, legs, and neck.” The report stated that the police “have reportedly begun an investigation.”

And in December, 12 Iraqi soldiers, including an intelligence officer, were
caught on video in Tal Afar shooting to death a prisoner whose hands were tied, The Times reports.

The Saddam Hussein regime was exceptionally brutal. Iraqis used cables, metal rods, wooden poles and live electrical wires to hurt prisoners. One report on a detainee cited “bruises in a roughly boot shape from upper to lower back.” In another, a detainee is said to have bruises from beatings with a board. Another detainee suffered blurred vision, bleeding in his ears and nose, bruises on his back, arms and legs and hemorrhaging in his eyes.”

Wikileaks reports that, while the Americans told the local Iraqi Army commander, no inquiry was begun because Americans were not involved.

It was not unusual, however, for American soldiers to intervene. One American soldier heard screams in a prison cell and found two badly dehydrated detainees with bruises on their bodies. He ordered them out of Iraqi custody.

In August 2006, Wikileaks documents show, an American sergeant in Ramadi walked into an Iraqi military police station and found an Iraqi lieutenant using an electrical cable to slash the bottom of a detainee’s feet. The American stopped him, but later he found the same Iraqi officer whipping a detainee’s back. One beaten detainee said in 2005 that “when the Marines finally took him, he was treated very well, and he was thankful and happy to see them.”

The Wikileaks documents may increase the scrutiny of the role of private contractors, seemingly well-publicized via the travails of companies such as Blackwater (now known as Xe Services), which is accused of opening fire on unarmed civilians in a crowded main square in Baghdad and killing 17 of them.

But the Wikileaks disclosures, while reporting little that was unknown, paints a far more detailed picture of the military sea-change that defined America’s involvement in Iraq. The New York Times says, “The early days of the Iraq war, with all its Wild West chaos, ushered in the era of the private contractor, wearing no uniform but fighting and dying in battle, gathering and disseminating intelligence and killing presumed insurgents.”

The behavior of private security contractors in Iraq is already having serious effects on use of these same assets in Afghanistan. Abuses, including civilian deaths, have driven the Afghan government to attempt to ban most outside contractors entirely.

Numerous reports have forecast a substantial growth in the use of security contractors in Iraq as American forces shrink. A July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel established by Congress, estimated that the State Department alone would need more than double the number of contractors it had protecting the American Embassy and consulates in Iraq.

There are still more contractors than members of the military serving in Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks is an international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources. Its website was launched in 2006.

The organization has described itself as having been founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the U.S., Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Newspaper articles and The New Yorker magazine (June 7, 2010) describe Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and Internet activist, as its director.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anyone Fancy a Cuppa?

By William Fisher

Acknowledging “ the majority of Tea Party supporters are sincere, principled people of good will,” the head of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) and other civil rights leaders are calling on the populist political movement to purge itself of known racists lest they influence the direction of the movement.

In a conference call with journalists, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin T. Jealous applauded some Tea Party factions for taking the first steps to ensure that racists and bigots do not corrupt the movement’s credibility.

He said, “These are welcome first steps. They promote diversity and acknowledge the inherent perception problem that plagues the Tea Party: that while many of its leaders are motivated by common
conservative budget and governance concerns, for too long they have tolerated others who espouse racism and xenophobia and, in some instances, are formally associated with organizations like the
Council of Conservative Citizens -- the direct lineal descendant of the White Citizens Council.”

However, he said, this work is incomplete.

“These groups and individuals are out there, and we ignore them at our own peril. They are speaking at Tea Party events, recruiting at rallies and in some cases remain in the Tea Party leadership itself,” he said, adding:

“The danger is not that the majority of Tea Party members share their views, but that left unchecked, these extremists might indirectly influence the direction of the Tea Party and therefore the direction of our country: moving it backward and not forward.”

In a telephone news conference Wednesday, the NAACP endorsed a report by the Kansas-City-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, an independent civil rights advocacy organization. The report, “Tea Party Nationalism,” details various associations between Tea Party organizations and acknowledged hate groups in the United States.

“The Tea Party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement who are, in their numerical majority, angry middle-class white people who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them,” the report says.

The Tea Party is a loose association of independent groups or chapters without a single leader or spokesperson. In general, it seeks smaller government, lower taxes, solutions to the problem of illegal immigration, and less government involvement in the lives of ordinary Americans. The groups that comprise the Tea Party have not put forward any policy proposals for achieving these goals. They tend to be Republicans and are overwhelmingly white.

While many Tea Partiers joined the movement out of genuine concern for the well-being of the country, there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that professional lobbying firms, mostly in Washington, D.C., have provided many of the Tea Party’s organizing and publicity skills, and that wealthy individuals and corporations have made substantial money contributions to the movement.

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in the conference call that, in backing the report: "We're not attacking the tea party. We're not calling the tea party racist. We are asking them to repudiate the racists in their midst. We have challenged Democratic Party in the same way. We challenged Republicans when they embraced the old Dixiecrats."

But not everyone agrees. One who doesn’t is Bruce Fein, a well-known conservative lawyer who served as an associate deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan. He told IPS, "The British had their Papal Plots, Joe McCarthy had his Communists, and now the NAACP has its ostensible racists as scapegoats to distract attention from serious issues.”

He added, “The glorious civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was chronically maligned by ad hominem attacks on its leadership and their associations based on flimsy or concocted evidence. It is disturbing to see the NAACP parrot the demagoguery that was employed against it."

But the report includes an addendum with details of local Tea Party leaders who the report’s authors say have “direct ties to white supremacist groups.”

The report says: “The faction is led by the executive director of the Minuteman Project, a nativist organization that has in the past been associated with the murder of migrant Mexican workers as part of its vigilante ‘border operations.’ Roan Garcia-Quintana, ‘advisor and media spokesman’ for the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party and member of ResistNet, also serves on the National Board of Directors of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), the lineal descendent of the Council of White Citizens. In Texas, Wood County Tea Party leader Karen Pack was once listed as an ‘official supporter’ of Thom Robb’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a modern-day white supremacist organization.”

The report examines the six national organizational networks the authors conclude are at the core of the Tea Party movement: FreedomWorks Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet, and Tea Party Express.

It says that leaders of all but one -- FreedomWorks, a lobbying group in Washington headed by Dick Armey, a former Republican House majority leader -- have raised questions about President Obama’s birth certificate or have ties to white supremacist groups.

The national attention sparked by the NAACP call this summer for the Tea Party to repudiate racist elements within the group inspired the Tea Party leadership to purge some outspoken racist elements, including Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams.

The report concludes that members of groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) – once known as the segregationist White Citizens Councils -- have infiltrated tea party chapters. The CCC is opposed to actions designed to "mix the races of mankind." It also notes that contributors to,” a white nationalist Web site, have written of "infiltrating" Tea Party events.

For the report go to

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Supremes to Hear Ashcroft Appeal

By William Fisher

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear former Attorney General John Ashcroft's appeal of a lower court decision, which ruled that he could be held responsible for the wrongful detention of an American citizen.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the case against Ashcroft in 2005 on behalf of Abdullah al-Kidd, who they say was improperly arrested in 2003 as a material witness in the terrorism trial of Same Omar al-Hussein and detained for 16 days under prison-like conditions.

Al-Kidd was eventually released under restrictions that included confining his travel to four states, surrendering his passport and reporting to probation officers.

Al-Kidd was subjected to these conditions for more than a year and, despite having been arrested as a material witness, was never asked to testify, or charged with a crime.

A material witness in U.S. law is a person with information alleged to be material concerning a criminal proceeding. Prior to 9/11, the material witness law was used sparingly to ensure witnesses would be available to testify in criminal cases.

After 9/11, the ACLU charges that Ashcroft “retooled the law into an investigative detention statute, allowing the government to arrest and detain individuals for whom it lacked probable cause to charge with a crime.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in September 2009 that the federal material witness law couldn’t be used to detain or investigate people when there is no probable cause to bring criminal charges. The ruling also held that Ashcroft does not have immunity in the case and can be held personally liable for the wrongful detention of al-Kidd. Ashcroft appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which today decided to review the case.

Jonathan Hafetz, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School, told IPS, “The Bush administration clearly misused the material witness statute as a pretext to detain people without charging them with a crime, rather as the law was intended -- as a necessary means to obtain witness testimony. This violated the Constitution’s prohibition on imprisonment without probable cause and helped lead to the prolonged detention of individuals who had no connection to terrorism or other criminal activity.”

He added, “Thus far, the Obama administration has sought to derail every attempt at accountability, arguing in one case after another against judicial involvement in cases of illegal detention, torture, and other mistreatment. The fact that the human rights abuses and constitutional violations did not occur on its watch does not excuse their effort to deny victims their day in court. Real justice must look both forward and backward.”

His view was echoed by Joanne Mariner, head of HRW’s Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program. She told IPS, “We’re very disappointed that the Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to hear Ashcroft’s appeal of the Al-Kidd decision. In our view, the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was absolutely correct. The ruling reaffirmed basic constitutional protections against detention without charge.”

The government has “attempted to get around bedrock requirements of the criminal justice system by relying on the material witness statute. Without any evidence that men like al-Kidd had committed a crime, the government held them in indefinite detention by claiming, pretextually, that they may have had information about other cases,” she said.

And Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, told IPS, "The material witness statute got used and abused by the Bush administration and their 'anything goes' approach to things that could be connected to national security by way of some fanciful argument."

Civil liberties advocates, including the ACLU, charge that the material witness law “has been twisted beyond recognition.”

They say that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. has used the material witness statute to detain suspects without charge for indefinite periods of time, often under the rubric of securing grand-jury testimony.

At least seventy men living in the United States -- all Muslim but one – “have been thrust into a Kafkaesque world of indefinite detention without charges, secret evidence, and baseless accusations of terrorist links. They have found themselves not at Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib but in America’s own federal prison system, victims of the misuse of the federal material witness law in the U.S. government’s fight against terrorism,” these groups charge.

After at least a year of joint research, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that the Ashcroft Justice Department “claimed each of the post-September 11 material witnesses had information relevant to grand jury terrorism investigations or to the trials of defendants alleged to support terrorist organizations. Yet at least thirty witnesses we know about were never brought before a grand jury or court to testify.”

Only seven were ever arrested on terrorism-related charges.

The material witness law has been twisted beyond recognition. Procedures designed for the temporary detention of witnesses who might otherwise skip town have been misused to hold men who were in fact criminal suspects. Holding as “witnesses” people who are in fact suspects sets a disturbing precedent for future use of this extraordinary government power to deprive citizens and others of their liberty. The rule of law itself suffers when a law is used as a pretext to sidestep longstanding checks on the arbitrary exercise of executive power.

Many of the seventy material witnesses identified by the ACLU and HRW suffered imprisonment because federal investigators and attorneys relied on false, flimsy, or irrelevant information and jumped to the wrong conclusions. “Their judgment about evidence also appears to have been colored by ignorance about and perhaps even prejudice. Not only were almost all the witnesses Muslim, sixty-four of the seventy were of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent,” their report says.

Consistent with the Justice Department’s suspicions that the witnesses were dangerous men linked to terrorists, the witnesses were often arrested at gunpoint in front of families and neighbors and transported to jail in handcuffs. They typically were held around-the-clock in solitary confinement and subjected to the harsh and degrading high-security conditions typically reserved for prisoners accused or convicted of the most dangerous crimes. They were taken to court in shackles and chains. In at least one case, a material witness was made to testify in shackles.

In some cases, the harsh treatment of material witnesses included verbal and even physical abuse by prison staff. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General issued a report detailing the abuse of material witnesses as well as other detainees in federal detention facilities.

Abdullah al-Kidd, born in Kansas and once a star running back at the University of Idaho, spent 16 days in federal detention in three states in 2003, sometimes naked and sometimes shackled hand and foot, but was never charged with a crime.

Once known as Lavoni T. Kidd, in 1995 when he led the University of Idaho football team, the Vandals, in rushing, Kidd was on his way to Saudi Arabia to work on a doctorate in Islamic studies in March 2003 when he was arrested and handcuffed at Dulles Airport in Washington.

Kidd, who described himself in a 2004 interview as “anti-bin Laden, anti-Taliban, anti-suicide bombing, anti-terrorism,” was never called to testify as a witness.

Justice Elena Kagan will recuse herself from this case because, as Obama’s Solicitor General, she took a position on it. Should her absence result in a 4-4- tie among the other Justices, the opinion of the Appeals Court would prevail.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ACLU Sues Over Deportation of Mentally Ill U.S. Citizen

By William Fisher

An American citizen of Puerto Rican descent with mental disabilities is suing the U.S. government for wrongfully deporting him to Mexico and forcing him to endure over four months of living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

The suits were filed last week on behalf of U.S. citizen Mark Lyttle by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Georgia and the ACLU of North Carolina, in federal courts in those states.

Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project of the ACLU of Georgia, told IPS, “Mark’s case is a tragedy that serves to underscore the deep systemic injustices that continue to plague our government’s system of detention and deportation.”

“Mark is just one of thousands of people in this country who have been victimized by a single-minded focus on detention and deportation without the kind of individualized determinations that are the essence of due process.”

According to the ACLU, Mark Lyttle’s story is not unique. A recent report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims that people with mental disabilities, including US citizens, face an even greater risk of erroneous deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because courts do not ensure fair hearings for those not able to represent themselves.

"Few areas of US law are as complicated as deportation, and yet every day people with mental disabilities must go to court without lawyers or any safeguards that make the hearings fair," said Sarah Mehta, Aryeh Neier fellow at HRW and the ACLU. "Some have disabilities so severe that they don't know their own names or what a judge is."

The groups urged Congress to pass legislation requiring the appointment of lawyers for all people with mental disabilities in immigration courts.

Their 98-page report, "Deportation by Default: Mental Disability, Unfair Hearings, and Indefinite Detention in the US Immigration System," says that immigrants with mental disabilities are often unjustifiably detained for years on end, sometimes with no legal limits.

The report documents numerous cases in which people with mental disabilities were prevented from making claims against deportation -- including claims of U.S. citizenship -- because they were unable to represent themselves. Some of the people interviewed for the report did not know their own names, were delusional, could not tell time, or did not know that deportation meant removal from the United States.

Of the 57,000 detained immigrants facing deportation in 2008, 15 percent had mental disabilities. Under current immigration law and practice, immigration detainees have no right to court-appointed lawyers or to other safeguards, such as evaluations of their ability to receive a fair hearing, when they go through deportation hearings, HRW and the ACLU said.

Their report also shows that people with mental disabilities not only face arrest and deportation without safeguards, but are also routinely detained by ICE during the course of their hearings.

The ACLU says Mark Lyttle's entanglement with immigration authorities began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for inappropriately touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disorders.

“Despite having ample evidence that Lyttle was a U.S. citizen – including his social security number, the names of his parents, his sworn statements that he was born in the United States and criminal record checks – officials from the North Carolina Department of Correction referred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico,” the civil liberties group said.

Lyttle had never been to Mexico, shared no Mexican heritage, spoke no Spanish and did not claim to be from Mexico.

The state of North Carolina has an agreement with ICE requiring state officials to report all incarcerated individuals who they believe were born in other countries. ICE began investigating Lyttle and sent him to the Stewart Detention Facility, an immigration detention center in Lumpkin, Ga. where he spent six weeks.

Although ICE knew of Lyttle's long and documented history of mental illness and noted that he did not comprehend the investigation of his status, he was not offered legal assistance and was deported to Mexico.

The ACLU contends that Lyttle was left alone and penniless in Mexico and unable to communicate in Spanish. Mexican authorities sent him to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and faced with guards who threatened to shoot him. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala and, eventually, he made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.

Within a day, the ACLU says, embassy officials contacted one of Lyttle's three brothers at the military base where he was serving, leading to Lyttle being issued a U.S. passport. His brother wired him money and Lyttle was soon on a flight to Atlanta. Upon Lyttle's arrival, border officials, seeing his history of ICE investigations, held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.

During this four-month ordeal, Lyttle was unable to take his medications to treat his mental illnesses and was subject to cycles of manic activity and depression. He is now living in Griffin, Ga., where he is recovering and receiving medication for his mental health problems.

The lawsuits seek damages and injunctive relief for violations of Lyttle's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The Obama administration recently announced that in the past year it deported more than 392,000 unauthorized immigrants -- a record.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Afghan Security Contractors: Make You Feel More Secure?

By William Fisher

Failures in vetting, training, and supervising Defense Department private security contractors are putting U.S. and coalition troops as well as Afghan civilians at risk and unwittingly aiding Afghan militants by hiring security contractors provided by the Taliban and by warlords.

That is the bottom line of a new report released last week by the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. The report -- “Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan” -- resulted from an in-depth year-long process. The Committee said the report “provides a detailed critical assessment of the role of private security contractors in Afghanistan” and “reveals the threat that security contractors operating without adequate U.S. government supervision can pose to the mission in Afghanistan.”

The report charges that there are significant gaps in U.S. government oversight of private security contractors in Afghanistan. The Defense Department (DOD) “has failed to enforce its policies meant to hold private security contractors’ accountable and to address serious private security contractor deficiencies.”

The United States increasingly relies on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to perform a range of services, from filing paperwork to using deadly force. Private military contractors still outnumber U.S. troops there. As of May 2010, there were over 23,000 armed private security contractors in Afghanistan, and as the Committee’s inquiry found, operating with inadequate government oversight.

The mission of Afghan subcontractors usually includes guarding U.S. military bases, civilian installations, construction projects and truck convoys of supplies.

The response from good government and human rights groups was largely positive.

POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, called for stronger contract oversight and “a serious reevaluation of whether security should be outsourced in war zones.”

Nick Schwellenbach, POGO’s Director of Investigations, told IPS, “The new findings further make the case for stronger oversight of contractors -- but they also lead us to ask if security functions should be outsourced at all.”

"More money means more problems if there isn't sufficient oversight of security contractors. The most important question to ask, though, is if we should be using contractors at all where there is no rule of law," said Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director. "Several government reports say we're funding people who are undermining our efforts in Afghanistan."

Laura W. Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington Legislative Office, said, “The massive use of private contractors in our intelligence community further exacerbates the lack of control, oversight and accountability that already plagues our intelligence apparatus.”

She added, “The excessive use of contractors puts more distance between the government and those carrying out intelligence work and infuses the profit motive into a calculation that should be focused on effectiveness and adhering to the rule of law.”

Another influential group, Human Rights First (HRF), referenced its own recent report on contractor oversight, which concluded that inadequate oversight of private contractors in conflict zones and a failure to hold the contractors legally accountable threatens to compromise U.S. national security and undermine the nation's ongoing military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HRF urged Congress to enact the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) of 2010 to expand criminal jurisdiction over and increase investigative resources for serious crimes committed by U.S. contractors.

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the poor vetting of the 26,000 security contractors jeopardized the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.

"We need to shut off the spigot of U.S. dollars flowing into the pockets of warlords and power brokers who act contrary to our interests and contribute to the corruption that weakens the support of the Afghan people for their government," Levin said in a statement.

Investigators for the Senate Armed Services Committee found "systemic failures" in the way 125 Defense Department contracts were granted between 2007 and 2009.

For example, those responsible for conducting background checks on potential hires as security guards were insufficient to discover possible associates of Afghan warlords in a timely fashion. Some security guards were thought to be agents trained by Iran.

The Senate investigation prompted Afghanistan's Interior Minister to announce this week that his government would shut down any private security firms that are unlicensed and do not properly check the backgrounds of employees.

The Senate report was based on 30 interviews with Defense Department contractors and military personnel and written responses from others.

The report said that investigators found "squandered resources and dangerous failures in contractor performance, including untrained guards, insufficient and unserviceable weapons, unmanned posts and other shortcomings that directly affect the safety of U.S. military personnel."

Nevertheless, the report concludes that 90 percent of the security personnel work under U.S. government contracts.

"Money is ammunition; don't put it in the wrong hands," Gen. David Petraeus warned in an August memo that gave counterinsurgency (COIN) guidance.

The Senate report said, its "inquiry uncovered evidence of private
security contractors funneling U.S. taxpayers dollars to Afghan warlords and
strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery as well as Taliban and other anti-Coalition activities."

The numerous problems covered in the report range from untrained guards to insufficient weaponry to unmanned posts.

The report confirmed suspicions that were raised in congressional testimony last December, when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said they had suspicions the U.S. government was indirectly funding Afghan warlords and the Taliban.

However, U.S. military personnel have said the warlords sometimes force out anyone else from the security jobs with threats of violence.

The U.S. military hires contractors for the security jobs to free up its own soldiers for duties more directly related to combat. Now, military leaders say they are reconsidering the policy.

It was recently revealed that the company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide – which has been banned from contracting in Iraq – created a new subsidiary whose name is not related to Blackwater, or Xe Services, as it is now known, and used that subsidiary in its successful bid for security work in Afghanistan. The parent company has also won additional security work in Iraq.

Contracting officers said they had no knowledge of any relationship between Xe Services and the new Afghan company, but other government officials suggested that the name-change was merely a way to conceal the company’s true identity.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Shotgun Marriage: ICE and Cops

By William Fisher

As two Democratic senators introduced yet another version of immigration reform legislation – and two Republican senators immediately condemned it – more than 500 not-for-profit organizations called on President Barack Obama to end what they called “the merger of immigration enforcement with criminal justice.”

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and committee member Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey last week filed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010. Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona blasted the legislation as a “cynical ploy for votes” and called the push for immigration reform “for effect rather than reality.”

At the same time, 578 groups from across the country delivered a letter to President Obama expressing concerns that the Obama administration’s increased reliance on local law enforcement to arrest, detain, and deport immigrants has exacerbated existing problems in the criminal justice system. The letter demanded that the government “end the merger of immigration enforcement with criminal justice.” It cited systemic problems within both the immigration and criminal justice systems.

The groups represent a wide range of fields, including religion, law, labor, immigration, civil and human rights, education and law enforcement.

Their letter declares, “The merger of immigration enforcement and local criminal justice agencies is not only bad public policy, it also sabotages local law enforcement agencies’ core mission of protecting public safety by undermining the trust of the communities they serve. It discourages people from turning to the police when they need to, even to report crimes. It undermines public safety by diverting scarce resources away from local policing and focuses them on false threats from people who look or sound foreign.”

Secure Communities, 287(g), and the Criminal Alien Program – the Obama administration’s signature immigration enforcement programs – all rely on heavy involvement from and cooperation with local law enforcement to siphon immigrants into the immigration enforcement and detention system and, ultimately, through deportation proceedings.

The 287(g) program authorizes the Federal Government to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions.

The Criminal Alien program (CAP) is responsible for identifying, processing and removing criminal aliens incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons and jails throughout the United States and preventing their release into the general public.

Secure Communities is a newer and rapidly expanding program that also relies heavily on the cooperation of local law enforcement. It is currently active in more than 650 jurisdictions in 32 states and is expected to be active in every state by 2011 and in all 3,100 state and local jails by 2013.

All three programs are implemented by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“The Obama administration’s over-reliance on local law enforcement agencies to arrest, detain and deport immigrants legitimizes the racial discrimination that persists in the criminal justice system,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

“For all our communities, this marriage of convenience between the immigration system and the criminal justice system will only serve to further deter immigrants from cooperating with the police, and sever the already tenuous ties between law enforcement and vulnerable community members,” she said.

The letter to Obama maintains that abuses within the criminal justice system have been well documented, and that racial profiling continues to plague cities across the country.

The Menendez-Leahy immigration bill establishes a path to legalization, but also outlines a set of border enforcement “triggers” that must be met before any unauthorized immigrants can apply for permanent residency. Once those benchmarks are reached, undocumented immigrants will have the opportunity to register with the government, undergo a background check, learn English, and pay fines and taxes on their way to becoming American citizens.

The legislation also includes two existing pieces of proposed legislation that have been blocked from Senate passage by the minority -- the DREAM Act which would allow undocumented youth to regularize their status by going to college or serving in the military; and AgJOBS, which would establish an earned legalization program for undocumented farm workers and revise the existing H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program to provide farmers with a steady flow of labor they need is additionally attached to the bill.

Sen. Menendez acknowledges that the upcoming Congressional election will make it difficult to get any significant amount of floor time for an immigration debate this fall. However, his supporters say his bill “shows Latino voters what has been the reality all year long: Democrats have been more than ready to introduce and vote yes on immigration reform while Republicans have stalled and obstructed the issue.”

This remarkably candid admission raises questions about whether the introduction of the Menendez legislation was selected primarily to please an important part of the Democrats’ political constituency.

Conservative Sen. Hatch responded by introducing an immigration bill of his own. According to the Deseret News, Hatch’s bill, “Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America’s Security Act,” would “require participation in key law enforcement programs, clamp down on identify theft, streamline the visa system, track the amount of welfare benefits being diverted to illegal immigrant households, curb serious abuses of immigration laws and help prevent Mexican cartels from using national parks and federal lands to grow marijuana.”

However, the newspaper reports that the Hatch bill does not address the status of the 11-12 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. and the lack of visas available to migrants who want to work in the U.S.

The Menendez-Leahy legislation contains a provision not seen in several other immigration reform bills. It would create a new independent federal agency: the Standing Commission on Immigration, Labor Markets, and the National Interest. Its task would be to evaluate the U.S. labor market and economic conditions, and annually recommend to Congress the levels of permanent and temporary immigrant labor that would allow the U.S. economy to continue expanding while avoiding an oversupply of labor and the downward pressure on wages that could result.

Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute told IPS that the White House has not reacted as yet to the Commission proposal. But, he added, “I have no doubt that if the Commission is in a bill that makes it through Congress, the Administration will be enthusiastic.”