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Archive for the 'War on Terror' Category

Chevron counsel targeted for alleged torture role

The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, a liberal political and social justice nonprofit, yesterday delivered more than 100 complaints against former Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes – now chief corporate counsel for San Ramon-based oil giant Chevron – to the California State Bar’s offices in San Francisco.

The guild says the complaints came from ordinary Americans demanding that the State Bar thoroughly investigate and issue a written decision on Haynes’ actions and inactions at the Defense Department regarding the legal framework for indefinite detentions, military tribunals and “enhanced interrogation” – which many since have deemed torture – of terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. Complaints came mostly from California residents but also from as far away as Maine and Washington D.C., the guild said, and still are arriving by mail to the guild’s offices, all eventually to be forwarded to the State Bar.

“This campaign is appropriate because William Haynes was one of the lawyers shaping policy that harmed so many prisoners and put all of us in greater danger,” NLGSF Executive Director Carlos Villarreal said in a news release. “Anyone can file a complaint against a California lawyer, and while the process should never be abused, the process ought to be available to anyone and everyone when a lawyer commits wrongdoing from a position of power in our government resulting in such a devastating and widespread effect.”

The State Bar closed without prejudice – meaning, allowing the right to re-file – a more detailed complaint filed by the NLGSF in March; the NLGSF intends to ask for a formal review of that decision next week.

“The State Bar investigates and disciplines far less powerful attorneys who have committed far less egregious acts,” NLGSF Executive Board Member Sharon Adams of Berkeley said in the release. “It was surprising that they would close our complaint without even initiating an investigation. It seems to contradict one of the most important functions of the State Bar – to protect the public.”

“Haynes is still in a position to do great harm, undoubtedly shaping the actions of a major corporation that has committed human rights abuses around the world and had a major impact on our environment,” she added. “There is no doubt that the public needs to be proactive when a lawyer like Haynes is still granted the privilege of practicing law and crafting policies that will continue to have an enormous impact on people.”

Posted on Friday, June 26th, 2009
Under: Civil liberties, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Defense Dept. yanks terrorism/protest equation

I blogged last week about the Defense Department equating protests to “low-level terrorism” in an online training exam; today, the DoD says it will remove the question from its training module.

American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California staff attorney Ann Brick, who’d coauthored a letter of complaint to the department last week, said this afternoon she still hasn’t received a direct reply, but a Pentagon spokesman was quoted in a Fox News article earlier today:

“They should have made it clearer there’s a clear difference between illegal violent demonstrations and peaceful, constitutionally protected protests,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk said on Thursday.

Asked when a protest becomes an “illegal, violent demonstration,” Melnyk said, “I’m not a lawyer. I couldn’t get into the specifics of when you cross the line.”

“If you’re doing physical damage to people or property, that could fall into that,” he said.

[snip]

Of the Defense Department’s 3 million employees, 1,546 took the exam, Melnyk said. All will be sent e-mails “explaining the error and the distinction between lawful protests and unlawful violent protests,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“We’re pleased that they’re withdrawing it but it’s very troubling that the distinction between violent actions and peaceful protests got lost in the shuffle,” Brick told me this afternoon. “In addition to antiterrorism training, I think there is a need for some training on basic constitutional values.”

“It’s disturbing to think that the word ‘protest’ is automatically conjuring up an image of unlawful conduct. The one that should be conjured up is one of people exercising their constitutional rights – that should be the immediate image that pops to mind,” she said. “Even if it’s loud or angry, it’s still protected.”

The tenuous nature of the mass protests now unfolding in Iran should give Americans an even deeper appreciation of their right to dissent, Brick said.

The Fox News report notwithstanding, “we still need to have a conversation with the Department of Defense,” Brick said, to discuss how the question made it into the test in the first place, what’s being done to prevent such things in the future, and what kind of training might be undertaken.

Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2009
Under: Civil liberties, War on Terror | 5 Comments »

Defense Department sees protests as terrorism

Antiterrorism training materials used by the Department of Defense teach that public protests should be regarded as “low level terrorism,” according to a letter of complaint sent to the department today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

“Teaching employees that dissent on issues of public concern is something to be feared, rather than encouraged, is a dangerously counterproductive use of scarce security resources, making us less safe as a democracy,” Northern California ACLU Staff Attorney Ann Brick and ACLU Washington National Security Policy Council Michael German wrote in the letter to Gail McGinn, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

“DoD employees cannot accomplish their mission of protecting our nation and its values unless they understand that those values encompass the right to criticize our government through protest activities,” they wrote. “It is imperative that they are taught the difference between political, religious or social activism and terrorism.”

Among the multiple-choice questions included in its Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness training course – an annual training requirement for all DoD personnel that is fulfilled through web-based instruction – the DoD asks the following: “Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorist activity?” To answer correctly, the examinee must select “protests.” The ACLU wants that changed immediately, and wants corrective information sent to all DoD employees who received the training.

The ACLU letter notes this is particularly disturbing in light of the long-term pattern of government treating lawful dissent as terrorism. Here in the Bay Area, my colleagues and I reported exactly this back in 2003, as the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center fed local police agencies information on protests, with catastrophic results. Two years after that, it was the California National Guard.

I guess I’m surprised not only that government hasn’t yet learned its lesson about equating the exercise of our cherished constitutional rights with terrorism, but also that it’s so incredibly obvious in doing so.

UPDATE @ 3:57 P.M. THURSDAY 6/18: Fox News says the Defense Department has dropped the question from its exam.

Posted on Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
Under: Civil liberties, War on Terror | 34 Comments »

Pros and cons of terrorist transfers from Gitmo

The U.S. Justice Department today announced that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since September 2006, arrived early this morning in the Southern District of New York to face criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.

Bringing anyone from Guantanamo Bay to the lower 48 has become a topic of great debate over issues of safety, constitutional rights and so forth, so of course there’s a lot of cross-talk today.

The Justice Department notes four terrorism cases involving Islamic fundamentalism, dating back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, already have been successfully prosecuted in New York City alone; others terrorism case already are pending there, and others have occurred or are in progress in other domestic courts.

“With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case.”

Other views, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
Under: John Boehner, Obama presidency, U.S. House, War on Terror | 5 Comments »

Condi Rice: Back in the Bay Area and lovin’ it

Former National Security Advisor and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, now back at Stanford University, was given a hard time earlier this week by students asking about her role in what many see as the Bush Administration’s human-rights abuses:

She gets annoyed about four minutes in.

Posted on Friday, May 1st, 2009
Under: War on Terror | No Comments »

Dems want judge impeached for torture memos

California’s netroots are ramping up an effort to urge the House of Representatives to impeach Circuit Judge Jay Bybee of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because he helped set the framework for the Bush Administration’s detention, extradition and interrogation — which many have deemed torture — of terrorism detainees.

Bybee, 55, an Oakland native, was the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Justice Department from November 2001 to March 2003; he was nominated to the San Francisco-based circuit court by President George W. Bush in May 2002, confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March 2003 and now maintains his chambers in Las Vegas.

He has been in the hot seat for a while now due to an August 2002 memo on interrogation methods, but last week’s release of several additional memos has brought his name back to the fore.

An online petition is trying to build support for an impeachment resolution passed by the Los Angeles Democratic Party and scheduled to be taken up at this coming weekend’s California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento. The New York Times called for Bybee’s impeachment in an editorial yesterday:

“In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.”
[snip]
“These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him.”

Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009
Under: General, War on Terror | No Comments »

Local lawmakers meet with Obama on Afghanistan

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and other House members met today with President Barack Obama to discuss recent developments in Afghanistan and nearby nations.

Miller has been to Afghanistan three times including twice in the last month, most recently with Pelosi and Eshoo as part of a congressional delegation that met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. military commanders and troops.

“Seven years ago, President Bush had Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda cornered in Afghanistan, only to take his eye off the ball and pursue an unjustified and costly war in Iraq,” Miller said in a statement issued today. “Since then, violence in Afghanistan has risen, the Taliban has reemerged, opium production has skyrocketed, corruption and incompetence have reigned supreme in the Afghan government, and all of this is threatening to spill over the border and destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan.”

“I’ve recently returned from my third trip to Afghanistan and was pleased to have the opportunity to share my impressions and experiences with the President today as he seeks to chart a new course for US policy in the region. I discussed with President Obama my belief that before an already unstable situation in Afghanistan becomes worse, we’ve got to change course now. It is very clear that to be successful, America needs the help of neighbors in the region – India, Pakistan, China, and Russia. That’s why I applaud President Obama’s decision to conduct a top to bottom review of our strategy in Afghanistan and his appointment of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to the region.”

Click here for Pelosi’s rundown of the most recent trip to Afghanistan, from a Feb. 23 news conference.

Posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, George Miller, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

Tauscher to re-introduce ‘dwell time’ bill

Continuing the “it’s-a-whole-new-ballgame-with-Obama-in-the-White-House” waltz, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, this Thursday will announce she’s introducing legislation to provide more “dwell time” for troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, to help them recover mentally and physically and give military units time to repair and upgrade equipment.

The House in August 2007 passed Tauscher’s like-minded H.R. 3159. It would’ve required that any regular Armed Forces member or unit deployed to Iraq must then have an equal period of time at home before being redeployed, and that no unit or member of a Reserve component including the National Guard be redeployed to Iraq within three years of their previous deployment.

But Tauscher’s bill died in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and its companion amendment introduced by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., went down to defeat in September 2007, soon after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would recommend a veto, branding it a dangerous “backdoor way” to draw down forces.

Why am I reliving all this history? Well, partly because Gates is still our Secretary of Defense; it’ll be interesting to see what he recommends now, given he’s serving a new President with a new agenda for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Ellen Tauscher, General, Iraq, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

Gitmo to Alcatraz: Sarcastic or stupid?

Inanity erupted in both chambers of Congress yesterday. (Big surprise.)

In the House, it was Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee’s ranking Republican.

“Alcatraz would be a good place to put these people,’’ he said yesterday of the detainees who will have to be moved out of their prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within the next year under an executive order signed Thursday by President Barack Obama. “There’s a lot of discomfort about the idea of bringing the detainees in to the United States. That’s why I’ve suggested Alcatraz.”

In the Senate, it was U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.

“I can’t think of any city or town across this country that will be thrilled to have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah living down the street,” said the Senate Intelligence Committee’ ranking Republican. “If you really want to bring them back to the United States, people in Missouri and Kansas believe Gitmo is just fine. Folks in San Francisco want it closed. I’d suggest you put them in Alcatraz.”

So… stupid, or sarcastic? Follow me after the jump as we tackle both possibilities… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Under: U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Anti-Yoo activists unveil Berkeley billboard

The No To Torture/John Yoo Must Go coalition — targeting the University of California Boalt Hall School of Law professor, former Justice Department attorney, and torture-memo author who tried to blow a gaping hole through the Fourth Amendment — has unveiled its first billboard, located on University Avenue near Milvia Street in Berkeley.

“Not speaking out and acting against torture allows torture practices to continue uncontested in violation of treaties against torture, to which the United States is a signatory,” said the news release. “The billboard expresses a call to action to stop gross misrepresentations of the law to continue in our names.”

Speaking at a news conference Thursday were human-rights activist Gerald Gray, who wants Cal alumni to withhold contributions until the school dumps Yoo; geographer and author Gray Brechin, who wants Cal faculty to publicly disavow Yoo; and Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission member Elliot Cohen, speaking about a proposed John Yoo resolution before the City Council. Collectively, they and the coalition want Yoo — who was rotisseried by the House Judiciary Committee last month — to be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes; they’re trying to organize a “war crimes tribunal” this fall.

You might notice the billboard doesn’t actually name Yoo; coalition coordinator Curt Wechsler said a proposed design with Yoo’s name and an iconic Abu Ghraib figure was rejected by the billboard company:

Posted on Friday, July 25th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Civil liberties, War on Terror | No Comments »