Thursday, September 30, 2010

JPMorgan Suspending Foreclosures

New York Times

In a sign that the entire foreclosure process is coming under pressure, a second major mortgage lender said that it was suspending court cases against defaulting homeowners so it could review its legal procedures.

The lender, JPMorgan Chase, said on Wednesday that it was halting 56,000 foreclosures because some of its employees might have improperly prepared the necessary documents. All of the suspensions are in the 23 states where foreclosures must be approved by a court, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida and Illinois.

The bank, which lends through its Chase Mortgage unit, has begun to “systematically re-examine” its filings to verify that they meet legal standards, a spokesman, Tom Kelly, said.

Last week, GMAC Mortgage said it was suspending an undisclosed number of foreclosures to give it time to take a closer look at its own procedures. GMAC simultaneously began withdrawing affidavits in pending court cases, throwing their future into doubt.

Chase and GMAC, in their zeal to process hundreds of thousands of foreclosures as quickly as possible and get those properties on the market, employed people who could sign documents so quickly they popularized a new term for them: “robo-signer.”

In depositions taken by lawyers for embattled homeowners, the robo-signers said they or their team had signed 10,000 or more foreclosure affidavits a month.

Now that haste has come back to haunt them. The affidavits in foreclosures attest that the preparer personally reviewed the files, which those workers acknowledge they had no time to do.

GMAC and Chase say that their lapses were technical and will soon be remedied with new filings. But defense lawyers are seizing on these revelations and say they will now work to have their cases thrown out.

Beyond the relative handful of foreclosure cases being contested are many more in which the homeowner did not have legal counsel. Potentially, hundreds of thousands of cases could be in doubt.

GMAC’s initial disclosures prompted challenges or investigations from attorneys general in Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, California and North Carolina. The Treasury Department, which became the majority owner of GMAC after providing $17 billion in bailout money, has directed the lender to correct its procedures.

The pressure on the lender, which began as the auto financing arm of General Motors, is continuing to increase. Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, asked Wednesday for the Treasury, the Justice Department and other regulators to collaborate on “a thorough investigation into the alleged misconduct.”

Defense lawyers have consistently complained that the lenders’ law firms were sending through cases that were at best sloppy. The Florida attorney general’s office says it is investigating four so-called foreclosure mills.

“The GMAC announcement was the mushroom cloud,” said one Florida defense lawyer, Matthew Weidner. “The fallout will burn through the entire mortgage servicing industry.”

Judges who oversee a lot of foreclosure cases increasingly agree that there is a serious problem.

“I don’t want to say that every one of these cases is wrong and a fraud on the court, but it is a big concern for us,” J. Thomas McGrady, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Florida, said in an interview last week after GMAC’s announcement.

Judge McGrady predicted that the foreclosure process in Florida, which the Legislature has been trying to speed up, would have to slow down.

“Everyone is going to have to look at these cases more closely,” said Judge McGrady, whose circuit includes St. Petersburg.

The foreclosure process in many states is already torpid. This benefits delinquent homeowners, who can live in their properties free for years, as well as lenders who do not have to write down the value of the original loan. But it also threatens to prolong the housing crisis for many years.

Chase said that unlike GMAC, it had not withdrawn any affidavits in pending cases. It also said that if foreclosures were completed, it was allowing its agents to proceed with the sale of the properties. GMAC has stopped its sales.

Chase followed the lead of GMAC in playing down the impact of the situation. “Affidavits were prepared by appropriate personnel with knowledge of the relevant facts based on their review of the company’s books and records,” the spokesman, Mr. Kelly, said.

But many questions are unresolved. One is whether completed foreclosures will be vulnerable to what GMAC is calling “corrective action.” If those former homeowners press their claims, they could conceivably dislodge the new buyers.

Such cases are probably not imminent. The more immediate consequences for the lenders using robo-signers will be determined by the homeowners who are fighting their cases in court.

Lilliana DeCoursy, a real estate agent in Safety Harbor, Fla., has a rental property in foreclosure with GMAC. Now that the lender has withdrawn the affidavit in her case, Ms. DeCoursy said she was determined to press every advantage.

“I think they should have to answer for this,” she said.

William Neuman contributed reporting.

Assassinating Americans, Secretly

Jerry Kane Jr. and his 16 year old son Joseph Kane [photo right] were put on the US terrorist watch list by Obama Federal Police officials because of Kane’s growing following of Americans seeking to find relief from the financial crisis imposed upon their country by their banking system. More Here.

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the ACLU’s lawsuit in the Anwar al-Awlaki case confirms, once again, that when it comes to civil liberties, the Obama administration is no different from the Bush administration, and in fact is arguably much worse.

The al-Awlaki case involves President Obama’s order authorizing his military and paramilitary forces (i.e., the CIA) to assassinate al-Awlaki, an American citizen. The proposed assassination is being justified under the Bush-Obama “war on terrorism.”

No warrants. No grand jury indictments. No jury trials. No due process of law. Simply, assassination.

The assassination power now being wielded against al-Awlaki isn’t limited to him. The U.S. military and the CIA can now assassinate any American they want. All they need is the president’s authorization; and, according to him, he doesn’t have to answer to anyone, including Congress and the courts.

Moreover, this omnipotent power to take out Americans is not limited to Americans living overseas, as al-Awlaki is doing. Remember the point that Bush made, which Obama has enthusiastically embraced: that the entire world, including the United States, is the battlefield in the perpetual, worldwide “war on terrorism” that the U.S. Empire is waging.

That means that the president now has the power to label any American he wants right here in the United States as a terrorist and issue the order to his forces: “Take him out, now, with bullets, bombs, or drones.”

Does Obama need congressional authority before he assassinates Americans? Nope. The notion is that, like Bush, he’s engaged in a real war, just like World War I or World War II and, therefore, he has the authority to kill Americans who, he claims, are supposedly fighting on the other side.

There’s at least one big problem, however, with the Bush-Obama formulation of their “war on terrorism”: Terrorism is a federal crime. It’s on the books as a federal crime. It’s listed in the U.S. Code as a federal crime.

Thus, it’s not surprising that dozens of terrorism cases have been brought in the federal courts. Why wouldn’t they be? Since the U.S. Code, which defines federal criminal offenses, lists terrorism among the many federal crimes, it stands to reason that suspected terrorists are brought to court to face federal terrorism charges.

As I have long pointed out, however, what the Bush administration did after 9/11 is simply announce that federal officials now had the option of treating terrorism as either a federal crime or as an act of war, whichever way they want to go.

As I have also long pointed out, not only does the Constitution not permit such an option to be exercised, it would be difficult to find a better example of a violation of the rule of law and equal treatment under law than that. Either terrorism is a crime (which it is) or it’s an act of war (which it is not). To permit U.S. officials to choose one way or the other is the epitome of arbitrary, discretionary, ad hoc, totalitarian power.

Does an American have the right to secure judicial review to prevent his assassination? Not according to Barack Obama.

The ACLU sued on behalf of al-Awlaki’s father seeking a federal court injunction against the assassination. Barack Obama ordered his Justice Department to seek an immediate dismissal of the suit.

Hornberger’s Blog Index

by Jacob G. Hornberger

His justification? The “state secrets doctrine,” a doctrine found nowhere in the Constitution. Obama is arguing that to permit the suit to continue would mean that people would learn the details of his assassination program and the standards by which Americans and others are targeted for assassination. That would jeopardize national security, says Obama.

So there you have it. We now live in a country in which the military and the CIA can now assassinate Americans, on authorization of the president, who doesn’t have to explain to anyone the standards for such assassinations.

That’s what now passes for a “free” country — the omnipotent, non-reviewable power of the ruler and his military and paramilitary forces to assassinate their own people.

Exactly who are the masters and who are the servants in such a society?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Old News: The USA Has Been A Police State Since 1787

Winter Patriot

Last week the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists in multiple states simultaneously, prompting Paul Craig Roberts to write a searing column called "It Is Official: The US Is A Police State".

I caught excerpts from Roberts and comments on his work from Chris Floyd, in "Domestic Disturbance: FBI Raids Bring the Terror War Home".

I don't disagree with anything Roberts or Floyd wrote about this story, and I would recommend both columns. But neither of these very fine writers approached the idea that struck me hardest when I saw Roberts' headline.

What's new about the USA being a police state? Why is it suddenly official now?

That the USA is a police state has been, if not officially official, then at least totally bloody obvious, for my entire life -- and the same is true of Roberts, and Floyd, and you (dear reader), and your parents, and their parents. For all our lives, we have lived in a police state that calls itself a democracy, and the cover story has been so effective that even some of our leading dissident writers are now just discovering the truth behind it.

Lest we forget: Forty years ago, in the midst of another generation's undeclared, unjustified, unwinnable and unpopular war, unarmed anti-war protesters were gunned down in broad daylight in public, and not one of the shooters who committed the crime was even tried.

In the decade leading up to those shootings, four civic and political leaders, all of whom posed threats to the established order, were also gunned down in public. The victims included a sitting President and a US Senator, yet no justice was ever served for any of these murders.

During the same period, countless civil rights activists and anti-war protesters were viciously assaulted, and some of them were also killed. Sometimes the crimes were committed by "law enforcement officials" themselves; at other times the crimes were committed with the silent approval of "the law".

From the 1930's through the late 1950's, the nation's "law enforcement" officers brutally crushed anyone they could find who had sympathy for communism, socialism, or any other "-ism" that didn't begin with "capital". None of this is secret. None of it is news.

All through our history, Americans whose skin wasn't quite white enough have been hassled, assaulted and ruthlessly murdered, often by the police whose lives depend on the taxes we all pay, and who are supposed to be protecting all of us. Most of the perpetrators of these crimes have never been brought to justice.

This pattern of official injustice -- supported more often than not by the police themselves -- has been going on for as long as you care to look. It runs as deep as American history itself. Though it may be pleasant to forget it, the USA is nation whose history includes -- nay! is a nation that was built upon -- genocide, slavery, lynching, and other forms of public terror, all with the open support of "the authorities".

A careful reading of American history shows that the basic problem here is not the current administration's disregard of the Constitution, nor the disdain for the Constitution shown by previous administrations. As Jerry Fresia points out in "Toward An American Revolution", the problem is the Constitution itself.

The Articles of Confederation, by which the "United States of America" came into being, guaranteed direct democratic representation at the national level, in a government which could be swept from power quite easily when and if the voters of the country were displeased. The most powerful men in the land -- slaveholders, mostly -- found their riches, their status and their privilege in jeopardy, and feared for what they were pleased to call "an excess of democracy".

So they banded together and wrote the Constitution, which set up our current system of "representative" government, under which the President is elected by an Electoral College chosen by the State legislators, rather than directly by the people; under which it takes three election cycles to change the entire Senate; under which countless federal officials -- including every justice on the Supreme Court -- are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, with nary a word from the House of Representatives, which is, at least in theory, the only part of the federal government over which the voters are meant to have any immediate influence.

Then, through a series of incidents that today would be called "terrorist attacks" (as long as they were perpetrated by Muslims), the authors of the Constitution inflamed enough other powerful men to ensure the ratification of the new Constitution -- quite against the wishes of the "common people" of the day -- setting the course which we now travel, and which the best of us (including Chris Floyd and Paul Craig Roberts) rightfully despise.

Rather than guaranteeing direct democratic representation and fair and equal rights to all citizens, the Constitution set up a federal government with the power to put down "insurrections", and a mandate to protect interstate and international "commerce". In our present-day terms, it empowers a deeply entrenched government running a police state at home to support a commercial empire abroad.

Those who support the Constitution, who pine for a return to "Constitutional law", who rail against one administration after another for taking "un-Constitutional actions" and passing "un-Constitutional laws", have a legitimate point. Life in the United States would certainly be better for a very large number of people if the civil rights granted in the Constitution -- limited tough they may be -- were strictly observed.

But we would still have the same problem. The federal government would still be owned by the most powerful men in the country, and would still be geared to putting down "insurrections" at home while supporting a "commercial" empire abroad.

That was the whole point of the Constitution in the first place. This is why we are where we are today. As Chris Floyd pointed out some time ago, "the purpose of a system is what it does". And what our current system does, its purpose, is still congruent with the wishes of the "Founding Fathers".

I fear that, if our leading dissident writers continue to miss this point, the best we could possibly accomplish -- even if we all stood together against the abomination that is our federal government -- would be a reversion to the root cause of our current problems.

And that's not going to be good enough.

Pakistan furious over Nato cross-border Taliban raids


Nato claims it acted in self-defence after US helicopters crossed 'very briefly' from Afghanistan to attack Taliban fighters

Pakistan reacted angrily today after Nato said US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants, claiming to have killed more than 50 Taliban fighters.

The admission that two incursions had taken place over the weekend by helicopters from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and possibly a further cross-border raid today, came after recent reports of a covert CIA military force in Afghanistan that crosses into Pakistan to kill Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned the incursions as a "clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which Isaf operates", saying it had made a formal protest to Nato. "In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options," said Abdul Basit, the foreign ministry spokesman.

Although remote-controlled US "drone" planes regularly cross into Pakistan to target suspected extremists in the country's lawless tribal area, the use of manned aircraft is highly controversial in a country in which anti-Americanism runs high and widely believed conspiracy theories maintain that nuclear-armed Pakistan is the next American military target.

"This should be considered a watershed event," said Mehmood Shah, an analyst who was the top security official for the tribal area. "They [Nato] must be warned: the next time you do this, it can lead to war. Our units should be deployed to fire upon them. This border has sanctity. Nato must realise they have a mandate to operate in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan."

Nato was seeking to justify the breach of Pakistani territory as self-defence or "hot-pursuit", which have some defence under international law. Pakistan is forced into the position of having to react angrily, because if it did not, it may have profound consequences for the Pakistan eastern border with arch-enemy India. There, India could use the same logic for pursuing extremists into Pakistani territory.

The incursions will add to pressure on the fragile pro-western government in Pakistan, the survival of which is in doubt after the fallout from the country's devastating floods and a constitutional battle in the courts. Marvi Memon, an opposition member of parliament, said she would raise the issue in parliament and demanded to know if there was a deal allowing incursions.

"Self-defence is no excuse for violating Pakistani airspace and thus our sovereignty," said she said.

According to Nato, a remote Afghan military outpost in the eastern province of Khost, close to Pakistan border, came under fire on Saturday. Two US Apache helicopters responded. Reports said the aircraft then entered the Kurram part of Pakistan's tribal area.

"Two helicopters were engaged and acted in self-defence. They crossed very briefly into Pakistani territory and neutralised the threat," said Captain Ryan Donald, a spokesman for Nato. "Later in the day, two helicopters received small-arms fire and, in self-defence, returned fire. In doing so, they entered Pakistan very briefly."

Donald said 49 militants had been killed in the first incursion and four to six were killed in the second attack, according to a review of the video surveillance tapes from the helicopters. He said Nato was investigating reports of a third incursion, which took place today.

Training ground

The Afghan government has bitterly complained about Taliban insurgents using Pakistan's tribal area as a haven and a training ground. Pakistan has launched military operations against extremists in the tribal area but they have targeted Pakistan-focused fighters, not those targeting Afghanistan.

The Afghan government was circumspect about the strikes. "We do not have any formal information," spokesman Waheed Omer told the Guardian today. "Our position is that countries, training grounds, sanctuaries and financing of terrorists have to be addressed for a solution in the region. We do not believe there should be military action against any other country."

Afghanistan maintains a politically sensitive relationship with Pakistan. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has been treading a fine line, seeking international action against the Pakistani-bred terror groups while trying to shore up the political relationship with the Pakistan government.

Opposition leader Dr Abdullah Abdullah told the Guardian: "Since the main bases of the Taliban and al-Qaida are there, there can be counter attacks as long as civilians are protected and not harmed. The focus should be the prevention of civilian casualties. When there is direct fire from there [across the border], one cannot hide under the rocks. When groups plan and operate with impunity, the problem cannot be contained on the Afghan side."

Separately, US drone aircraft continued their assault on suspected extremists in Pakistan. A drone flying over the North Waziristan region today reportedly fired missiles at a house in a village near the town of Mir Ali, killing at least two. The missile strike was the 20th such attack this month – the most intense barrage ever unleashed by American planes on Pakistani territory. Pakistan also officially objects to the deployment of the drones on its territory, while apparently acquiescing to it behind the scenes.

Fake Al Qaeda Re-emerges

Pardon the dramatic music.

The Court Jester and 9/11 Truth

Attacked by the Left. Attacked by the Right. Attacked by “edgy” political comedians for scant, confused laughs – with no discernible purpose other than to discourage and further isolate those seeking justice. No matter if their political affiliation is Coke, or whether they lean hard towards Pepsi, everyone in the corporate mainstream media can agree that 9/11 truth is a target worthy of derision.

Yet, strangely, none of them can seem to get their story straight.

When left-wing commentators denounce 9/11 truth activists, the activists are derided as right-wing conspiracy freaks – lumped in with the Tea Party and various hate groups. When it’s the Right’s turn to attack, those seeking answers about 9/11 are uniformly painted as Bush-burnt America haters, the very worst of the left-wing losers.

Sometimes – just to mix it up – a lefty journalist will agree that 9/11 truth is indeed a scourge of the Left, and even concoct a bizarre conspiracy theory to explain it away.

When it comes to political humor in the corporate media, the drill is exactly the same.

Last week, comedian Jon Stewart of The Daily Show announced his upcoming “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington DC. Using 9/11 truth as an example of the “insanity” that plagues this country, Stewart mocked the cause as right-wing kookiness, the equivalent of believing Obama is a secret muslim.

Stewart’s shtick is the exasperated moderate everyman, a lone voice of reason in a sea of insanity – willing to question or poke fun at anyone or anything. But, as with fellow “edgy” political humorist Bill Maher, some things simply must not be questioned. And those who do question them must be mocked.

“The people that believe George Bush let 9/11 happen to pad Dick Cheney’s Halliburton stock portfolio,” Stewart intoned to minimal laughter, describing the “dumb” 15 to 30 percent of the population that he says is holding the country back.

“You’ve seen their signs.”

Stewart then whipped out a sign of his own reading “9/11 Was an Outside Job” – as a sample of what would be an appropriate message at his rally.

Some have noted that Stewart’s routine of mocking political leaders while seeming to lull his audience into a state of further complacency resembles the historical role of the court jester. On, filmmaker Scott Noble, creator of the recently released PSYWAR, commented to that effect, quoting The Psychology of Adaptation to Absurdity:

“It is apropos in this respect that the early court jesters were assigned the role of protecting the king against the chaotic and uncontrolled forces in the universe. The jesters were considered to be qualified for such a role because their foolish strangeness and deviance intimated they were in contact with, and could potentially influence, analogous outlandish phenomena. Paradoxically, even as the funny ones soothe and protect, they also provoke. They go out of their way to conjure up images of threatening, forbidden stuff (variously relating to sex, death, anality, and hypocrisy). But each provocation is bathed in humor and the reassurance that there is nothing to fear from the threatening theme because it is, after all, only one more example of something ridiculous and absurd.”

There is something distinctly distasteful about making jokes about mass murder and destruction when they are happening in the here and now, which is what Stewart and Colbert do on a nightly basis. Defenders will argue that if we don’t laugh we cry; it’s a form of catharsis. There is more “truthiness” in Stewart than in the nightly news.

Yet these programs also reassure us, subconsciously, that all is well in the world. And there are lines that they will not cross. When it comes to the interviews of *controversial* figures, ie politicians/mass murderers – 9 times out of 10 they throw softballs, giggle together, shake hands, and proceed with the commercials.

I have no doubt that disaffected youth will flock to these rallies, but it all seems so… empty.

Another commenter on the site pointed out that one of The Daily Show’s staff writers – Kevin Bleyer – has contributed material to President Obama’s speeches and is a member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations. Bleyer is also a Truman National Security fellow and one of the founding contributors to The Huffington Post, a site which strictly forbids questioning of 9/11. In the past, Bleyer has worked with Bill Maher and Dennis Miller, two other comedians who have regularly disparaged 9/11 activists. Surely this is all just a coincidence, but one that’s interesting enough to note.

What is it about 9/11 and its unanswered questions that makes it so hard for mainstream journalists, media figures and even comedians to address it in an honest, straightforward manner? Is it because if it became common, verified knowledge that we were lied to about those attacks that changed the world and launched us into endless war, the establishment would be too threatened? Would too many comfortable jobs would be lost?

Is this all about cowardice and greed?

After nine years of solid, stonewall resistance to dealing with reality and an unending onslaught of mindless mockery and derision, it’s easy to think that might just be a big part of it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Burying Nuclear Waste in the Palestinian Territories

Yatta village south of Hebron in the West Bank where the Israeli military continues to bury nuclear waste.

Palestinian farmers from Yatta village south of Hebron in the West Bank have revealed that the Israeli military continues to bury nuclear waste in their farmlands at Al-Masafer near the armistice line in the West Bank. The farmers said that the military forces “IDF” brings trucks loaded with waste suspected to be radioactive waste and is burying it in their lands after they force them to evacuate the area.

The farmers said that they were able to hide themselves in some caves and watch the military operation. They stated that the Israeli soldiers who declared the area as a military zone were wearing white overalls over their military uniforms during the burial. The farmers said that they live in Al-Masafer with their animals.

Full Article

Supreme Court Takes Cases on Corporate Rights

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Continuing to explore the limits of corporations’ constitutional rights, the Supreme Court on Tuesday added cases to its docket that will test the scope of companies’ rights to due process and privacy.

The new cases follow the court’s decision in January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to spend money in candidate elections.

In two of the cases, the justices will consider how the state secrets privilege, which can allow the government to shut down litigation by invoking national security, applies in a contract dispute between the Navy and military contractors hired to create a stealth aircraft.

In the third case, the justices agreed to decide whether corporations have privacy rights for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act.

The cases were among 14 the court added to its docket.

The court’s newest member, Justice Elena Kagan, disqualified herself from four of the new cases, including the one concerning corporate privacy, because she participated in them as United States solicitor general before joining the court in August. She has also recused herself from about half of the roughly 40 cases that had already been on the court’s docket for the new term, which starts Monday, and so will be absent from the bench much of the time in the coming months.

The state secrets case arises in a surprising context. The court has turned back appeals from people who say they were sent abroad to be tortured but whose lawsuits were dismissed after the government invoked the privilege.

This month, a sharply divided 11-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, dismissed a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan, a Boeing subsidiary accused of arranging flights for the Central Intelligence Agency to transfer prisoners to other countries for imprisonment and interrogation, on state secrets grounds.

Boeing, as successor to the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, is one of the parties to the state secrets cases the court agreed to hear on Tuesday, Boeing Company v. United States, No. 09-1302, but now it objects to the government’s invocation of the privilege. Its case has been consolidated with the second one, General Dynamics Corp. v. United States, No. 09-1298.

Both arose from a 1988 contract to develop the A-12 Avenger aircraft. Dissatisfied with the contractors’ progress, the Navy terminated the contract three years later and demanded the return of $1.35 billion.

The contractors refused to return the money and sued, saying among other things that their work had been frustrated by the government’s failure to share classified technology. The government disputed that assertion but would not explain why, invoking the state secrets privilege. An appeals court repeatedly ruled against the contractors, saying at one point that the Constitution’s due-process clause does not require that they be able to present “a defense that would threaten national security.”

The leading Supreme Court case on state secrets, from 1953, also concerned an aircraft. In that case, United States v. Reynolds, the widows of men who died when a B-29 bomber crashed in Waycross, Ga., during a secret mission, sued the government for negligence.

The Supreme Court ruled against the widows on state secrets grounds. But the court said things might be different if the government were pressing a claim rather than defending against one.

It would be unconscionable to allow the government to pursue a criminal prosecution, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson wrote for the majority, “and then invoke its governmental privileges to deprive the accused of anything which might be material to his defense.”

“Such rationale,” Chief Justice Vinson went on, “has no application in a civil forum where the government is not the moving party.”

The new cases are civil rather than criminal, and the parties disagree about which of them is the plaintiff and which the defendant. With interest, the government now seeks about $3 billion.

The privacy case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T Inc., No. 09-1279, will consider whether a provision of the Freedom of Information Act concerning “personal privacy” applies to corporations.

Full Story

Ashcroft’s Post-9/11 Roundups Spark Lawsuit

Hundreds of people who believe they were falsely detained and imprisoned by the Department of Justice in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are now seeking redress through the U.S. courts.

The exact number of detainees is unclear, as no lists were ever released publicly. But according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General in 2002, 475 9/11 detainees were arrested and detained in New York and New Jersey. Hundreds more were arrested across the country.

Some of these men are plaintiffs in a federal class action lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009) who were responsible for their illegal roundup, abuse, and detention.

The suit charges that the detainees were kept in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day; placed under a communications blackout so that they could not seek the assistance of their attorneys, families, and friends; subjected to physical and verbal abuse; forced to endure inhumane conditions of confinement; and obstructed in their efforts to practice their religion.

Some of the abuse included beatings, repeated strip searches, and sleep deprivation. The allegations of inhumane and degrading treatment have been substantiated by two reports of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and several defendants in the case have been convicted on federal charges of cover-ups and beatings of other prisoners around the same time period.

On Sept. 13, six new plaintiffs joined the lawsuit, which is still a proposed class action; there has not yet been a ruling on class certification.

These plaintiffs include two Pakistani men, Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi and Anser Mehmood; two men from Egypt, Ahmed Khalifa and Saeed Hammouda; Benamar Benatta; an Algerian man who has sought and received refugee status in Canada; and Purna Raj Bajracharya, a Nepalese Buddhist whose prolonged detention after 9/11 prompted outrage not only by civil libertarians, but even by the FBI agent who originally investigated him.

Bajracharya was videotaping the sights of New York City for his family back in Nepal when he inadvertently included an FBI office. He was taken into custody, where officials found he had overstayed his tourist visa, a violation punishable by deportation.

Instead, Bajracharya wound up in solitary confinement in a federal detention center for three months, weeping constantly, in a six-by-nine-foot cell where the lights were never turned off. Bajracharya, who speaks little English, might have been in there much longer if James Wynne, the FBI agent who investigated him, had not summoned Legal Aid.

Despite the fact that the government never charged any of them with a terrorism-related offense, immigration authorities kept the men in detention for up to eight months, long past the resolution of their immigration cases, according to attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the class action on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“I was deprived of my liberty and I was abused at the hands of the U.S. government simply because of my religion and ethnicity. Now, nine years later, I seek to vindicate my rights and hold the people who mistreated me accountable,” said Benamar Benatta. “My hope is that this never happens to anyone again.”

Benatta succeeded in having a criminal charge for possession of false immigration documents thrown out of court when the federal judge in his case ruled that his immigration detention was a “subterfuge” and “sham” created to hide the reality that, because Benatta was an “Algerian citizen and a member of the Algerian Air Force, [he] was spirited off to the MDC [Metropolitan Detention Center] in Brooklyn … and held in the [Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit] as ‘high security’ for the purposes of providing an expeditious means of having [him] interrogated by special agents of the FBI.”

“After 9/11 hundreds of men were swept up and detained in deplorable conditions based only on their religion and ethnicity,” CCR Attorney Rachel Meeropol told IPS.

“Nine years later, my clients are still determined to hold the masterminds of these sweeps accountable, and we will continue this fight until former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and his cronies, are forced to answer for their policy of profiling and abuse,” she said.

“No matter what exalted position they hold, cannot get away with ordering abuse and racial profiling. This battle is far from over,” Meeropol added.

The suit names as defendants then-Attorney General Ashcroft; Robert Mueller, current director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); former immigration commissioner James Ziglar; and officials at the MDC, where the plaintiffs were held.

It includes additional detail regarding high-level involvement in racial profiling and abuse, including allegations that Ashcroft ordered immigration authorities and the FBI to investigate individuals for ties to terrorism by, among other means, looking for Muslim-sounding names in the phone book.

In the resulting dragnet, hundreds of men were arrested, many based solely on their physical appearance – “Middle Eastern-looking men.”

Many other arrests were based on anonymous tips called in to the FBI. The complaint also discloses, in some cases for the first time, the “discriminatory and nonsensical tips” that led to each plaintiff’s arrest and detention, the CCR says.

Lead plaintiff Ibrahim Turkmen, for example, was arrested after his landlady called the FBI to report that she rented an apartment to several Middle Eastern men, and “she would feel awful if her tenants were involved in terrorism and she didn’t call.”

Among other documented abuses in detention, many of the 9/11 detainees had their faces smashed into a wall where guards had pinned a T-shirt with a picture of a U.S. flag and the words, “These colors don’t run.” The men were slammed against the T-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told “welcome to America.”

The T-shirt was smeared with blood, yet it stayed up on the wall at MDC for months.

Protests arise nationwide over FBI raids

The two sides of Washington Avenue South in front of the Minneapolis FBI headquarters were in stark contrast Monday evening.

On one sidewalk stood a group of about 200 chanting protestors denouncing a string of FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas, including three against University of Minnesota employees and one against a former student.

On the far side of the road, a group of about 13 Minneapolis Police officers leaned nonchalantly against squad cars and a “booking bus,” monitoring the situation. But police never had to leave their post.

A slew of speakers from local protest groups including the Anti-War Committee, the Twin Cities Peace Campaign and Women Against Military Madness rallied against a string of FBI raids performed Friday on six Twin Cities addresses.

Two other raids were carried out on Chicago addresses Friday, and about 120 protesters rallied outside the Chicago FBI office Monday afternoon.

Chants like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, FBI harassment has got to go!” belted out by the crowd were coupled with signs reading, “Stop attacks on civil liberties” and “Stop FBI harassment.”

“It’s mostly to show we won’t be stopped by intimidation,” said former University student Tracy Molm, whose home wasraided Friday.

The raids and subpoenas concerned “the material support of terrorism,” FBI spokesman Steve Warfield said Friday.

Agents took cell phones, computers, books and CDs from the activists. In several cases, they stayed for multiple hours conducting searches and left after handing out subpoenas.

University clerical worker Jessica Sundin said she knows of 13 people who have been subpoenaed, including two

from the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis resident Sarah Martin, a WAMM member, received one of Monday’s subpoenas. Sundin said the other person did not want to be named.

Grand jury hearings are set to begin Oct. 5 in Chicago, Sundin said.

Sundin’s raid was connected to her work with the Anti-War Committee and a 2000 trip to Columbia, she said. Sundin acknowledged that during that trip she met members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerilla group which has long battled the Colombian government.

Sundin said when she met rebels in 2000, they were holding peace talks with the Colombian government.

The AWC’s office in the University Technology Center in Dinkytown was also raided Friday.

Molm visited Palestine in 2004 and is active in Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota. She last

attended the University in fall 2009.

Mick Kelly, a University Dining Services cook, and Anh-Thu Pham, an executive accounts specialist in the Office of Academic Affairs, were also subpoenaed Friday, and their homes were raided.

Kelly edits Fight Back! News, whose staff is made up of activists and organizers. The organization called for a nationwide protest of the raids.

Monday’s event was meant to turn attention to perceived injustices in Palestine and Columbia and demonstrate solidarity with the subpoenaed activists.

“Your mind kind of wanders a little bit when you’re alone, so it helps to be in a group of people,” Sundin said. “It helps to remember that I’m not alone.”

Smaller, related protests were staged Monday outside federal buildings in Milwaukee, Wis., and Salt Lake City, Utah.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.S. Death Squads in Afghanistan

Associated Press

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — A soldier's videotaped statements describing how he and his colleagues randomly killed three Afghan civilians came under scrutiny Monday at a hearing into one of the most serious war-crimes cases from the war in Afghanistan.

Cpl. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, is among five Stryker soldiers charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. In interviews with Army investigators, he described a plot led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs to randomly kill civilians for sport while on patrol in Kandahar Province.

Prosecutors have also alleged that members of the platoon mutilated Afghan corpses and even collected fingers and other body parts, and that some posed for photos with Afghan corpses. Morlock talked about how they threw a grenade at a civilian to "wax him."

Morlock's attorneys are seeking to suppress the statements, saying they were made under the influence of muscle relaxants, sleeping pills and anti-nausea medicine prescribed for repeat concussions suffered during war. Morlock was being evacuated from Afghanistan for apparent traumatic brain injury when he was questioned in May.

They also blasted Army doctors and U.S. policy in a news conference, saying they didn't understand how a cornucopia of drugs could possibly render a brain-damaged soldier battle-ready. Morlock sustained his first concussion from a roadside bomb last November, and that's when the first drugs were prescribed, they said.

"This lad was all juiced up and it was by Army doctors," said attorney Geoffrey Nathan. "Why didn't they just recall him?"

Army Special Agent Anderson D. Wagner testified that Morlock was articulate during the interviews and that his account was corroborated by others in the unit. The hearing will determine whether the case proceeds to a court martial; Morlock and the others could face the death penalty if convicted.

"He made good eye contact. He was able to recount events that happened several months ago," Wagner said by audio feed from Kandahar.

Prosecutors listed 18 witnesses for Monday's hearing. Fourteen of them asserted their right to remain silent, including other defendants and 1st Lt. Roman G. Ligsay, who has been removed as leader of the platoon but is not charged.

Morlock's lawyers conceded they don't know specifically what drugs Morlock was taking at the time of the killings. Hashish smoking was rampant in the unit, and in some cases it may have been laced with opium, they said. The silence of other witnesses makes it hard for them to verify what drugs, prescribed or not, Morlock might have been on at the time of the killings, they said.

Portions of Morlock's interviews were aired by ABC News, and The Associated Press has reviewed statements he made under oath in which he claimed Gibbs — the highest ranking soldier accused — planned "scenarios" during which they could kill civilians. For example, Morlock said, if they came across someone in a village that had previously been flagged as having Taliban influence, they could toss a grenade at the civilian and claim they had been responding to a threat.

Gibbs also illicitly collected "drop weapons" that could be placed by the bodies to make them appear to be combatants, Morlock and others said.

"Gibbs had pure hatred for all Afghanis and constantly referred to them as savages," Morlock said in the statement reviewed by the AP. "Sometime after Christmas 2009, Gibbs gave me a (fragmentation) grenade and told me that if the situation presented itself that we should go ahead and run with the grenade scenario that he had briefed to us."

A few weeks later, in January, the first of the killings was carried out, followed by one in February and one in early May. In each, prosecutors say, Morlock and Gibbs enlisted one other soldier to be involved. Lawyers for those three say they either deny involvement or that their participation was unwitting.

Gibbs' attorney says all three killings were "appropriate engagements."

The case raised serious questions about the Army's handling of it. Spc. Adam Winfield, who is charged in the final killing, sent troubling Facebook messages home to his parents in Florida after the first killing. He wrote that he was being threatened to keep his mouth shut about it and that he didn't know what to do.

His father made nearly half a dozen calls to military officials that day, and he said he warned them about the ongoing plot and the threats against his son.

But no suspects were arrested until May, when a witness in a drug case in the unit alerted investigators to what he considered unjustified killings.

In cross-examination of Wagner and another investigator, Morlock's attorney, Michael Waddington, questioned the lack of forensic investigation into the killings. He pressed them on whether they really knew who killed which civilian, and why they had not exhumed the bodies or seized the weapons of the accused.

Wagner responded that investigators likely would have had trouble locating the bodies, and even if they did, it would be difficult to exhume them without upsetting local citizens.

"If it was on U.S. soil we would have done it, no question," he said. "It's not the United States. Everything we do has repercussions."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lies in the Name of the Free Market

Center for Media and Democracy

A powerful advocacy organization has made a big impact on this midterm election cycle in states across the country. Americans for Job Security (AJS) has spent millions of dollars on attack ads targeting candidates they view as anti-free market. While this group believes in the free exchange of capital, they are vehemently opposed to the free exchange of information, at least when it comes to their sponsors. AJS has routinely denied requests for a list of donors. As a 501(c)(6), they do not have to reveal this information. But the IRS has stated that any 501(c)(6) group whose "primary purpose" is political activity, must name their donors. The Washington Post reports that AJS spends the vast majority of its budget on television and radio ads before elections. Groups such as Public Citizen have complained to the IRS about AJS' abuse of its tax-exempt status. But the ambiguous nature of the IRS' "primary purpose" standard has allowed AJS to continue spewing attack ads every election cycle.

Beyond the Pale

In addition to being shadowy and secretive, AJS' ads are often misleading, completely untrue, and even offensive. While attacking Congressman Zack Space, AJS stated that he voted for "job-killing energy taxes." AJS is referring to Space's vote in favor of a cap-and-trade system designed to slow global warming. While it is arguable that a cap-and-trade system will cause businesses to pass costs on to consumers, it cannot be equated to an energy tax.

AJS also accused former Colorado Lieutenant Governor and Republican Senate candidate Jane Norton of growing "the state bureaucracy by $43 million in just 3 years." While the state budget did grow by this amount during Norton's time in office, it was not because of her actions. Spending grew in Colorado because of an increase in federal funds, not because of any increases in taxes.

In a very disturbing case, AJS disseminated a television ad geared toward defeating Arkansas Senate candidate Bill Halter that has generated charges of racism. The TV spot depicts numerous Indians thanking Halter for outsourcing jobs to India. The ad's detractors have argued that the ad promotes stereotypes. In addition to being racist, the ad is not true. The Securities and Exchange Commission reported that while WebMethods did open a center in India while Halter was on the board, it had no effect on the loss of jobs in America.

Americans for Job Security joins all the other front groups springing up in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited funds to influence elections. These groups allow corporations to do just that while remaining anonymous. This kind of election hanky-panky makes SourceWatch an even more important resource for voters seeking the truth about suspicious groups with "feel good" names that suddenly appear and run over-the-top attack ads against candidates.

We can build whatever animal you want to eat, say scientists

TINKER with the genetics of salmon and maybe you create a revolutionary new food source that could help the environment and feed the hungry.

Or maybe you're creating what some say is an untested "frankenfish" that could cause unknown allergic reactions and the eventual decimation of the wild salmon population.

The US Food and Drug Administration hears both arguments this week when it begins a two-day meeting on whether to approve the marketing of the genetically engineered fish, which would be the first such animal approved for human consumption.

The agency has already said the salmon, which grows twice as fast as conventional salmon, is as safe to eat as the traditional variety.

Approval of the salmon would open the door for a variety of other genetically engineered animals, including an environmentally friendly pig that is being developed in Canada or cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease.

"For future applications out there the sky's the limit," David Edwards of the Biotechnology Industry Association said.

"If you can imagine it, scientists can try to do it."

AquaBounty submitted its first application for FDA approval in 1995, but the agency decided not until two years ago to consider applications for genetically engineered animals - a move seen as a breakthrough by the biotechnology industry.

Genetic engineering is already widely used for crops, but the US government until now has not considered allowing the consumption of modified animals.

Although the potential benefits - and profits - are huge, many individuals have qualms about manipulating the genetic code of other living creatures.

Genetically engineered - or GE - animals are not clones, which the FDA has already said are safe to eat.

Clones are copies of an animal. With GE animals, their DNA has been altered to produce a desirable characteristic.

In the case of the salmon, AquaBounty has added a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce their growth hormone all year long.

The engineers were able to keep the hormone active by using another gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that acts like an on switch for the hormone, according to the company.

Conventional salmon only produce the growth hormone some of the time.

In documents released ahead of the hearing, the FDA said there were no biologically relevant differences between the engineered salmon and conventional salmon, and there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from its consumption.

Critics have two main concerns: The safety of the food to humans and the salmon's effect on the environment.

Because the altered fish has never been eaten before, they say, it could include dangerous allergens, especially because seafood is highly allergenic.

They also worry that the fish will escape and intermingle with the wild salmon population, which is already endangered.

They would grow fast and consume more food to the detriment of the conventional wild salmon, the critics fear.

A wide range of environmental, food safety and consumer groups have argued that more public studies are needed and the current FDA process is inadequate because it allows the company to keep some proprietary information private.

Ron Stotish, the chief executive of AquaBounty, has countered that the company has more than addressed the concerns and his product has come under much more scrutiny than most food.

"This is perhaps the most studied fish in history," he said.

"Environmentally, this is a very sustainable technology."

The company has several safeguards in place to allay concerns.

All the fish would be bred female and sterile, though a small percentage may be able to breed.

They would be bred in confined pools where the potential for escape would be very low.

Read more:

CDC survey of Gulf residents finds 50% of households experiencing respiratory issues within the PAST 30 DAYS — Feds suggest to “focus on mental health

Florida Oil Spill Law

After oil spill, depression and stress levels rise in coastal Alabama, Press-Register, September 27, 2010:


An emergency survey* conducted door-to-door in coastal Alabama confirmed elevated levels of depression and stress following the oil spill and also detected possible effects, such as respiratory ailments…

  • At least half of the households queried in both counties had at least one member experiencing respiratory issues within the past 30 days. …
  • Respondents were encountering more physically or mentally unhealthy days than people in earlier statewide surveys.
  • “The increased prevalence of negative quality-of-life indicators, depressive symptoms and symptoms of anxiety,” according to the CDC report, “suggest that resources should focus on mental health intervention and follow-up surveillance.”

* The survey, by the Centers for Disease Control’s national Center for Environmental Health, is based on responses from 128 households in south Mobile County and 168 in south Baldwin, both in Alabama.

UN Fact-Finding Mission Says Israelis "Executed" US Citizen Furkan Dogan


Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen of Turkish descent, was aboard the Mavi Marmara when he was killed by Israeli commandos. (Photo: freegazaorg; Edited: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

t r u t h o u t , September 27, 2010

The report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla released last week shows conclusively, for the first time, that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style at point blank range by Israeli commandos.

The report reveals that Dogan, the 19-year-old US citizen of Turkish descent, was filming with a small video camera on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara when he was shot twice in the head, once in the back and in the left leg and foot and that he was shot in the face at point blank range while lying on the ground.

The report says Dogan had apparently been "lying on the deck in a conscious or semi-conscious, state for some time" before being shot in his face.

The forensic evidence that establishes that fact is "tattooing around the wound in his face," indicating that the shot was "delivered at point blank range." The report describes the forensic evidence as showing that "the trajectory of the wound, from bottom to top, together with a vital abrasion to the left shoulder that could be consistent with the bullet exit point, is compatible with the shot being received while he was lying on the ground on his back."

Based on both "forensic and firearm evidence," the fact-finding panel concluded that Dogan's killing and that of five Turkish citizens by the Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmari May 31 "can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions." (See Report [.pdf] Page 38, Section 170)

The report confirmed what the Obama administration already knew from the autopsy report on Dogan, but the administration has remained silent about the killing of Dogan, which could be an extremely difficult political problem for the administration in its relations with Israel.

The Turkish government gave the autopsy report on Dogan to the US Embassy in July and it was then passed on to the Department of Justice, according to a US government source who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the administration's policy of silence on the matter. The source said the purpose of obtaining the report was to determine whether an investigation of the killing by the Justice Department (DOJ) was appropriate.

Asked by this writer whether the DOJ had received the autopsy report on Dogan, DOJ spokesperson Laura Sweeney refused to comment.

The administration has not volunteered any comment on the fact-finding mission report and was not asked to do so by any news organization. In response to a query from Truthout, a State Department official, who could not speak on the record, read a statement that did not explicitly acknowledge the report's conclusion about the Israeli executions.

The statement said the fact-finding mission's report's, "tone and conclusions are unbalanced." It went on to state, "We urge that this report not be used for actions that could disrupt direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine that are now underway or actions that would make it not possible for Israel and Turkey to move beyond the recent strains in their traditional strong relationship."

Although the report's revelations and conclusions about the killing of Dogan and the five other victims were widely reported in the Turkish media last week, not a single story on the report has appeared in US news media.

The administration has made it clear through its inaction and its explicit public posture that it has no intention of pressing the issue of the murder of a US citizen in cold blood by Israeli commandos.

On June 13, two weeks after the Mavi Marmara attack, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement saying that Israel "should be allowed to undertake an investigation into events that involve its national security" and that Israel's military justice system "meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation."

Another passenger whom forensic evidence shows was killed execution-style, according to the OHCHR report, is Ibrahim Bilgen, a 60-year-old Turkish citizen. Bilgen is believed by forensics experts to have been shot initially from the helicopter above the Mavi Marmara and then shot in the side of the head while lying seriously wounded.

The fact-finding mission was given forensic evidence that, after the initial shot in chest from above, Bilgen was shot in the head with a "soft baton round at such close proximity that an entire bean bag and its wadding penetrated the skull and lodged in the chest from above," the mission concluded.

"Soft baton rounds" are supposed to be fired for nonlethal purposes at a distance and aimed only at the stomach, but are lethal when fired at the head, especially from close range.

The forensic evidence cited by the fact-finding mission on the killing of Dogan and five other passengers came from both the autopsy reports and pathology reports done by forensic personnel in Turkey and from interviews with those who wrote the reports. Experts in forensic pathology and firearms assisted the mission in interpreting that forensic evidence.

The account, provided by the OHCHR of the events on board the Mavi Marmara on its way to help break the economic siege of Gaza May 31 of this year, refutes the version of events aggressively pushed by the Israeli military and supports the testimony of passengers on board.

The report suggests that, from the beginning, Israeli policy viewed the Gaza flotilla as an opportunity to use lethal force against pro-Hamas activists. It quotes testimony by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak before the Israeli government's Turkel Committee that specific orders were given by the Israeli government "to continue intelligence tracking of the flotilla organizers with an emphasis on the possibility that amongst the passengers in the flotilla there were terror elements who would attempt to harm Israeli forces."

The idea that the passenger list would be seeded with terrorists determined to attack Israeli defense forces appears to have been a ploy to justify treating the operation as likely to require the use of military force against the passengers.

When details of the Israeli plan to forcibly take over the ships in the flotilla were published in the Israeli press on May 30, the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara realized that the Israelis might use deadly force against them. Some leaders of the IHH (the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid), which had purchased the ships for the mission, were advocating defending the boat against the Israeli boarding attempt, whereas other passengers advocated nonviolence only.

That led to efforts to create improvised weapons from railings and other equipment on the Mavi Marmara. However, the commission concluded that there was no evidence of any firearms having being taken aboard the ship, as charged by Israel.

The report notes that the Israeli military never communicated a request by radio to inspect the cargo on board any of the ships, apparently contradicting the official justification given by the Israeli government for the military attack on the Mavi Marmara and other ships of preventing any military contraband from reaching Gaza.

According to the OHCHR report, Israeli Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified to the Turkel Committee August 11 that the initial rules of engagement for the operation prohibited live fire except in life-threatening situations, but that that they were later modified to target protesters "deemed to be violent" in response to the resistance by passengers.

That decision apparently followed the passengers' successful repulsion of an Israeli effort to board the ship from Zodiac boats.

The report confirms that, from the beginning of the operation, passengers were fired on by helicopters flying above the Mavi Marmara to drop commandos on the deck.

Contrary to Israeli claims that one or more Israeli troops were wounded by firearms, the report says no medical evidence of a gunshot wound to an Israeli soldier was found.

The OHCHR report confirms accounts from passengers on the Mavi Marmara that defenders subdued roughly ten Israeli commandos, took their weapons from them and threw them in the sea, except for one weapon hidden as evidence. The Israeli soldiers were briefly sequestered below and some were treated for wounds before being released by the defenders.

The OHCHR fact-finding mission will certainly be the most objective, thorough and in-depth inquiry into the events on board the Mavi Marmara and other ships in the flotilla of the four that have been announced.

The fact-finding mission was chaired by Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Q.C., retired judge of the International Criminal Court and former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago, and included Sir Desmond de Silva, Q.C. of the United Kingdom, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and Ms. Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia, founding member of the board of directors of the International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.

The mission interviewed 112 eyewitnesses to the Israeli attack in London, Geneva, Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. The Israeli government refused to cooperate with the fact-finding mission by making personnel involved in both planning and carrying out the attack available to be interviewed.

The Turkish governments announced its own investigation of the Israeli attack on August 10. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a "Panel of Inquiry" on August 2, but its mandate was much more narrowly defined. It was given the mission to "receive and review the reports of the national investigations with the view to recommending ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future."

Top Likud minister: Obama knows settlements are part of Jewish homeland


Thousands of activists from Netanyahu's faction crowds the lawn at Yisrael Katz's estate, where their host declares Israel should never accede to international pressure when it comes to the right to settle in the Jewish homeland.

A holiday toast at the home of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) on Sunday evening turned quickly from a festive gathering into a triumphant celebration to mark the end of Israel's temporary freeze on construction in the West Bank.

Thousands of activists from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's faction crowded the lawn outside Katz's estate in Moshav Kfar Achim, where their host declared that Israel should never accede to international pressure when it comes to exhibiting their right to settle in the Jewish homeland.

Transportation minister Yisrael Katz.

Transportation minister Yisrael Katz.

Photo by: Ofer Vaknin

"I am sure he knows that Hebron, Shiloh and Beit El are also part of this historic homeland that belong to the Jewish people," he added, referring to three contentious settlements.

"I want to praise Netanyahu for living up to his commitment, engaging in negotiations without preconditions," Katz added, with regard to the direct peace talks recently re-launched between Israel and the Palestinians. "In ever future arrangement, we must preserve the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and the residents that live there."

'The Only Option Left for Me Is an Orderly Departure'

Spiegel Online

Daniel Schmitt, who has revealed that his true name is Daniel Domscheit-Berg, says WikiLeaks has a structural problem. "I no longer want to take responsibility for it," he says.

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Daniel Schmitt -- the 32-year-old German spokesman for WikiLeaks who is also the organization's best-known personality after Julian Assange -- discusses his falling out with the website's founder, his subsequent departure and the considerable growing pains plaguing the whistleblower organization.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Schmitt, you and WikiLeaks have been unreachable by e-mail for several weeks. What's wrong?

Schmitt: There are technical problems and no one to take care of them. WikiLeaks is stuck in a phase in which the project has to change itself. We grew insanely fast in recent months and we urgently need to become more professional and transparent in all areas. This development is being blocked internally. It is no longer clear even to me who is actually making decisions and who is answerable to them. Because of the high pressure we have all been under following the publication of the American military documents, we have not been able to restructure our organization accordingly. This has created a situation in which not all of the work is being done correctly, and that is overwhelming the project.

SPIEGEL: Is that your opinion or do all the people involved share it?

Schmitt: That is one of the points of dispute internally, but there are others. WikiLeaks, for example, was always free of discrimination. In the past we processed and published smaller submissions that were only of local importance the same way that we did more comprehensive documents that are of national or even international importance.

SPIEGEL: Why don't you do both?

Schmitt: We would like to, but unfortunately we've reached a dead-end. I have tried again and again to push for that, but Julian Assange reacted to any criticism with the allegation that I was disobedient to him and disloyal to the project. Four weeks ago, he suspended me-- acting as the prosecutor, judge and hangman in one person. Since then, for example, I have had no access to my WikiLeaks mail. So a lot of work is just sitting and other helpers are being blocked. I know that no one in our core team agreed with the move. But that doesn't seem to matter. WikiLeaks has a structural problem. I no longer want to take responsibility for it, and that's why I am leaving the project.

SPIEGEL: Why has your fight with Assange escalated to this degree?

Schmitt: We have all experienced intense stress in recent months. Mistakes happened, which is okay, as long as people learn from them. For that to happen, though, one has to admit them. Above all, though, we seem to have lost the faith that we are all pulling together.

SPIEGEL: Assange himself says that you questioned his power and wanted to take over leadership of WikiLeaks.

Schmitt: From my perspective there was no power struggle. It wasn't about personal interests, it was about our organization and its development. Only he can say why he sees things differently.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you did advise him to temporarily retreat from the public eye as a result of the rape allegations lodged against him in Sweden.

Schmitt: The investigation into Julian in Sweden is, in my opinion, a personal attack against him, but they do not have anything to with WikiLeaks directly. Still, it does cost time and energy and it weighs on him. In my opinion it would have been best if he had pulled back a bit so that he could quietly deal with these problems. It would have been fine if he had continued his normal work out of the spotlight. But he clearly saw my internal proposal as an attack on his role.

SPIEGEL: What will happen now?

Schmitt: I worked on WikiLeaks because I considered the idea to be right and important. We tried numerous times to discuss all of the issues mentioned with Julian, without success. I have given more than 100 interviews to media all around the world, coordinated finances in Germany and also worked on the publication (of documents). Now I am pulling out of the project and will turn my tasks over to -- who knows?

SPIEGEL: Who are you referring to when you say "we"?

Schmitt: A handful of people in the core team, who have views about these things that are similar to mine but do not want to go public. A large amount of the work is done by people who want to remain unnamed. There is a lot of resentment there and others, like me, will leave.

SPIEGEL: You are leaving the project at a critical juncture. Do you not worry that a number of Internet activists may accuse you of betraying the cause?

Schmitt: I am aware of that, but you should assume that I have thought long and hard about the step. Nevertheless, in recent years, I have invested a considerable amount of time, money and energy into WikiLeaks. But I also have to be able to support the things for which I am publicly responsible. That is why the only option left for me at the moment is an orderly departure.

SPIEGEL: What is it that you no longer stand behind?

Schmitt: That we promise all of our sources that we will publish their material, for example. Recently, however, we have only focused on the major topics and applied practically all of our resources to them. Take the US Army Afghanistan documents at the end of July, for example. The video of the air strike in Baghdad in 2007, "Collateral Damage," was an extreme feat of strength for us. During the same period of time we also could have published dozens of other documents. And through our rising recognition in the last six months, we have again received a lot of material that urgently needs to be processed and published.

SPIEGEL: With the publication of classified Afghanistan reports, also through SPIEGEL, you have taken on the United States, a superpower. Washington is threatening to prosecute you for espionage and WikiLeaks supporters have been interrogated by the FBI. Bradley Manning, who is believed to be one of your informants, is sitting in jail. Are you afraid of the massive public pressure?

Schmitt: No, pressure from the outside is part of this. But this one-dimensional confrontation with the USA is not what we set out to do. For us it is always about uncovering corruption and abuse of power, wherever it happens -- on the smaller and larger scale -- around the world.

SPIEGEL: What does it mean for the organization now that its second most recognizable face after that of Julian Assange is leaving? Is WikiLeaks' future in jeopardy?

Schmitt: I hope not. The idea behind WikiLeaks is too important for that. There are a number of new people in Sweden and Great Britain and I hope that they will all work on something sensible. I believe in this concept that we set out to do, and I am confident that it will survive.

SPIEGEL: With a part of the WikiLeaks team now leaving, do your informants need to be concerned about what will happen with the material they submitted?

Schmitt: It is my view that material and money from donors should remain at WikiLeaks, because both were intended explicitly for this project. There are other opinions internally -- with our technical people, for example. No matter what, though, we will ensure that a clean transition happens.

SPIEGEL: You quit your job because of WikiLeaks. What will you do now?

Schmitt: I will continue to do my part to ensure that the idea of a decentralized whistleblower platform stays afloat. I will work on that now. And that, incidentally, is in line with one of our original shared convictions -- in the end, there needs to be a thousand WikiLeaks.

SPIEGEL: In your role as WikiLeaks spokesman, you have always gone by the name "Daniel Schmitt." What's your real name?

Schmmitt: It is high time that I also stop doing that and to go public with my name and my opinions. My name is Daniel Domscheit-Berg.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Prosecutors' conduct can tip justice scales

USA Today

ORLANDO — The jurors who helped put Nino Lyons in jail for three years had every reason to think that he was a drug trafficker, and, until July, no reason to doubt that justice had been done.

For more than a week in 2001, the jurors listened to one witness after another, almost all of them prison inmates, describe how Lyons had sold them packages of cocaine. One said that Lyons, who ran clothing shops and nightclubs around Orlando, even tried to hire him to kill two drug suppliers.

But the federal prosecutors handling the case did not let the jury hear all the facts.

Instead, the prosecutors covered up evidence that could have discredited many of Lyons' accusers. They never revealed that a convict who claimed to have purchased hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Lyons struggled even to identify his photograph. And they hid the fact that prosecutors had promised to let others out of prison early in exchange for their cooperation.

Federal prosecutors are supposed to seek justice, not merely score convictions. But a USA TODAY investigation found that prosecutors repeatedly have violated that duty in courtrooms across the nation. The abuses have put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions.

Judges have warned for decades that misconduct by prosecutors threatens the Constitution's promise of a fair trial. Congress in 1997 enacted a law aimed at ending such abuses.

Yet USA TODAY documented 201 criminal cases in the years that followed in which judges determined that Justice Department prosecutors — the nation's most elite and powerful law enforcement officials — themselves violated laws or ethics rules.

In case after case during that time, judges blasted prosecutors for "flagrant" or "outrageous" misconduct. They caught some prosecutors hiding evidence, found others lying to judges and juries, and said others had broken plea bargains.

Such abuses, intentional or not, doubtless infect no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of criminal cases filed in the nation's federal courts each year. But the transgressions USA TODAY identified were so serious that, in each case, judges threw out charges, overturned convictions or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. And each has the potential to tarnish the reputation of the prosecutors who do their jobs honorably.

In July, U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell did more than overturn Lyons' conviction: He declared that Lyons was innocent.

Neither the Justice Department nor the lead prosecutor in the Lyons case, Bruce Hinshelwood, would explain the events that cost Lyons his home, his businesses and nearly three years of freedom. The department investigated Hinshelwood but refused to say whether he was punished; records obtained by USA TODAY show that the agency regulating Florida lawyers ordered him to attend a one-day ethics workshop, scheduled for Friday.

Asked about Presnell's ruling exonerating Lyons, Hinshelwood said only, "It is of no concern to me."

The circumstances of Lyons' conviction did trouble Presnell, who oversaw his trial nine years ago. Presnell savaged the Justice Department in a written order for "a concerted campaign of prosecutorial abuse" by attorneys who, he wrote, covered up evidence and let felons lie to the jury.

Records from the Justice Department's internal ethics watchdogs show the agency has investigated a growing number of complaints by judges about misconduct they observed. In 2001, the department investigated 42 such complaints; last year, 61.

The department will not reveal how many of those prosecutors were punished because, it said, doing so would violate their privacy rights. USA TODAY, drawing on state bar records, identified only one federal prosecutor who was barred even temporarily from practicing law for misconduct during the past 12 years.

Even high-profile cases have been affected. Last year, a judge in Washington, D.C. — saying the department could not be trusted to investigate its own prosecutors — launched his own probe of the attorneys who handled the corruption trial of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens. After a jury found Stevens guilty, the department admitted that prosecutors had hidden evidence, then dropped the charges. (Stevens died in an August plane crash.)

Stevens' lawyers question how misconduct could have tainted such a closely watched case — and what that might mean for routine prosecutions. "It's a frightening thought and calls into question the generally accepted belief that our system of justice performs at a high level and yields just results," said Brendan Sullivan, Stevens' attorney.

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