Civil Liberties News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on civil liberties
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.
The director of national intelligence affirmed rather bluntly today that the U.S. intelligence community has authority to target American citizens for assassination if they present a direct terrorist threat to the United States. "We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community; if we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee. "Whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American ... is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved." Blair explained. According to U.S. officials, only a handful of Americans would be eligible for targeting by U.S. intelligence or military operations. The DNI said that Internet and social media sites have become critical to terrorism recruitment efforts. "The homegrown radicalization of people in the United States is a relatively new thing." Blair said U.S. intelligence was rapidly working to counter the emerging problem.
Note: To read a valuable commentary on Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair's claimed "war exception" to the Constitution, permitting assassination of American citizens by the US military and intelligence services without judicial review or legal process of any kind, click here. For the views of several legal experts, click here.
The CIA sequence for a Predator strike ends with a missile but begins with a memo. Usually no more than two or three pages long, it bears the name of a suspected terrorist, the latest intelligence on his activities, and a case for why he should be added to a list of people the agency is trying to kill. No U.S. citizen has ever been on the CIA's target list. But that is expected to change as CIA analysts compile a case against a Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico but now resides in Yemen. He is a U.S. citizen and until recently was mainly known as a preacher espousing radical Islamic views. Awlaki's status as a U.S. citizen requires special consideration, according to former officials familiar with the criteria for the CIA's targeted killing program. But while Awlaki has not yet been placed on the CIA list, the officials said it is all but certain that he will be. The CIA has carried out Predator attacks in Yemen since at least 2002, when a drone strike killed six suspected Al Qaeda operatives traveling in a vehicle across desert terrain. The agency knew that one of the operatives was an American, Kamal Derwish, who was among those killed. Derwish was never on the CIA's target list, officials said, and the strike was aimed at a senior Al Qaeda operative.
Note: As the last few sentences of this long report indicate, assassination of their own citizens by US military and intelligence agencies has been going on for years. For many key reports from reliable sources on assassination as state policy, click here.
Researchers are already using brain-computer interfaces to aid the disabled, treat diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and provide therapy for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Work is under way on devices that may eventually let you communicate with friends telepathically, give you superhuman hearing and vision or even let you download data directly into your brain, a la "The Matrix." Researchers are practically giddy over the prospects. "We don't know what the limits are yet," says Melody Moore Jackson, director of Georgia Tech University's BrainLab. At the root of all this technology is the 3-pound generator we all carry in our head. It produces electricity at the microvolt level. But the signals are strong enough to move robots, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs -- with the help of an external processor. One of the more controversial uses under development is telepathy. It would require at least two people to be implanted with electrodes that send and receive signals. DARPA, the Pentagon's technology research division, is currently working on an initiative called "Silent Talk," which would let soldiers on secret missions communicate with their thoughts alone. This stealth component is attractive, but naysayers fear that such soldiers could become manipulated for evil means.
Note: Remember that secret military research such as that undertaken by DARPA is often years ahead of capabilities publicly acknowledged.
Health care workers are planning to take to the streets Tuesday at a rally in front of the Albany, N.Y. state capitol to protest mandatory vaccination. The rally is intended to call for "freedom of choice in vaccination and health care" and to protest mandatory vaccination for influenza and the H1N1 swine flu. "This vaccine has not been clinically tested to the same degree as the regular flu vaccine," Tara Accavallo, a registered nurse on Long Island, told Newsday. "If something happens to me, if I get seriously injured from this vaccine, who's going to help me?" While physicians, nurses, and medical technicians may not be known for their willingness to march on state capitols, a recent New York Department of Health requirement has sparked an unusually intense response. The August 13 regulations say that all health care workers who "could potentially expose patients" must be vaccinated for influenza by November 30 unless it would be "detrimental" to the recipient's health. This raises an obvious and important question: Under what circumstances can government officials order mandatory vaccination? And could the general public be ordered to roll up their sleeves for injections, even if there might be side effects beyond a sore arm or mild fever? The concern in New York also comes as skepticism of vaccination in general seems to be on the rise.
Note: For more on this protest, click here. Note that the U.S. government has granted immunity from lawsuits to the drug companies manufacturing the vaccines. So who will be responsible if there is a repeat of the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, where hundreds died and thousands were paralyzed by the vaccines?
The Justice Department has indicated that the Obama administration is in support of renewing [three] controversial sections of the USA Patriot Act that expire later this year. The provisions that will expire in December include Section 206, that allows "roving" wiretaps so FBI agents can tap multiple phones or computers (with court authorization) that a specific person (target) may use. Another expiring provision, Section 215, is the so-called "library provision," which allows investigators to obtain [library, medical, business, banking and other] records with approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And the final provision which was nicknamed the "Lone Wolf" authorization, allows intelligence gathering of people not suspected of being part of a foreign government or known terrorist organization. Critics of the Patriot Act protested loudly that the FBI could obtain individuals' library records under the legislation. [But] section 215 is much more expansive than reviewing a suspected terrorist's summer reading list. [It] allows the FBI to obtain any business record, "any tangible things," like credit card and bank statements and also allows access to medical and mental health records. The provision has been used to obtain communication and subscriber information to help set up surveillance and monitoring of computers and telephones.
Note: The American Library Association, the national organization of professional librarians, was the first and strongest defender of civil liberties after the passage of the PATRIOT Act. For a discussion of the concerns of professional librarians over this decision by the Obama administration, click here.
A written exam administered by the Pentagon labels "protests" as a form of “low-level terrorism” – enraging civil liberties advocates and activist groups who say it shows blatant disregard of the First Amendment. The written exam, given as part of Department of Defense employees’ routine training, includes a multiple-choice question that asks: “Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorism?” – Attacking the Pentagon – IEDs – Hate crimes against racial groups – Protests. The correct answer, according to the exam, is "Protests." “Its part of a pattern of equating dissent and protest with terrorism," said Ann Brick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained a copy of the question after a Defense Department employee who was taking the test printed the screen on his or her computer terminal. "It undermines the core constitutional values the Department of Defense is supposed to be defending,” Brick said, referring to the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. She said the ACLU has asked the Defense Department to remove the question and send out a correction to all employees who took the exam. “There were other employees who were unhappy with it and disturbed by it,” Brick said. Anti-war protesters, who say they have been targets of federal surveillance for years, were livid when they were told about the exam question. “That’s illegal,” said George Martin, national co-chairman of United for Peace and Justice. “Protest in terms of legal dissent has to be recognized, especially by the authorities. It’s not terrorism or a lack of patriotism. We care enough to be active in our government.”
Note: For lots more on the continually-escalating government threats to civil liberties, click here.
Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants. The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas. They have made official complaints to the police, to the body which oversees the work of the Security Service and to their local MP Frank Dobson. Now they have decided to speak publicly about their experiences in the hope that publicity will stop similar tactics being used in the future. Three of the men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays last year. After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats. Two other Muslim men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 and 25, was warned that if he did not help the security services he would be considered a terror suspect. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from his honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He too claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the UK."
Note: For lots more on the "war on terror" from reliable sources, click here.
The National Security Agency has been campaigning to lead the government’s rapidly growing cybersecurity programs, raising privacy and civil liberties concerns among some officials who fear that the move could give the spy agency too much control over government computer networks. The security agency’s interest in taking over the dominant role has met resistance, including the resignation of the Homeland Security Department official who was until last month in charge of coordinating cybersecurity efforts throughout the government. Rod Beckstrom, who resigned in March as director of the National Cyber Security Center at the Homeland Security Department, said ... that he feared that the N.S.A.’s push for a greater role in guarding the government’s computer systems could give it the power to collect and analyze every e-mail message, text message and Google search conducted by every employee in every federal agency. Mr. Beckstrom said he believed that an intelligence service that is supposed to focus on foreign targets should not be given so much control over the flow of information within the United States government. To detect threats against the computer infrastructure — including hackers, viruses and intrusions by foreign agents and terrorists — cybersecurity guardians must have virtually unlimited access to networks. Mr. Beckstrom argues that those responsibilities should be divided among agencies. “I have very serious concerns about the concentration of too much power in one agency,” he said. “Power over information is so important, and it is so difficult to monitor, that we need to have checks and balances.”
Note: For further disturbing reports from reliable sources on government efforts to establish total surveillance systems, click here.
Canadian officials have denied outspoken anti-war British MP George Galloway entry into Canada on grounds he poses a threat to national security. Alykhan Velshi, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, said today Galloway has openly supported Hamas, classified as a terrorist group in Canada, as well as other terrorists. Galloway, who was expected to begin a Canadian speaking tour in Toronto on March 30, called the ban outrageous. Galloway said his supposed support for Hamas amounted to leading an aid convoy into Gaza to break the "illegal siege" following the month-long Israeli incursion in January. "I led a convoy of 110 British vehicles, more than 300 British citizens, to break the illegal siege of Gaza just a few days ago. Most people in the world think that feeding people under siege is something to be commended rather than something to get you banned," he told the Star in a telephone interview from his London office. He noted that when news he was being denied entry to visit Canada first appeared in the British press, it was supposedly because he had expressed opposition to the NATO-led Afghan war. Some critics have called the government's decision to bar Galloway an attack on free speech. Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq. He formed his own party, Respect, and won re-election to the Commons in 2005.
Powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill are clamoring for creation of a bipartisan "9/11 style" commission to investigate the legality of the Bush administration's antiterrorism tactics—especially its use of harsh interrogation techniques. The case for a "truth" commission was bolstered by the disclosure this month that the CIA had destroyed 92 videotapes of the interrogations and confinement of Al Qaeda suspects. A dozen showed the use of ... torture. Lawmakers say the obvious model for such an inquiry would be the 9/11 Commission. [But] the commission appears to have ignored obvious clues throughout 2003 and 2004 that its account of the 9/11 plot and Al Qaeda's history relied heavily on information obtained from detainees who had been subjected to torture, or something not far from it. The [Commission] raised no public protest over the CIA's interrogation methods. In fact, the Commission demanded that the CIA carry out new rounds of interrogations in 2004 to get answers to its questions. That has troubling implications for the credibility of the commission's final report. In intelligence circles, testimony obtained through torture is typically discredited; research shows that people will say anything under threat of intense physical pain. Former senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Democrat on the commission, told me last year he had long feared that the investigation depended too heavily on the accounts of Al Qaeda detainees who were physically coerced into talking. Kerrey said it might take "a permanent 9/11 commission" to end the remaining mysteries of September 11.
Note: For key statements by hundreds of respected scholars and professionals questioning the accuracy of the 9/11 Commission's report, click here.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a tool that George Orwell's Thought Police might have found useful: an artificial intelligence system designed to gain insight into what people are thinking. The device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts. As more and more data is collected—through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records - it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think. The system is so potentially intrusive that at least one researcher has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability. Known as Aquaint, which stands for "Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence," the project was run for many years by John Prange, an NSA scientist at the Advanced Research and Development Activity. A supersmart search engine, capable of answering complex questions ... would be very useful for the public. But that same capability in the hands of an agency like the NSA - absolutely secret, often above the law, resistant to oversight, and with access to petabytes of private information about Americans - could be a privacy and civil liberties nightmare. "We must not forget that the ultimate goal is to transfer research results into operational use," said ... Prange.
Note: Watch a highly revealing PBS Nova documentary providing virtual proof that the NSA could have stopped 9/11 but chose not to. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security. Deliberate employment of weapons of mass destruction or other catastrophic capabilities, unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters are all paths to disruptive domestic shock. An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home. Already predisposed to defer to the primacy of civilian authorities in instances of domestic security and divest all but the most extreme demands in areas like civil support and consequence management, DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.
Note: For an analysis which deconstructs the opaque military jargon in which this revealing strategic document is written, click here. Use of military forces to maintain domestic order has been forbidden since 1878 by the Posse Comitatus Act. The Pentagon appears to be planning to abrogate this key support of civil liberties.
The Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor says the U.S. government's terror watch list likely has caused thousands of innocent Americans to be questioned, searched or otherwise hassled. Former Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson would know: he is one of them. Robinson joined [with] the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday to urge fixing the list that's supposed to identify suspected terrorists. "It's a pain in the neck, and significantly interferes with my travel arrangements," said Robinson, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division during the Clinton administration. He believes his name matches that of someone who was put on the list in early 2005, and is routinely delayed while flying — despite having his own government top-secret security clearances renewed last year. He [said] "I expect my story is similar to hundreds of thousands of people who are on this list who find themselves inconvenienced." [The watch list] was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to consolidate 12 existing lists. Audits of the watch list over the last several years ... have concluded that it has mistakenly flagged innocent people whose names are similar to those on it. More than 30,000 airline passengers had asked the Homeland Security Department to clear their names from the list as of October 2006. The ACLU predicted the watch list would include 1 million names as early as Monday. The civil liberties group reached that number by citing the 700,000 records on the watch list as of last September and adding 20,000 names each month, as forecast by the Justice Department's inspector general.
Note: For many disturbing reports on threats to civil liberties, click here.
Nearly 40 years ago, the FBI was roundly criticized for investigating Americans without evidence [that] they had broken any laws. Now, critics fear the FBI may be gearing up to do it again. Tentative Justice Department guidelines, to be released later this summer, would let agents investigate people whose backgrounds -- and potentially their race or ethnicity -- match the traits of terrorists. Such profiling ... echoes the FBI's now-defunct COINTELPRO, an operation under Director J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s and 1960s to monitor and disrupt groups with communist and socialist ties. Before it was shut down in 1971, the domestic spying operation -- formally known as Counterintelligence Programs -- had expanded to include civil rights groups, anti-war activists, ... state legislators and journalists. Among the FBI's targets were Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and John Lennon, along with members of black [political] groups ... and student protesters. The new proposal to allow investigations of Americans with no evidence of wrongdoing is "COINTELPRO for the 21st century," said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But this is much more insidious because it could involve more people. In the days of COINTELPRO, they were watching only a few people. Now they could be watching everyone."
Note: For many disturbing reports on threats to civil liberties, click here.
The two-star general who led an Army investigation into the horrific detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib has accused the Bush administration of war crimes and is calling for accountability. In his 2004 report on Abu Ghraib, then-Major General Anthony Taguba concluded that "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees." He called the abuse "systemic and illegal." And, as Seymour M. Hersh reported in The New Yorker, he was rewarded for his honesty by being forced into retirement. Now, in a preface to a Physicians for Human Rights report based on medical examinations of former detainees, Taguba adds an epilogue to his own investigation. The new report, he writes, "tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individual's lives on their bodies and minds. The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes."
Note: For many revealing reports on the brutal realities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, click here.
The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn't the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers. It was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials. The Supreme Court now has struck down many of their legal interpretations. The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the “War Council," drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone ... from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes. The international conventions ... to which [the US is] a party, were abandoned in secret meetings among the five men in one another's offices: ... David Addington, the ... longtime legal adviser and now chief of staff to Cheney [whose] primary motive, according to several former administration and defense officials, was to push for an expansion of presidential power that Congress or the courts couldn't check; Alberto Gonzales, first the White House counsel and then the attorney general; William J. Haynes II, the former Pentagon general counsel; former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, [and] Timothy E. Flanigan, a former deputy to Gonzales.
Note: Virtually no major media other than the Herald picked up this key story.
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