Rights groups say local cops should shun FBI

Civil rights watchdog groups say police in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities should stop working with the FBI on terrorism investigations so long as doing so means they can violate local privacy policies.

“Under the state constitution and local policies, Californians are protected against government intelligence gathering unless there is a factual basis to suspect them of wrongdoing,” Alan Schlosser, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s legal director, said in a news release today. “It is now clear that the FBI has been authorized to conduct thousands of investigations that are just fishing expeditions and run contrary to California law. It is an outrage that San Francisco and Oakland police officials are not being forthcoming about whether their JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) officers are complying with state and local law.”

The ACLU’s complaint comes as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., holds a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing today on civil rights violations against American Muslims, coming soon after a New York Times report that the FBI is using intelligence gathering powers expanded significantly during the Bush Administration to investigate thousands of people and groups without any factual evidence that they have done anything wrong. The FBI admits having compiled 70,000 such files on Americans without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

Local police departments including those in Oakland and San Francisco assign officers to a Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which they cooperate with FBI investigations. They do so under “memorandums of understanding” with the FBI, which in the past included assurances that officers must follow state law and department guidelines.

But when civil rights groups used the Freedom of Information Act to get a look at the standard MOU used in the Bay Area, they found it lets police assigned to the JTTF violate local privacy policies like those in place for years in Oakland and San Francisco, reflecting state constitutional standards.

Neither San Francisco nor Oakland police department has yet to make available its current, specific MOU with the FBI, the ACLU said; in Oakland, police officials say they didn’t keep a copy and the FBI has refused to provide a copy to the department.

So today the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on these police agencies to sever those ties with the FBI at least until they make their MOUs public and reassure the public that officers are adhering to the standards of state and local law.

“Unless and until those agreements are made public and assurances are given that local police cannot investigate people without criminal suspicion, San Francisco and Oakland police departments must withdraw from the JTTF,” Asian Law Caucus staff attorney Veena Dubal said.

“Community trust is the most important tool of law enforcement,” said CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. “By infiltrating organizations and interviewing people who they do not suspect of any wrongdoing, the FBI is obfuscating their ability to counter domestic crime. We do not want our local law enforcement in the same predicament.”


Local Dems weigh in domestic terror hearing

Bay Area members of Congress are speaking out against what they see as bias in today’s House Homeland Community Committee hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and John Dingell, D-Mich., led 55 of their colleagues in sending a letter to committee chairman Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., to refocus the upcoming hearings on Muslim Americans and homegrown terrorism in order to examine all forms of violence motivated by any sort of extremism.

Congress and the government do have a duty to protect America from foreign or domestic terrorism, they agreed, but they’re concerned that King’s hearing’s “narrow scope and underlying premises” will unfairly stigmatize and alienate Muslim Americans.

“We believe that the tone and focus of these hearings runs contrary to our nation’s values,” the lawmakers wrote. “Muslim Americans contribute to our nation’s wellbeing in many professions including as doctors, engineers, lawyers, firefighters, business entrepreneurs, teachers, police officers and Members of Congress. Their hard work helps to make our country exceptional.”

“Furthermore, casting a negative light on an entire community— rather than focusing on actual dangerous fringes will only strain community relationships and trust that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have worked hard to develop,” they continued. “Muslim Americans are an integral part of our larger American society and should be treated as such, not viewed with suspicion.”

“The choice between our values of inclusiveness and pluralism and our security is a false one.”

Among those signing the letter were Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, posted a similar sentiment to her Facebook page this morning.

“Today’s Homeland Security Committee hearing, which will profile and demonize an entire community of people based on their faith, undermines the values we stand for as Americans,” Speier wrote. “Radicalization and homegrown terrorism are serious and legitimate concerns that deserve thoughtful examination, not an ideologically motivated charade.”


Showdown looms over Berkeley’s Gitmo invitation

Berkeley City Council’s consideration this coming Tuesday, Feb. 15, of a resolution offering the city as a site to re-settle some already-cleared Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees is making waves.

The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission voted Dec. 6 to recommend that the City Council pass such a resolution, which would ask Congress to remove any legislative barriers to resettling cleared detainees. No city funds would be used to support the men; rather, they would be sponsored by community volunteers and organizations that help torture victims victims of torture and refugees. If the resolution passes, Berkeley will be the third U.S. city and the first in California to do adopt such a measure.

The Berkeley City Manager’s office has recommended that the council not act on the resolution:

Currently, federal law explicitly prohibits the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the United States (most recently, in H.R. 6523, the Defense Authorization Act, signed into law on January 7, 2011). In addition to prohibiting the transfer of detainees with Department of Defense funds, the bill also requires the President to submit detailed plans for the “disposition” of any detainee released in the United States. This requirement has not been met at this point in time.

“I’m sure Berkeley citizens will come forward to offer support for them. I’m going to offer a room in my house to one of the men,” said Cynthia Papermaster, an activist with the Berkeley No More Guantanamos group, who brought the resolution to the Peace and Justice Commission.

“Berkeley is a compassionate and caring community. Like Amherst and Leverett, Massachusetts, which passed similar resolutions in 2009 and 2010, Berkeley wants to extend the hand of friendship and support to help these men resume their lives in peace and safety, and to heal from the ordeal of capture, torture and detention at the hands of our government,” she said. “These men are not and never were terrorists.”

But conservative groups are having none of it.

“If the Berkeley City Council wants to hang out with GITMO detainees, why do they have to do it at taxpayer expense and the public safety risk to the community?” Move America Forward executive director Shawn Callahan asked in a news release. “We can do them one better, if the Council wants to go live in GITMO where they can hang out with hundreds of terrorists, let them do that instead, we’ll even pay for their flights.”

MAF spokesman Danny Gonzalez said Berkeley City Council’s approval of the resolution would be “absolutely irresponsible.”

“The people of the City of Berkeley should not be saddled with the burden of having to pay for the housing, feeding and training of two former terrorists,” he said. “If you bring them here, you also have a responsibility to maintain safety. That means keeping Berkeley safe from the former detainee, and keeping the detainee safe from others who may want to hurt him. The average citizen of Berkeley just wants to go about their lives and pay to feed their families, they don’t need this extra burden.”


Toilet-paper prank targets Cal’s John Yoo

One of the many activists protesting University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo – who as a Justice Department lawyer helped build a legal framework for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques many now consider to be torture and for other perceived Bush Administration transgressions – has found a, well, creative new way to voice displeasure with him.

Students using the restrooms at Cal’s Boalt Hall Law School today reportedly found “Yoo Toilet Paper,” printed with text from the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Los Angeles-based activist/artist Matt Cornell said the prank was meant to remind law students that “Yoo helped turned human rights laws into toilet paper.” At the bottom of each roll is a reminder that “this toilet paper was made by possible by John Yoo, Professor of Law.” He also said his toilet paper is both softer and better than that provided by the budget-crunched university, and that it contains “valuable reading material” for students.

(I’ll assume that the “Josh Wolf” listed in the video’s production credits is the very same UC journalism student who keeps getting in trouble with various authorities as he blurs the line between journalism and activism.)


John Yoo to tout book at SF appearance

John YooIf those activists who’ve dogged Cal law professor John Yoo – who as a Justice Department lawyer helped build a legal framework for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques many now consider to be torture and for other perceived Bush Administration transgressions – still can’t find where he’s teaching his current class, at least they’ll know where he is for a few hours next week.

Yoo will speak to the Commonwealth Club of California about his new book, “Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush,” at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 27 at the club’s offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets are available online and cost $12 for club members, $18 for nonmembers and $7 for students with valid ID; I predict the tickets will sell out and – no, really, I’m a little bit psychic – that the club’s security will be expecting protestors to try to disrupt the event.


Protestors can’t find Yoo, but Jon Stewart did

Protestors’ targeting of Cal law professor and former Bush administration lawyer and torture-memo author John Yoo has taken an almost comical turn into cat-and-mouse territory: They want to keep disrupting his classes, but they can’t find him.

Yoo is teaching a Tuesday-evening class this semester on “Constitutional Design and the California Constitution,” but Boalt Hall’s schedule lists the class’ location as “to be announced.” Activists from World Can’t Wait and FireJohnYoo.org say their calls to the Cal Registrar’s office and the law school seeking the class’ location have been rebuffed – gee, I wonder why?

“We continue to call for Yoo to be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes, along with his entire cohort from the Bush-Cheney Torture Team,” World Can’t Wait organizer Stephanie Tang said in a news release. “Torture is a war crime. Thousands have been tortured thanks to John Yoo’s work for the White House, long after Yoo himself returned to teaching. The faculty and students right here at UC – and all people of conscience everywhere — need to denounce these crimes, not turn away in silent complicity.”

They’ll hold a news conference outside the office of Boalt Hall Dean Christopher Edley Jr. at 3 p.m. today to demand information about Yoo’s class. If I were them, I wouldn’t hold my breath for an answer. They certainly have a right to protest Yoo, but expecting the university to provide them the information they need to disrupt his classes seems foolhardy.

Meanwhile, Yoo was on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” last night. See the complete, unedited interview in three parts, after the jump…
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