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Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

A Failed Policy

“The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its torture policies, to provide necessary details about its enhanced interrogation program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to torture hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments.” *

A failed policy! Consider its key features:

  • Congress and the President approved of the policy based on claims that it could keep the country safe
  • The bureaucrats—praised for their professionalism—adopted brutal techniques, with little regard for civil liberties or basic human rights.
  • Yet, there was little evidence of its effectiveness, despite claims of its supporters
  • Even when the facts were widely understood, no one was held accountable for the violence done to the victims

The details of the CIA’s use of torture are disturbing, without question. But the basic features—as presented above—could be used to describe so much of what the government does. It seems like a good description of our current drone policy and our decades long war on drugs.

I am pleased that President Obama has taken a strong stance against the use of torture. But let us not lose sight of the larger fact that he has also embraced the extensive use of drones, killing thousands, including civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 2004 and 2014, there were 405 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, 354 of which were ordered by President Obama. The estimated body count: 2,400-3,888. The estimated civilian body count: 416-959. The estimated number of children killed: 168-204. By way of comparison, according to the Senate Select Committee report,  the CIA detained 119 individuals, 26 of whom were wrongfully detained.

Be rightfully horrified by the details of the CIA’s use of torture. The details are mind numbing. But we should be equally horrified by our drone policy that has killed and maimed thousands.

Read the Senate Select Committee report.

Read the Stanford/NYU report, Living Under Drones.

*By the way, the above quote was taken from the Stanford/NYU report, p. viii. Mentions of drone strikes were replaced with the words “torture” and “enhanced interrogation” The correct quote is:

“The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments.”

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So the U.S. Senate report on CIA interrogation methods is out, and now we know that the CIA tortured detainees, including the use of violent rectal assault:
cia anal torture

Some of the detainees were terrorists; some were probably innocent. We’ll never know because they were never tried in a court of law:

innocent detainees tortured

Some neoconservative torture apologists oppose the release of the CIA report:

Others respond that the release of the report is essential to making sure the U.S. government never tortures again:

But here’s the thing: it will happen again. No one was ever punished for torturing detainees or giving orders to torture detainees. If you remove all penalties for murder, you don’t think the murder rate will go up? Simply exposing that “murder happens” isn’t going to change behavior in the long run.

If the U.S. government really wanted to keep itself from torturing innocent people again, it would expose and prosecute the individuals responsible.

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The New York Times had piece this weekend on the IRS and asset forfeiture:

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.

In the kind of logic that only passes as logic when backed with the authority of the state:

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks and other financial institutions must report cash deposits greater than $10,000. But since many criminals are aware of that requirement, banks also are supposed to report any suspicious transactions, including deposit patterns below $10,000.

So deposits of over $10,000 are suspicious. Since criminals know that, deposits of under $10,000 are also suspicious. And suspicion—not proof of a criminal act—is sufficient for a seizure warrant. You can prove your innocence, of course. But that can be a daunting challenge once you have been stripped of your resources.

The one consolation—as of today, the IRS doesn’t have drones.

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A Fond Farewell

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is on his way out the door, and the New York Times Editorial Board has a lengthy farewell. Please read it in its entirety, because you will need to work through ten paragraphs before you arrive at this:

Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department approved the targeted killing of civilians, including Americans, without judicial review, and the Obama administration fought for years to keep the justifications for such efforts secret. In the zeal to stop leaks of government information, Mr. Holder brought more prosecutions under the Espionage Act than during all previous presidencies combined. In tracking the sources of leaks, prosecutors seized phone and email records of journalists who were doing their jobs.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think this should have been the opening paragraph. Of course, after that paragraph little else would have–or should have–mattered.

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Bad guys (and gals) beware: Dustin Volz (National Journal) reports that the “FBI’s Facial-Recognition Technology Has Achieved ‘Full Operational Capability’”

The agency announced two new services Monday that complete the database’s “operational capability.” The first, called Rap Back, allows officials to receive “ongoing status notifications” regarding the reported criminal history of people “in positions of trust, such as schoolteachers.”

And

The other newly deployed service is the Interstate Photo System, a facial-recognition program that will allow law-enforcement agencies, including probation and parole officers, to cross-reference photographic images with criminal databases.

The Privacy Coalition (over 30 groups, including the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation) is not pleased. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, it observed:

The facial recognition component of NGI [Next Generation Identification System] poses real threats to privacy for all Americans, and could, in the future, allow us to be monitored and tracked in unprecedented ways. NGI will include criminal and non-criminal photos, and the FBI projects that by 2015, the database could include as many as 52 million face images. 4.3 million of those would be taken for non- criminal purposes, such as employer background checks. It appears FBI plans to include these non-criminal images every time a law enforcement agency performs a criminal search of the database.

Fortunately, the Privacy Coalition does not need to be concerned. As Volz reports:

FBI Director James Comey attempted to dispel fears that the use of biometric data for identification purposes amounted to some sort of Orwellian tracking system. Comey testified before Congress that the database would not collect or store photos of everyday people. Its use, he said, is only intended to “find bad guys by matching pictures to mugshots.”

No federal laws limit the use of facial-recognition software, either by the private sector or the government.

As I concluded the other day when discussing asset forfeiture, “NSA collection of data, militarization of police forces, the wide scale practice of “stop and seize”… One does not have to be a cynic to discern a pattern here.” We can now add the fully operational facial recognition technology to the list.

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Michael Salla, Robert O’Harrow Jr, and Steven Rich (The Washington Post) have written an interesting series on asset forfeiture (see the teaser “Civil asset forfeitures more than double under Obama,” by Christopher Ingraham on Wonkblog). The basic presumption of asset forfeiture is simple: you are guilty until proven innocent. If you are the target of “stop and seize,” you bear the burden of proving that your assets were not involved in criminal activity. Even if charges are never filed, you may not get your assets back. And due to the Equitable Sharing Program, state and local authorities have strong financial incentives to take asset forfeiture seriously. What could possibly go wrong?

forfeitures

(more…)

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The War at Home

Images of warfare abound these days, from Syria, Gaza, northern Iraq…and Ferguson, MO. As Dylan Scott (TPM) notes, the images out of Ferguson have been “harrowing.” “American law enforcement decked out in military fatigues, patrolling the streets in armored vehicles that look like they were plucked out of Afghanistan or Iraq.” 

I have blogged in the past about the distribution of war surplus to domestic police forces via the Department of Defense’s 1033 program (here and here).  Unsurprisingly, Ferguson and St. Louis County have both benefited from the 1033 program. Although precise information is difficult to come by—the Pentagon only releases information on tactical equipment for counties—USA Today has a partial list for St. Louis County, which includes twelve 5.56 mm rifles, six .45 caliber pistols, night vision equipment, vehicles, a trailer, and a generator.

National Journal has some images of the police response in Ferguson, in a piece aptly titled: “What a Militarized Police Force Does to a City.” Terrence McCoy (Washington Post) has an article on the use of tear gas in Ferguson. As McCoy explains:

Despite its ubiquity across the globe and in United States, tear gas is a chemical agent banned in warfare per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which set forth agreements signed by nearly every nation in the world — including the United States. The catch, however, is that while it’s illegal in war, it’s legal in domestic riot control.

Sven-Eric Jordt, Yale School of Medicine, is quoted as saying: “Tear gas under the Geneva Convention is characterized as a chemical warfare agent, and so it is precluded for use in warfare, but it is used very frequently against civilians. That’s very illogical.”

It is also illogical to provide police forces with military grade equipment based on the urgency of the war on drugs or the war on terror. As recent stories reveal (recounted in a fine piece by Radley Balko, WSJ), SWAT teams and the technology they have been provided through 1033 and Homeland Security grants have been used judiciously to break up illegal poker games at VFW halls, to stop underage drinking in a New Haven bar, and to apprehend Tibetan monks whose visas had expired in Iowa.

Balko concludes: “What would it take to dial back such excessive police measures? The obvious place to start would be ending the federal grants that encourage police forces to acquire gear that is more appropriate for the battlefield. Beyond that, it is crucial to change the culture of militarization in American law enforcement.”

Until that occurs, one fears, the war at home will continue.

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