Civil Liberties News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on civil liberties
Early one morning, 50 years ago today, while his wife, Mary, slept upstairs, Ernest Hemingway went into the vestibule of his Ketchum, Idaho, house, selected his favorite shotgun from the rack, inserted shells into its chambers and ended his life. There were many differing explanations at the time: that he had terminal cancer or money problems, that it was an accident, that he’d quarreled with Mary. None were true. As his friends knew, he’d been suffering from depression and paranoia for the last year of his life. This man, who had stood his ground against charging water buffaloes, who had flown missions over Germany, who had refused to accept the prevailing style of writing but, enduring rejection and poverty, had insisted on writing in his own unique way, this man, my deepest friend, was afraid — afraid that the F.B.I. was after him. Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file. I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.
Note: The view that FBI harassment contributed to Hemingway's suicide is similar to the conclusion of many observers that the FBI hounded microbiologist Bruce Ivins to death by investigating him for involvement in the anthrax attacks that occurred just after 9/11. For an important analysis of the reality of the anthrax attacks by Prof. Graeme MacQueen of McMaster University, which makes it clear they could not have been carried out by a "lone nut" as claimed by the FBI, click here.
When two senators warned that the Patriot Act is being interpreted in a secret way that would alarm Americans if they knew the details, civil liberties activists could only speculate about what they meant. The activists' fear: that the government is using the anti-terrorism law to collect vast troves of personal information, including cellphone records, on Americans who have no link to terrorism. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, both Democrats, proclaimed that the Patriot Act's surveillance powers are being used far more expansively than most Americans realize. "Today the American people do not know how their government interprets the language of the Patriot Act," Wyden said. "Someday they are going to find out, and a lot of them are going to be stunned. Some of them will undoubtedly ask their senators: 'Did you know what this law actually did? Why didn't you know? Wasn't it your job to know, before you voted on it?'" The warnings by two lawmakers with access to secret information underscore the extent to which government surveillance is shielded from view, in an age when nearly every American leaves a digital trail through the Internet and mobile devices. A clue about Wyden's concerns may be found in a separate bill he is proposing, to forbid the government from tracking, without a court order, the location of Americans through the GPS signals given out by their cellphones.
Pennsylvania Amish farmer Dan Allgyer has become a cause celebre for raw milk drinkers as the target of a Food and Drug Administration campaign - using sting operations and guns-drawn raids usually reserved for terrorists and drug lords - to eliminate unpasteurized milk. Such milk, also known as raw or fresh milk, is legal in California and considered essential to Europe's finest cheeses, creams and butters. Allgyer is the latest to feel the force of a yearslong Food and Drug Administration campaign against raw milk that has focused on tiny farms and consumer co-ops. Raw milk drinkers say cooking milk diminishes its flavor and nutrients. They said similar sterilization standards, if applied across the American diet, would ban sushi, medium-rare steaks, oysters on the shell and most raw fruits and vegetables. The Food Safety and Modernization Act approved by Congress last year and signed by President Obama in January has vastly enhanced the agency's powers. Starting July 3, the agency can confiscate any food at any farm that it deems unsafe or mislabeled. Throughout Europe, uncooked milk is the norm, dispensed in vending machines in Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia and the Netherlands. It is healthy, adherents say, because it contains fat that is not broken down by homogenization and is free of antibiotics and hormones, because cows are raised in small herds on pastures.
The mob was already waiting for James Zwerg by the time the Greyhound bus eased into the station in Montgomery, Alabama. Looking out the window, Zwerg could see men gripping baseball bats, chains and clubs. They had sealed off the streets leading to the bus station and chased away news photographers. They didn't want anyone to witness what they were about to do. Zwerg accepted his worst fear: He was going to die today. Only the night before, Zwerg had prayed for the strength to not strike back in anger. He was among the 18 white and black college students from Nashville who had decided to take the bus trip through the segregated South in 1961. They called themselves Freedom Riders. Their goal was to desegregate public transportation. Zwerg had not planned to go, but the night before, some students had asked him to join them. To summon his courage, Zwerg stayed up late, reading Psalm 27, the scripture that the students had picked to read during a group prayer before their trip. "The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I fear?" the Psalm began. But there was another passage at the end that touched Zwerg in a place the other students didn't know about: "Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me." Zwerg's parents had forsaken him for joining the civil rights movement.
Note: For another amazingly inspiring story of a man in the civil rights movement who faced death by hatred with compassion, click here. And for a powerfully inspiring New York Times article on the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, click here. We have clearly come a long way in building more harmony between races.
Weeks after generating an uproar for the aggressive screening of a six-year-old child in New Orleans, the TSA is again facing criticism for an enhanced pat-down. Former Miss USA Susie Castillo says she was "molested" by a TSA screener at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after declining to go through a body scanner due to radiation concerns. According to a detailed account from the Dallas Morning News, Castillo wrote "My private area was grazed four times!" on a complaint card after the screening. Castillo immediately shot a tearful video recounting the episode more explicitly and posted it on YouTube. The Boston Herald quotes from the video: "That's why I'm crying, that's why I'm so upset. They're making me choose to either get molested, because that's what I feel like, or go through this machine that's completely unhealthy and dangerous." TSA spokesman Luis Casanova defended the screening procedure. "Everything [the screener] did was according to protocol," Casanova said.
Note: For key articles on increasing reductions of civil liberties by governments, click here.
The "war on drugs" has failed and should be abandoned in favour of evidence-based policies that treat addiction as a health problem, according to prominent public figures including former heads of MI5 and the Crown Prosecution Service. Leading peers – including prominent Tories – say that despite governments worldwide drawing up tough laws against dealers and users over the past 50 years, illegal drugs have become more accessible. Vast amounts of money have been wasted on unsuccessful crackdowns, while criminals have made fortunes importing drugs into this country. The increasing use of the most harmful drugs such as heroin has also led to “enormous health problems”, according to the group. The MPs and members of the House of Lords, who have formed a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, are calling for new policies to be drawn up on the basis of scientific evidence. It could lead to calls for the British government to decriminalise drugs, or at least for the police and Crown Prosecution Service not to jail people for possession of small amounts of banned substances.
Note: If you examine topics on which the government has declared war, what is being fought against often increases instead of decreasing. Could it be that the best way to deal with serious problems is not to wage war?
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same. Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions.
Note: The Pentagon claims that the "fake persona" software will not be used on social networks in the United States, because that would break laws against using propaganda on US citizens. How much credence should be given to this assurance?
Three Metropolitan Police officers are under investigation after they were alleged to have inadvertently recorded themselves arranging to falsely arrest a protester during the student fees demonstrations. The officers, who have not been named, are alleged to have conspired to arrest a 20-year-old man who had broken through the police cordon during the protests at Parliament Square in December. The man was chased and caught and, it is alleged, was then struck in the face with a police riot shield which chipped his tooth. The officers are then alleged to have discussed how to arrest the man and are believed to have concocted a story in which they claimed the man had threatened to cause criminal damage to a nearby building. However one of the officers was wearing sound recording equipment which recorded the chase and arrest of the man and the subsequent conversation between the officers. The officers have each been served with letters telling them that they are now being investigated for gross misconduct and criminal matters – believed to be assault and false arrest. A total of 113 complaints were received by the IPCC about police officers behaviour during the four demonstrations. One of them concerns 20-year-old student Alfie Meadows, who needed brain surgery after he was allegedly struck on the head during a protest in December.
Note: For lots more on government corruption, click here.
The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage "fake people" on social media sites. Private security firms employeed by the government have used the accounts to create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues. The contract calls for the development of "Persona Management Software" which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online. According to the contract, the software would "protect the identity of government agencies" by employing a number of false signals to convince users that the poster is in fact a real person. A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer. The software enables the government to shield its identity through a number of different methods including the ability to assign unique IP addresses to each persona and the ability to make it appear as though the user is posting from other locations around the world. The document describes how they would 'friend' real people on Facebook as a way to convey government messages.
Note: To read the government contract for "Persona Management" software, click here.
About a half-hour past midnight [on January 28] in Egypt, the Internet went dead. Almost simultaneously, the handful of companies that pipe the Internet into and out of Egypt went dark as protesters were gearing up for a fresh round of demonstrations calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, experts said. Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent. Experts say it's unlikely that what's happened in Egypt could happen in the United States because the U.S. has numerous Internet providers and ways of connecting to the Internet. Coordinating a simultaneous shutdown would be a massive undertaking. But the idea of a single "kill switch" to turn the Internet on and off has seduced some American lawmakers, who have pushed for the power to shutter the Internet in a national emergency. The Internet blackout in Egypt shows that a country with strong control over its Internet providers apparently can force all of them to pull their plugs at once. It also sets a precedent for other countries grappling with paralyzing political protests — though censoring the Internet and tampering with traffic to quash protests is nothing new.
Note: For information on how a Israeli company bought out by Boeing facilitated the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt, click here. And to learn about a bill being proposed which would give the US president power over an Internet "kill switch," click here.
[Mark] Kennedy moved from undercover agent to agent provocateur. He worked for a murky organisation called the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). With a budget of Ł5m this operates as a branch of the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) which, in turn, works alongside the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). Ask where this stands, and you will be told it reports to the Association of Chief Police Officers' Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee, codenamed Acpo(TAM). Kennedy's bosses in the NPOIU work for Acpo, but this is not what it seems. It is not, as its name suggests, the police officers' staff club, nor is it a public body of any sort. [ACPO] is a private company, incorporated in 1997. It is sub-contracted by Whitehall to operate the police end of the government's counterterrorism and "anti-extremism" strategies. It is thus alongside MI5, but even less accountable. It now runs its own police forces under a police chief boss, Sir Hugh Orde, like a British FBI. It trades on its own account, generating revenue by selling data from the police national computer for Ł70 an item (cost of retrieval, 60p). It owns an estate of 80 flats in central London. As a private company, Acpo need not accede to Freedom of Information requests and presumably could distribute its profit to its own board. The whole operation is reminiscent of the deals set up by the Pentagon with private firms to run the Iraq and Afghan wars, free of publicity or accountability.
A year after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials say they have made it easier to add individuals' names to a terrorist watch list. The failure to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the watch list last year renewed concerns that the government's system to screen out potential terrorists was flawed. Even though Abdulmutallab's father had told U.S. officials of his son's radicalization in Yemen, government rules dictated that a single-source tip was insufficient to include a person's name on the watch list. Since then, senior counterterrorism officials say they have altered their criteria so that a single-source tip, as long as it is deemed credible, can lead to a name being placed on the watch list. But civil liberties groups argue that the government's new criteria, which went into effect over the summer, have made it even more likely that individuals who pose no threat will be swept up in the nation's security apparatus, leading to potential violations of their privacy and making it difficult for them to travel. "They are secret lists with no way for people to petition to get off or even to know if they're on," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. The list, which stands at 440,000 people, [is now] about 5 percent larger than last year.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on growing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators. The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing. The months-long investigation [by The Washington Post], based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that: * Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America. * The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. * Law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies. * The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.
Note: This report is part of a series, "Top Secret America," by The Washington Post. For more, click here.
The British military has been training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness in an apparent breach of the Geneva conventions. Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning, and suggest ways in which this can be achieved. A manual prepared in April 2008 suggests that "Cpers" – captured personnel – be kept in conditions of physical discomfort and intimidated. Sensory deprivation is lawful, it adds, if there are "valid operational reasons". It also urges enforced nakedness. More recent training material says blindfolds, earmuffs and plastic handcuffs are essential equipment for military interrogators, and says that while prisoners should be allowed to sleep or rest for eight hours in each 24, they need be permitted only four hours unbroken sleep. It also suggests that interrogators tell prisoners they will be held incommunicado unless they answer questions. The 1949 Geneva conventions prohibit any "physical or moral coercion", in particular any coercion employed to obtain information. All the British classified training material was produced after the death of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in Basra in September 2003.
Note: For a survey of historic and contemporary uses of torture, click here. For more disturbing information on how Nazi torture techniques were eventually used by the CIA for mind control, click here.
That photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery, Ala.? He took it. The well-known image of black sanitation workers carrying “I Am a Man” signs in Memphis? His. He was there in Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel, Dr. King’s room, on the night he was assassinated. But now an unsettling asterisk must be added to the legacy of Ernest C. Withers, one of the most celebrated photographers of the civil rights era: He was a paid F.B.I. informer. On [September 12], The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed Mr. Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. From at least 1968 to 1970, Mr. Withers, who was black, provided photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to two F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Memphis domestic surveillance program, Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, according to numerous reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site. While he was growing close to top civil rights leaders, Mr. Withers was also meeting regularly with the F.B.I. agents, disclosing details about plans for marches and political beliefs of the leaders, even personal information like the leaders’ car tag numbers.
Note: For a fascinating CNN interview with civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young on this issue, click here. For key reports from reliable sources raising unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King and other major US political leaders, click here.
The North Carolina justice system shook [on August 18] as an audit commissioned by state Attorney General Roy Cooper revealed that the State Bureau of Investigation withheld or distorted evidence in more than 200 cases at the expense of potentially innocent men and women. The full impact of the disclosure will reverberate for years to come as prosecutors and defense attorneys re-examine cases as much as two decades old to figure out whether these errors robbed defendants of justice. Some of the injustices can be addressed as attorneys bring old cases back to court. For others, it's too late. Three of the defendants in [corrupt] cases have been executed. Two former FBI agents, Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, examined more than 15,000 cases at the invitation of Cooper, a Democrat who has been attorney general since 2001. The exoneration of Greg Taylor, a Wake County man imprisoned 17 years for a murder he didn't commit, prompted the review. SBI analyst Duane Deaver admitted in February that he failed to report tests indicating a substance on Taylor's SUV was not blood. Swecker's findings, he said, signal potential violations of the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina laws by withholding information favorable to defendants.
Note: Three innocent individuals were likely executed in this one US state. How many more are there like this around the world?
For six years, Nicholas Merrill has lived in a surreal world of half-truths, where he could not tell even his fiancee, his closest friends or his mother that he is "John Doe" -- the man who filed the first-ever court challenge to the FBI's ability to obtain personal data on Americans without judicial approval. No one knew he was the plaintiff challenging the FBI's authority to issue "national security letters," as they are known, and its ability to impose a gag on the recipient. Now, following the partial lifting of his gag order 11 days ago as a result of an FBI settlement, Merrill can speak openly for the first time about the experience, although he cannot disclose the full scope of the data demanded. "One of the most dangerous and troubling things about the FBI's national security letter powers is how much it has been shrouded in secrecy," said Melissa Goodman, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who helped Merrill sue the government in April 2004 and was one of only a handful of people outside the FBI -- all lawyers -- who knew Merrill had received a letter. The FBI between 2003 and 2006 issued more than 192,500 letters -- an average of almost 50,000 a year. The Justice Department inspector general in 2007 faulted the bureau for failing to adequately justify the issuance of such letters.
Note: For key reports from major media sources on the erosion of civil liberties by government, click here.
When Ian Tomlinson's widow watched video footage of his last moments alive for the first time on a laptop 16 months ago, she was speechless. Julia Tomlinson had been told by police her husband had died of natural causes as he tried to get home through the G20 protest in London, and there was nothing suspicious about the death. But as she watched [video] footage ...a different story unfolded. Tomlinson, hands in pockets, was walking away from police. An officer who was not displaying his badge number, and whose face was concealed behind a balaclava, lunged at her husband from behind and, without provocation, struck him on the leg and pushed him to the ground. The police disregard for Tomlinson was [evident] on footage of the aftermath of the attack, which left him lying on the ground in front of a line of riot police shortly after 7.25pm on 1 April. None of the officers went to the aid of the 47-year-old, who was clearly in distress. Looking disoriented, Tomlinson then stumbled 100 yards down the road before collapsing and dying. The initial police response was to accuse protesters of wrongdoing. Within four hours, Scotland Yard had released a statement saying officers had gone to the victim's aid and called an ambulance, and were attempting to save his life with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In the following days, City of London police, which was investigating the death, would receive information from witnesses that suggested Tomlinson might have been assaulted by an officer. His family were not told about this, and were advised instead that he had died after being caught up in a fracas prompted by anarchist demonstrators attacking police.
Note: This excellent article shows all too clearly how police departments will lie and severely manipulate evidence to defend their own, even when they know they are in the wrong.
The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan's border region. The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as "pattern of life" analysis ... to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list. Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. "There are a lot of ethical questions here about whether we know who the targets are," said Loch Johnson, an intelligence scholar at the University of Georgia and a former congressional aide. President Bush secretly decided in his last year in office to expand the program. Obama has continued and even streamlined the process, so that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta can sign off on many attacks without notifying the White House beforehand, an official said.
Note: How can the CIA be allowed to kill people whose names aren't even known? Why are they allowed to kill anyone without some form of judicial process? For more on this secret and expanding CIA assassination program, click here. For analysis, click here.
All dogs are to be compulsorily microchipped so that their owners can be more easily traced under a crackdown on dangerous dogs. Under the scheme a microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin of the dog between its shoulder blades. The chip contains a unique code number, the dog's name, age, breed and health as well as the owner's name, address and phone number. When the chip is "read" by a handheld scanner the code number is revealed and the details can be checked on a national database. The measures will be set out by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, who will point to rising public concern that "status dogs" are being used by some irresponsible owners to intimidate communities or as a weapon by gangs. If the scheme were made compulsory owners would face a fine for failing to microchip their dogs.
Note: Once all dogs are required to be microchipped, what will come next? To be informed of some disturbing plans to microchip all of us, click here. For lots more on microchipping from reliable sources, click here.
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