Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘rule of law

Reaping the whirlwind: torture cases burgeoning

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Well, if you torture people and it’s illegal, I guess you have to expect that you’ll end up in court. Daphne Eviatar writes in the Washington Independent:

Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals announced that its full court would reconsider the disturbing case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen arrested by U.S. authorities at JFK airport in 2002 and forcibly extradited to Syria for interrogation. As U.S. officials surely expected, Arar was questioned under torture for the next year in a Syrian prison. He was eventually released without charge.

One of the first known victims of the Bush administration’s secret “extraordinary rendition” policy, Arar sued U.S. authorities in 2004 for conspiring in his torture. A three-judge panel dismissed the case in January, saying that as an alien deported by immigration authorities, he had no right to bring a claim. But as more such cases are being filed, it appears the courts are beginning to reconsider. The entire Second Circuit court — all 22 judges — last week announced sua sponte that it would take a second look at Arar’s case. Meanwhile, similar cases filed by former detainees apparently tortured under the direction of U.S. officials could be headed to the Supreme Court.

Legal experts predict that many more such cases could be filed — as the hundreds of prisoners abused and then released from U.S. detention centers around the world begin seeking redress from Washington. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, an independent non-governmental organization, has already documented more than 330 cases in which “U.S. military and civilian personnel are credibly alleged to have abused or killed detainees” in detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among those were three British citizens — Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed — who traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to offer humanitarian relief to civilians displaced by the war. In late November, they were kidnapped by Rashid Dostum, an Uzbeki warlord and leader of the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance. He turned them over to U.S. custody – apparently for bounty money that American officials were paying for suspected terrorists. In December, without any independent evidence that the men had engaged in hostilities against the United States, U.S. officials sent them to Guantanamo Bay. Over the next two years, they claim, they were imprisoned in cages, tortured and humiliated, until they were returned to Britain in 2004. None was ever charged with a crime.

Seven months later, the three men, as well as another British citizen picked up in Afghanistan and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, sued former Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld and a host of other military commanders for directing and authorizing their torture, as well as violating their religious rights. (They were forced to shave their beards and watch as their Korans were flushed down the toilet.)

In January, a federal appeals court decided that even if all their claims are true, Rumsfeld and his fellow military commanders are immune from suit.

Though torture, physical abuse and humiliation of prisoners violate domestic and international law — as well as the U.S. Constitution — the court had found that the officials were acting “within the scope of their employment” and cannot be held personally responsible. What’s more, the court reasoned, they’re immune from liability because it wasn’t clear when they authorized the torture that detainees at Guantanamo Bay had any enforceable rights. As for the men’s religious rights, the court decided that none were “persons” entitled to the protection of the law they sued under. Case dismissed.

It’s become a common refrain that even if government officials broke the law, there’s no one willing to enforce it. Several other cases brought by prisoners who say they were tortured in U.S. custody have been dismissed on similar grounds, before ever reaching the merits. Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey has repeatedly said he won’t even investigate whether government officials committed crimes by authorizing the torture of prisoners, despite the growing volume of evidence supporting that charge.

Still, it’s not clear that those who authorized the brutal interrogations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere will all get off scot-free. Lawyers representing the former British detainees say they plan to seek review in the Supreme Court. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2008 at 2:14 pm

Telecoms and immunity for lawbreakers

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Good point:

You’d think anyone who remembered J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Nixon’s CIA, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 — let alone the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution — might be concerned about the government illegally snooping on Americans. But executives at the nation’s biggest telecoms — AT&T, Verizon, and others — didn’t blink an eye when the National Security Agency came knocking. You want records of domestic phone calls? Sure, help yourself! Emails? Yeah, we got tons. They’re yours!

When word of this leaked out and the companies got sued by Americans who didn’t particularly like the idea of government rummaging through everything they said or wrote, the telecoms went to Congress and complained it wasn’t their fault. They deserve immunity from such lawsuits, they argue. They were only following orders. Congress is about to decide whether their argument holds water. It doesn’t.

Only following orders? What if the government told telecoms to use their technologies to spy on American bedrooms, or turn over our bank accounts, or our photographs, home videos, anything else we store on computers or transmit through cables or over the Internet? The “only following orders” excuse would make telecoms extensions of our spy agencies.

Corporate executives have a duty to disobey government orders when they have reason to believe those orders are illegal or unconstitutional — and make the government go to court to get what it wants. The duty to refuse is especially important when it comes to the nation’s telecoms, whose technological reach is extending deeper and deeper into our private lives.

Sure, there’s a delicate balance between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties. But that’s for courts to decide – not spy agencies and not telecom executives. If in doubt, the telecoms can go to the special courts set up precisely to oversee this balance, and get a declaratory judgment. Yet the only way to keep pressure on them to do this and not become agents of our spy agencies is to continue to allow Americans to sue them for violating their legal rights.

Written by Leisureguy

3 December 2007 at 1:41 pm

Excellent! Take that, Dianne Feinstein

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Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) will offer an amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow to “strike retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies alleged to have assisted with the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.” From his statement:

Granting retroactive immunity for companies that allegedly went along with this illegal program is unjustified and undermines the rule of law. Not only would retroactive immunity set the terrible precedent that breaking the law is permissible and companies need not worry about the privacy of their customers, but it would likely prevent courts from ruling on the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. This program was one of the worst abuses of executive power in our history, and the courts should be able to rule on it once and for all.

Read his recent letter to the editor responding to John Ashcroft on the issue in The New York Times HERE.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2007 at 2:08 pm

The telecom amnesty

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More from Glenn Greenwald:

Leading telecom advocate Fred Hiatt this morning turned over his Washington Post Op-Ed page today to leading telecom advocate Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, to explain why it is so “unfair and unwise” to allow telecoms to be sued for breaking the law. Just as all Bush followers do when they want to “justify” lawbreaking, Rockefeller’s entire defense is principally based on one argument: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. Thus he melodramatically begins:

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration had a choice: Aggressively pursue potential terrorists using existing laws or devise new, secret intelligence programs in uncharted legal waters. . . . Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president. These companies were assured that their cooperation was not only legal but also necessary because of their unique technical capabilities. They were also told it was their patriotic duty to help protect the country after the devastating attacks on our homeland.

Using 9/11 to “justify” telecom amnesty is not only manipulative, but also completely misleading. Telecoms did not merely break the law in the intense days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks. Had they done only that, there would almost certainly be no issue. Indeed, the lead counsel in the AT&T case, Cindy Cohn, said in the podcast interview I conducted with her last week that had telecoms enabled illegal surveillance only in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — but then thereafter demanded that the surveillance be conducted legally — EFF almost certainly would not have sued at all. But that isn’t what happened. Both the Bush administration and the telecoms jointly broke the law for years. Even as we moved further and further away from the 9/11 attacks, neither the administration nor the telecoms bothered to comply with the law. The administration was too interested in affirming the theory that the President could exercise power without limits, and the telecoms were too busy reaping the great profits from their increasingly close relationship with the Government.

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Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2007 at 12:55 pm

Accountability: where is it when we need it?

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Good post by Stephen Pizzo:

Those us of a certain age have been here and done this before. And many of us wonder how we could possibly allowed ourselves to be sucked into it again. And then it dawned on me this weekend — the one critical thing we did not learn from our disastrous Vietnam experience. It’s not what we did, but what we failed to do. And that one thing is the reason for nearly everything that’s gone so terribly wrong in Iraq and our so-called “war on terror.”

Got your pen? Because we can’t afford to ever for this again. Okay, here it is:

Accountability — personal, civil, criminal and international accountability.

We forced just that on Nazi government, officials, military and collaborators after WW II. And we insisted on it for the Khmer Rouge butchers of Cambodia. We even imposed it on the leaders we deposed in Iraq who are, one by one, being tried and hung for the crimes they committed against Shiites in Iraq.

But nothing even close to that happened to the men who trumped up and executed the war in Vietnam. The only accountability they’ve faced has been easily dismissed rhetorical scoldings. Instead of facing their accusers in a court of law they were allowed to go on with their lives as if the blood of thousands wasn’t virtually dripping from their hands.

Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara and other’s in the Johnson and Nixon administrations actually went on to advise other presidents and continue to live the good life unmolested — un-prosecuted.

It’s a fact of history that undoubtedly gave considerable aid and comfort to officials of the current administration. Great comfort must have been provided by the sight of Henry Kissinger popping in and out of the Bush White House and McNamara appearing on panels with academic and other former government officials. Those two men alone are responsible for the deaths of more civilians than Saddam Hussein’s entire bloody career. Yet nearly 40 after their crime spree, they walk free, respected, included, wealthy.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2007 at 11:08 am

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