Civil Liberties News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on civil liberties
Last Sunday's Observer claimed to expose how "an officer from a secretive unit of the Metropolitan police" worked "undercover among anti-racist groups in Britain, during which he routinely engaged in violence against members of the public and uniformed police officers to maintain his cover". Despite this sensationalist introduction, "Officer A" does not describe his involvement in any violent incidents. No wonder. The organisation he infiltrated, Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) is a peaceful organisation of young people, which in the 1990s organised mass protests against racism and the BNP [British National Party]. YRE [has often faced] violence from the far right, and unfortunately also from the police. The police not only used violence against [YRE] demonstrations but also carried out a secretive, unaccountable and clearly expensive infiltration operation. They gained nothing from it. Far from being secretive [YRE] publicly advertised [its] events. The Observer's revelation is not unique. Christopher Andrew's The Defence of the Realm: the Authorized History of M15, published last year, also describes state infiltration of Militant, the National Union of Miners and others. Surveillance of peaceful protestors has mushroomed. Police brutality also, as the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson showed, is not a thing of the past.
Note: Why would police place officers promoting violence in peaceful groups working against racism? Could it be that key elements within the police are racist?
On Nov. 28, 1953, Frank Olson, a ... 42-year-old government scientist, plunged to his death from room 1018A in New York's Statler Hotel. [Twenty-two] years later, the Rockefeller Commission report was released, detailing a litany of domestic abuses committed by the CIA. The ugly truth emerged: Olson's death was the result of his having been surreptitiously dosed with LSD days earlier by his colleagues. The belated 1975 [admission] ... generated more interest into a series of wildly implausible "mind control" experiments on an unsuspecting populace over three decades. Much of this plot unfolded here, in New York, according to H.P. Albarelli Jr., author of A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments. Albarelli spent more than a decade sifting through more than 100,000 pages of government documents and his most startling chestnut might be his claim that the intelligence community conducted aerosol tests of LSD inside the New York City subway system. "The experiment was pretty shocking — shocking that the CIA and the Army would release LSD like that, among innocent unwitting folks," Albarelli told The Post. An Olson colleague, Dr. Henry Eigelsbach, confirmed to Albarelli that the LSD subway test did, in fact, occur in November 1950, albeit on a smaller scale than first planned. Little, however, is known about the test — what line, how many people and what happened.
When Annie Brown's daughter, Isabel, was a month old, her pediatrician asked Brown and her husband to sit down because he had some bad news to tell them: Isabel carried a gene that put her at risk for cystic fibrosis. While grateful to have the information -- Isabel received further testing and she doesn't have the disease -- the Mankato, Minnesota, couple wondered how the doctor knew about Isabel's genes in the first place. After all, they'd never consented to genetic testing. It's simple, the pediatrician answered: Newborn babies in the United States are routinely screened for a panel of genetic diseases. Since the testing is mandated by the government, it's often done without the parents' consent, according to Brad Therrell, director of the National Newborn Screening & Genetics Resource Center. In many states, such as Florida, where Isabel was born, babies' DNA is stored indefinitely, according to the resource center. Many parents don't realize their baby's DNA is being stored in a government lab, but sometimes when they find out, as the Browns did, they take action. Parents in Texas, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits, and these parents' concerns are sparking a new debate about whether it's appropriate for a baby's genetic blueprint to be in the government's possession.
Note: For many reliable reports on the increasing governmental and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
Police are gathering the personal details of thousands of activists who attend political meetings and protests, and storing their data on a network of nationwide intelligence databases. The hidden apparatus has been constructed to monitor "domestic extremists". Detailed information about the political activities of campaigners is being stored on a number of overlapping IT systems, even if they have not committed a crime. Senior officers say domestic extremism, a term coined by police that has no legal basis, can include activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience. Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the "terrorism and allied matters" committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives Ł9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100. The main unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), runs a central database which lists thousands of so-called domestic extremists. It filters intelligence supplied by police forces across England and Wales, which routinely deploy surveillance teams at protests, rallies and public meetings. Vehicles associated with protesters are being tracked via a nationwide system of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. Police surveillance units, known as Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and Evidence Gatherers, record footage and take photographs of campaigners as they enter and leave openly advertised public meetings. Surveillance officers are provided with "spotter cards" used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests.
Note: This important article should be read in its entirety. For further revelations of the magnitude of this surveillance and "rebranding protest as extremism " program, click here.
Three undercover officers accused of inciting protesters to attack riot police at the 2007 North American leaders summit in Montebello are being summoned to testify before Quebec's independent police ethics committee. The decision from the committee released this week overrules an independent review that exonerated the officers. It also comes more than two years after the black-clad trio were first exposed on YouTube. Dave Coles, the union leader who confronted the men at the time and filed a complaint against the police ... said he suspects an inquiry would find there was political involvement. “This is the big question: Who sent them in?” asked Mr. Coles. “And don't give me some lame excuse that it was a low-level officer.” Video images of the incident posted on YouTube showed three officers disguised as protesters wearing black tops and camouflage pants. Their faces were covered by black and white bandanas. One of them, wearing a sideways ball cap marked with graffiti, held a large stone in his hand. Mr. Coles yelled at them to show their faces and the officer carrying the rock responded with a two-handed shove.
Note: Click on the link above to watch the astonishing YouTube video of this police provocation. This is just one case that happened to be caught on film. Why are undercover police infiltrating activist groups and inciting violence at demonstrations around the world?
The Justice Department ... made public detailed memos describing brutal interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency, as President Obama sought to reassure the agency that the C.I.A. operatives involved would not be prosecuted. In dozens of pages of dispassionate legal prose, the methods approved by the Bush administration for extracting information from senior operatives of Al Qaeda are spelled out in careful detail — like keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box or putting insects into the box to exploit their fears. The interrogation methods were authorized beginning in 2002, and some were used as late as 2005 in the C.I.A.’s secret overseas prisons. The United States prosecuted some Japanese interrogators at war crimes trials after World War II for waterboarding and other methods detailed in the memos. Together, the four memos give an extraordinarily detailed account of the C.I.A.’s methods and the Justice Department’s long struggle, in the face of graphic descriptions of brutal tactics, to square them with international and domestic law. Passages describing forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees alternate with elaborate legal arguments concerning the international Convention Against Torture. The revelations may give new momentum to proposals for a full-blown investigation into Bush administration counterterrorism programs and possible torture prosecutions.
Note: For many revealing reports from major media sources on increasing threats to civil liberties, click here.
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they ... succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads. In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said. Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had [falsely accused] Abu Zubaida. Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a "fixer" for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 -- and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan. Since 2006, Senate intelligence committee members have pressed the CIA, in classified briefings, to provide examples of specific leads that were obtained from Abu Zubaida through the use of waterboarding and other methods, according to officials familiar with the requests. The agency provided none, the officials said.
Note: Was the torture of Abu Zubaida an error, or was it for some other purpose than extracting information from him? For many reports which raise similar questions about the so-called "Global War on Terror", click here.
The [U.K.] government has been accused of trampling on individual liberties by proposing wide-ranging new powers for bailiffs to break into homes and to use “reasonable force” against householders who try to protect their valuables. Under the regulations, bailiffs for private firms would for the first time be given permission to restrain or pin down householders. They would also be able to force their way into homes to seize property to pay off debts, such as unpaid credit card bills and loans. “These laws strip away tried and tested protections that make a person’s home his castle, and which have stood for centuries,” said Paul Nicolson, chairman of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, a London-based welfare charity. “They could clearly lead to violent confrontations and undermine fundamental liberties.” Bailiffs have for hundreds of years been denied powers to break into homes for civil debt or to use force against debtors, except in self-defence. Ministers have now proposed bailiffs be given powers to physically remove debtors who try to defend their property, for example by draping themselves over a car or blocking the door of their home. Details of the new guidelines were obtained under freedom of information laws. Reasonable grounds for breaking down the door include the “movement of a curtain”, a radio being heard or a figure being spotted inside which “may be the offender”. In one case, an 89-year-old grandmother returned home to find a bailiff sitting in her chair having drawn up a list of her possessions. He was pursuing a parking fine owed by her son, who did not even live at the address.
Note: For many disturbing reports from reliable sources on threats to civil liberties, click here.
Flying today can be stressful, inconvenient and downright difficult. But what if there was a way to make it all easier? What if you had one small device, say a bracelet, which carried all your flight information and other data to make things easier? This bracelet could even track you and your luggage. Former United States Air Marshal Jeffrey Denning describes the idea this way: "The bracelets would take the place of boarding tickets. [They] would also work as a GPS to track air travelers and their luggage." Denning says airline passengers might use this bracelet technology in place of a boarding pass but the government could use it for something else. "And here's the shocking part," Denning said. "No pun intended. If the passengers act up it (the bracelet) would shock and immobilize them for several minutes." That's right. If the flight crew decides that you're getting out of control or posing a threat, to them or the plane, they could simply engage a computer, press a button which would activate this bracelet, shocking and incapacitating you for as long as several minutes. "I guess the design was ... for any air passengers who would become a terrorist or be a terrorist," Denning told [CBS4-TV]. "The bracelet has a capacity to shock ... whoever is wearing it kind of like a police 'taser.'"
Note: What will they think of next? To watch this revealing CBS news broadcast, click here.
Charlie Black, senior adviser to John McCain, caused a fluff by saying that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil would be a "big advantage" to his candidate. No one mentioned that eight years ago, the Project for a New American Century called for "a new Pearl Harbor" that could move the American people to accept the neoconservative vision of militarized global domination. Then 9/11 happened, lifting George W. Bush from the shadows of a disputed election to the heights of a "war presidency." Bush has taken on unprecedented powers since the events of 9/11. On that day, the president issued his "Declaration of Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks" under the authority of the National Emergencies Act. This declaration, which can be rescinded by joint resolution of Congress, has instead been extended six times. In 2007, the declaration was quietly strengthened with the issuance of National Security Presidential Directive 51, which gave the president the authority to do whatever he deems necessary in a vaguely defined "catastrophic emergency," including everything from canceling elections to suspending the Constitution to launching a nuclear attack. Not a single congressional hearing was held on this directive. Will Congress act decisively to remove the president's emergency powers, challenge the directive and defend the Constitution?
Thirty pages into a memorandum discussing the legal boundaries of military interrogations in 2003, senior Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo tackled a question not often asked by American policymakers: Could the president, if he desired, have a prisoner's eyes poked out? Or, for that matter, could he have "scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance" thrown on a prisoner? How about slitting an ear, nose or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb? What about biting? These assaults are all mentioned in a U.S. law prohibiting maiming, which Yoo parsed as he clarified the legal outer limits of what could be done to terrorism suspects as detained by U.S. authorities. The specific prohibitions, he said, depended on the circumstances or which "body part the statute specifies." But none of that matters in a time of war, Yoo also said, because federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief. In the sober language of footnotes, case citations and judicial rulings, the memo explores a wide range of unsavory topics, from the use of mind-altering drugs on captives to the legality of forcing prisoners to squat on their toes in a "frog crouch." It repeats an assertion in another controversial Yoo memo that an interrogation tactic cannot be considered torture unless it would result in "death, organ failure or serious impairment of bodily functions." Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, also uses footnotes to effectively dismiss the Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution, arguing that protections against unreasonable search and seizure and guarantees of due process either do not apply or are irrelevant in a time of war. He frequently cites his previous legal opinions to bolster his case.
The Justice Department concluded in October 2001 that military operations combating terrorism inside the United States are not limited by Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, in one of several secret memos containing new and controversial assertions of presidential power. The memo, sent on Oct. 23, 2001, to the Defense Department and the White House by the Office of Legal Counsel, focused on the rules governing any deployment of U.S. forces inside the country "in the event of further large-scale terrorist activities." Administration officials declined to detail what domestic military operations were being contemplated at the time. The memo has not been formally withdrawn. The Fourth Amendment assertion is one of several far-reaching legal arguments revealed by the disclosure Tuesday of a 2003 Justice Department memo that authorized harsh military interrogations. In its footnotes, asides and central text, that 81-page memo asserted nearly unlimited presidential powers during a time of war. The document disclosed, for example, that the administration's top lawyers had declared that the president has unfettered power to seize oceangoing ships as commander in chief; that Congress has no ability to pass legislation governing the interrogations of enemy combatants; and that federal laws prohibiting assault and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators. One section discussed to what extent the president might be allowed to legally maim a prisoner, such as through the use of a "scalding, corrosive, or caustic substance." A footnote argued that Fifth Amendment guarantees of due-process rights "do not address actions the Executive takes in conducting a military campaign against the Nation's enemies."
Note: For further disturbing reports on threats to civil liberties, click here.
When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations. But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document; according to officials briefed on it, [it was] an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency. The new opinion ... for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures. Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard. The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department. Congress and the Supreme Court have intervened repeatedly in the last two years to impose limits on interrogations, and the administration has responded as a policy matter by dropping the most extreme techniques. But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.
One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted. Or worse. For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods. He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers — all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. The buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees. The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co. “It was a Wal-Mart for guns,” he says. “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.” So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn’t know whom to trust in Iraq. For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared. “If you do it, you will be destroyed,” said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. “Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,” Weaver said.
Part One: 'A Different Understanding With the President': In less than an hour ... Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions." "What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded ... when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part. "Angler," as the Secret Service code-named him, has approached the levers of power obliquely, skirting orderly lines of debate he once enforced as chief of staff to President Gerald R. Ford. He has battled a bureaucracy he saw as hostile, using intimate knowledge of its terrain. He has empowered aides to fight above their rank, taking on roles reserved in other times for a White House counsel or national security adviser. And he has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert. Over the past six years, Cheney has shaped his times as no vice president has before. [The] relationship [between Bush and Cheney] is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Cheney's impact on events. Officials who see them together often, not all of them admirers of the vice president, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Cheney is serving Bush's aims.
Note: This is an important, in-depth investigation of the Cheney vice-presidency. It is highly revealing and well worth reading it its entirety.
Behind the county hospital's tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient ... sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping. Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. It is considered virtually untreatable. County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because ... he did not heed doctors' instructions to wear a mask in public. "I'm being treated worse than an inmate," Daniels said. "I'm all alone. Four walls. Even the door to my room has been locked. I haven't seen my reflection in months." He said sheriff's deputies will not let him take a shower -- he cleans himself with wet wipes -- and have taken away his television, radio, personal phone and computer. His only visitors are masked medical staff members who come in to give him his medication. Though Daniels' confinement is extremely rare, health experts say it is a situation that U.S. public health officials may have to confront more and more because of the spread of drug-resistant TB and the emergence of diseases such as SARS and avian flu.
Note: If the above link fails, click here. What possible reason is there for taking away this man's TV, radio, cell phone, and computer? Are we being prepared for mass quarantines and imprisonment due to disease? For more, click here.
Let's say your teenager is a habitual truant and there is nothing you can do about it. A Washington area politician thinks he might have the solution: Fit the child with a Global Positioning System chip, then have police track him down. "It allows them to get caught easier," said Maryland Delegate Doyle Niemann (D-Prince George's), who recently co-sponsored legislation in the House that would use electronic surveillance as part of a broader truancy reduction plan. "It's going to be done unobtrusively. The chips are tiny and can be put into a hospital ID band or a necklace." Niemann's legislation mirrors a bill sponsored by state Sen. Gwendolyn Britt (D-Prince George's). Both would provide truants and their parents with better access to social services, such as mental health evaluations and help with schoolwork. Electronic monitoring would be a last resort. Still, the prospect of tagging children and using them in some "catch and release" hunt by police casts a pall over everything that's good about the plan. Odd how billions and billions of dollars keep going to a war that almost nobody wants, but there's never enough to fund the educational programs that nearly everybody says are needed. Aimed solely at students in Prince George's — the only predominantly black county in the Washington area — the truancy effort is called a "pilot program," a first-of-its-kind experiment. It would cost $400,000 to keep track of about 660 students a year.
Note: For more reliable information on the push to microchip the entire population, click here.
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law. The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which ... essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights. The newly enacted provisions upset this careful balance. The president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.” Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate. The president made no mention of the changes when he signed the measure, and neither the White House nor Congress consulted in advance with the nation’s governors.
[Book Review of] Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present. Harriet Washington opens the door on the torture room in "Medical Apartheid". Experimental operations on the skulls of slave children, Washington writes, were a favorite pursuit of a particularly sadistic South Carolinian doctor named J. Marion Sims, widely revered today as the "father of gynecology." For years, Sims experimented on a group of slave women, to whom he refused anesthesia. The most notorious post-slavery racial crime of American medicine [was] the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972. More than 100 black subjects ... were denied treatment, even and especially after the discovery of penicillin in 1943. The research required that they suffer and die, the more slowly the better. Tuskegee was hardly unique. The Rockefeller Institute ... conducted a study in 1910 that saw 470 black syphilitics injected with a deadly strain of malaria. Black Americans were also disproportionately used ... as subjects in government inquiries into the effects of radiation. Washington's chilling history ends with contemporary case studies. At the Incarnation Children's Center in New York, Columbia University doctors continue to administer experimental AIDS drugs to minority orphans, even after many develop painful and debilitating reactions. As for current clinical trials in Africa, Washington describes the continent as the new "laboratory for the West," where unsuspecting patients regularly receive experimental therapies that might never receive state sanction in the United States or Europe.
In a nation that preaches the virtues of democracy, the United States government has consistently eroded the media's ability to report. U.S. press freedom has been slipping away since Sept. 11, 2001. Many other countries are now ranked freer than the United States. In the most recent survey by Freedom House [the U.S.] tied for 17th place. International free-press advocates Reporters Without Borders ranked us 53rd, tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. Now that we are in a seemingly permanent "war" on terrorism, the government claims wartime powers that result in restricting press freedom. The Bush administration has multiplied exponentially the number of documents it classifies as secret. The office of Vice President Dick Cheney claims to be exempt from reporting even the numbers of records it brands with the "classified" stamp. Within weeks after 9/11, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233, allowing him to veto public release not only of his own presidential papers but those of former [presidents]. One of former Attorney General John Ashcroft's first post-Sept. 11 acts was to issue a directive to federal agencies restricting access to government records under the Freedom of Information Act. Cheney [refused] to disclose even the identity of the corporate executives he met with to determine the administration's energy policy. The U.S. Supreme Court held ... that there is no such thing as a First Amendment right of access to government information or facilities. The Bush administration did not advance press freedom by producing ... favorable "news" stories with fake reporters. It is hard to stomach the hypocrisy of claiming to spread democracy abroad while restricting at home the very freedoms that make democracy possible.
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