Category Archives: human rights

Torture Gorsuch: looking at a single email

I’m reading through the pile of documents that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch provided to the Congress.  The documents show a legal advisor helping the Bush administration justify their torture policy.  Although being portrayed as a friendly frat guy, these documents suggest that Gorsuch is a more dangerous individual who is not qualified for the Supreme Court.   This essay is a discussion of a single email Gorsuch writes in a 2005  after his visit to the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

The email is a message coordinating strategy to defend Guantanamo.  The email is to other lawyers who represented the positions of the Bush administration.  Gorsuch writes the email giving three suggestions about how to defend the use of the base in Guantanamo Bay as a detention, interrogation and torture facility.  His first suggestion is to destroy the evidence:

“1.  Camp X-Ray.  It serves no current purpose, is overgrown and decaying.  Gen Hood would understandably like to tear it down.  Of course, there may be some evidentiary concerns with this, but can we at least tee this up for a prompt resolution?  Eg — notify counsel of our intent to remove it or seek advance court authorization?”

-Neil Gorsuch, released email from November 10, 2005.  “GTMO trip”

His suggestion to tear down camp X-Ray suggests a desire to cover the nastier parts of the torture at Guantanamo.  Gorsuch’s first suggestion when he returns from a trip to Guantanamo Bay is to destroy the original detainee holding facility despite noting: “Of course, there may be some evidentiary concerns with this . . . ”

This memo is from November 2005.  A couple of months earlier a federal judge had ruled that Camp X-Ray was protected as evidence.   Here is Carol Rosenberg, in the Miami Herald reporting on the legal stakes of destroying Camp X-Ray:

“In July 2005, U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts became the first federal judge to impose a protective order on Guantánamo, ordering the government to “preserve and maintain all evidence, documents and information.”

At the time, the Bush administration argued that courts had no right to meddle in what the White House wanted done here.

Defense Department lawyers interpreted it to mean that nobody should touch Camp X-Ray, even though it officially closed in April 2002, leaving it a ramshackle rot of plywood interrogation huts and cage-like cells engulfed in weeds and wildlife droppings.

For now, that’s where plans for closure start. The FBI team that spent a week earlier this month creating digital imagery did it for Pentagon lawyers, who will ask federal judges if they will accept imagery as a substitute.

But defense lawyers don’t want anything removed or razed.

First, dozens of captives are still suing for their freedom in federal court and their lawyers say their confinement could be used to challenge confessions as bogus, coerced, whether they are tried in the future or set free.

Later, some may want to sue the U.S., said New Mexico criminal attorney Nancy Hollander, who argues that her Mauritanian client Mohammedou Slahi, 38, was subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” at Guantánamo. Never been charged with a crime, he is suing for his freedom.

Detention center staff defend their work as “safe, humane and transparent,” even as they declare portions of the prison camps off-limits to media and lawyers.

But, says Hollander: “I think they should preserve it all. Camp X-Ray figures in too many cases in terms of how people were treated, how people were interrogated.”

“There are interrogation rooms throughout Guantánamo’s prison system. There are loudspeakers. There are strobe lights. The bottom line for me is that Guantánamo is a crime scene and that it should be preserved.”

Moreover, she said, Slahi was moved around the base in blindfolds — at one point taken into the bay on a boat and threatened with death. He says U.S. forces beat him, subjected him to a systematic campaign of sleep deprivation and threatened his family. If she ever gets to look at intelligence logs of his interrogations, she may want to send investigators to examine the sites.

“Many of those things are violations of the conventions against torture,” she said. “And I believe he was tortured, and he received cruel and degrading treatment in violation of the law. There may be civil suits.”

– Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald November 15, 2009.  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/guantanamo/v-print/story/1335533.html

This couple of years are the apex of political and legal scrutiny on the Bush Torture policies.  And they were Gorsuch’s responsibilty.  Charlie Savage explains in the New York Times:

“Judge Gorsuch’s time in the executive branch was brief. He joined the Justice Department in June 2005 as the principal deputy associate attorney general, meaning he was the top aide to the No. 3 official in the department. He left in August 2006, when Mr. Bush appointed him as a federal appeals court judge in Denver.

But those 14 months were tumultuous ones for the Bush administration amid controversies over detainee abuses, military commissions, warrantless surveillance and its broad claims of executive power. Judge Gorsuch’s job put him at the center of both litigation and negotiations with Congress over legislation about such topics.

References to those efforts may offer clues to Judge Gorsuch’s approach to the sort of national-security and executive power issues that rarely come before his appeals court but can be crucial at the Supreme Court.”

– Charlie Savage.  “Neil Gorsuch helped defend disputed Bush-era torture policies.” New York Times, March 15, 2017.

Gorsuch, fresh back from Guantanamo zips off a 3 point memo to provide more robust support for Guantanamo.  He casually suggests destroying camp X-Ray despite the legal prohibition to do so.  Why might a Bush Administration lawyer hope to protect Guantanamo from legal scrutiny?  Oh yeah, turns out the CIA was running a top-secret torture detention facility out of Guantanamo.  Here is Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald in 2014:

“In 2004, as the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to let Guantánamo captives consult lawyers for the first time, the CIA spirited some men who now face death-penalty trials from a clandestine lockup at the U.S. Navy base — and didn’t tell Congress.

Two years later, even as President George W. Bush announced at the White House Rose Garden that the spy agency had transferred its most prized captives to Guantánamo for trial, the alleged al-Qaida terrorists were still under control of the CIA.

The release of 524 pages of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms for the first time that the CIA used Guantánamo as a black site — and continued to run the prison that held the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 13 other men even as the Pentagon was charged to prosecute them.

It also offers graphic details that the U.S. government has hidden from view in the pretrial hearings of six captives it seeks to execute — about the sexual torture and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the alleged USS Cole bomber and why a sickly looking accused 9/11 conspirator sits on a pillow at court proceedings.

But it does not resolve whether the spy agency that systematically hid its prized interrogation program from court and congressional scrutiny has ceded control to the U.S. military of the secret facility where the men are imprisoned. And, if so, when?

“I would find it hard to believe that they let go. Throughout this entire program, the CIA is running from the law at every turn,” says Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer. He calls the revelation that his client, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the accused planner of the USS Cole bombing, “had a tube inserted into his anus” tantamount to rape.”

– Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald.  December 11, 2014. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article4434603.html

Gorsuch consistently ran interference and helped to cover-up the potential crimes of Guantanamo.  That original quote is a grotesque artifact and it is just a single paragraph.  Gorsuch leans so heavily in favor of the Republican President of the time this email is a documentation of his hustle to find justifications and run interference.

In this same November 10, 2005 email Gorsuch suggests bringing federal judges to Guantanamo to sway their opinion of Guantanamo.  Gorsuch writes:

“2.  Judges trip.  If the DC judges could see what we saw, I believe they would be more sympathetic to our litigating positions.  Even if habeas counsel objected to such a trip, that might not be a bad thing.  What do they want to hide, a judge might ask?  Habeas counsel have been eager to testify (sometimes quite misleadingly) about conditions they’ve witnessed; a visit, or even just the offer of a visit, might help dispel myths and build confidence in our representation to the court about conditions and detainee treatment. Of course there are countervailing considerations — e.g., can judges come take a view under such circumstances?  do any judicial ethical considerations exist?  who bears the costs?  (. . . )”

-Neil Gorsuch, released email from November 10, 2005.  “GTMO trip”

Gorsuch’s bias to defend Guantanamo at all costs and to sway judges seems offensive to me.  Federal judges have been the only realistic check on potential abuses at the facility.   Is Gorsuch trying to prevent rulings such as the judge who ordered Camp X-Ray be preserved as evidence?  It seems this way.

Neil Gorsuch is a danger to the United States.  President Trump has widely called for an expansion of the use of Guantanamo.  Including at times for illegally sending United States citizens to Guantanamo.  Here William Finnegan explains in the New Yorker:

President Donald Trump has never been particularly lucid on the subject of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He is for it, of course. Early last year, at a campaign rally, he said, “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantánamo Bay, which, by the way, which, by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open . . . and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.” This cartoonish threat raised the question of where or in which putative wars the United States would find these new inmates. Trump seemed to think, in a later interview, that he could send Americans accused of terrorism to Guantánamo to be tried by military commissions. But American citizens cannot, by law, be held at Guantánamo. Details, for Trump.

– William Finnegan. “President Trump’s Guantánamo Delusion” New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/president-trumps-guantanamo-delusion

Gorsuch seems to be a torture-leaning, executive branch yes-man in this email.  The United States must have a robust Supreme Court who can prevent or respond to illegal presidential actions.  Sadly, Gorsuch has shown us that he is not that judge.

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Filed under colonialism, communication, human rights, prisons, propaganda, punishment, representation, sexual assault, Surveillance

Cops on Alton Sterling: ‘Just leave him’

Louisiana Police killed Alton Sterling.  This is the 558th police killing of civilians THIS YEAR.   The convenience store clerk (Abdullah Muflahi) who witnessed the killing and reported to The Advocate:

Muflahi, who said he was two feet away from the altercation, said an officer yelled “gun” during the scuffle. An officer then fired four to six shots into Sterling’s chest, he said. “His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket,” Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn’t holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said. “They were really aggressive with him from the start,” Muflahi said about the officers. Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were “freaking out,” Muflahi said. The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, “Just leave him.”

Source: ‘He’s got a gun! Gun’: Video shows fatal confrontation between Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge police officer | The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Its worth watching the video of the killing taken by bystanders.  Let’s note that both of the officer’s body cameras “fell off” according to law enforcement and the first thing the cops did is seize the surveillance footage from the convenience store.

Thanks to the Guardian for The Counted, the web site which documents police killings in the US.  Here is to peace and justice for the family.  Here is to accountability and a hope for change.

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Martin Luther King: Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike, Nina Turner and Cornel West

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it is a good day to think about the work necessary to bring about justice.

I believe that Bernie Sanders is sincere. His campaign releases this video on the eve of Martin Luther King day.   A few quick observations:

  1.  The lack of editing is a signal of this video’s credibility.  Note that this is a single take . . . no edits, no cuts to remove something that would hurt a political campaign.  This starts with microphone checks and becomes a rigorous conversation between four intellectuals.   After they are done, Dr. Cornel West yells: “Whooo hoo . . . that was rich!”  I agree.
  2.  Shortly after the 20 minute mark Killer Mike begins to pitch the Bernie Sanders campaign to black nationalists.  Malcolm X gets a shout out by Senator Turner!  A minute later Mike points out that Sanders is comfortable in tough conversations with people of color.  Sanders brushes off the compliment and returns to the message.
  3. “Titles are good, purpose is better.” Senator Nina Turner makes the argument to use your access. (6:30)
  4. West’s anger toward Obama is palpable.   And Senator Turner’s experience with Hillary Clinton is interesting at the 42 minute mark.
  5. At the 17 minute mark Bernie Sanders talks about his early civil rights organizing experience in Chicago.  Particularly he notes that the northern liberal university (University of Chicago) ran segregated student housing — which necessitated a sit in.  He talks about his experience organizing with CORE and mentions fighting segregated schools.
  6. I also like the sincere emotion that comes through.  Senator Turner who says that Sanders made her heart leap.  The compliments, the gentle physical contact . . .all point to a great series of relationships.

It’s a good and interesting video.  Also an artifact worth consideration in the field of presidential rhetoric.  Contrast this to most pandering politicians.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, human rights, intersectionality, memorial, protest, race, representation

Obama pardons Valerie Bozeman: drug war reflections

Kyle Swenson has an excellent write up on Valerie Bozeman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times.  Bozeman was convicted of drug charges and received federal mandatory minimum penalties.  She was pardoned from her life sentence by President Obama after 23 years in prison.  This is an excellent read complete with a sympathetic protagonist, grimy drug kingpins, incompetent defense attorneys and a guilty judge.

Swenson does a good job explaining how low-level offenders were getting astounding sentences.

But as anxiety over crack grew, the statute was hijacked. The use of “851 enhancements,” as they came to be called, became a huge prosecutorial hammer. The marching orders for federal prosecutors were for no mercy.

In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh ordered U.S. attorneys to “charge the most serious, readily provable offense.” Victory in the courtroom was “measured by the length of sentence you could get if you secured that prosecution,” explains Price. So 851 enhancements — which could trigger a life sentence if an individual had two prior felony convictions — became an easy way for the government to notch a heavy win.

“It was a time when we turned our backs on rehabilitation and support, and our criminal justice system and sentencing law became much more punitive,” Price says. “We were locking up people who we didn’t like and were afraid of. But we were also locking up a lot of people who really didn’t deserve the lengthy sentences we were doling out.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Bozeman got a life sentence and learned about the 851 (mandatory minimum) penalties that sent her to prison only years later.  Note that the ‘old timers’ — the prisoners who are sentenced to life became a legal research unit under the direction of Bozeman.

In between chores, Bozeman shot off urgent letters to court-appointed lawyers, like SOS messages stuffed in bottles and pitched into the ocean. Most were ignored. Eventually, she received a letter from Judge Ungaro patiently explaining that Bozeman had been sentenced to life because of a statute known at “851 enhancement.”

With that phrase in her mind, she began visiting the prison law library, where she finally began to unlock what exactly had happened to her.

Soon, Bozeman called together the old-timers. Bozeman had a one-question pop quiz. “Do you know why you got a life sentence?”

Blank looks bounced back at her. One by one, Bozeman sent the women to their cells for their sentencing paperwork. Together they bushwhacked through the legalese until they found it: 851. “The ladies didn’t understand why they were sitting there with a life sentence,” she says today. “They just didn’t know.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

The essay is also ripe with some terrifying statistics about the drug war and incarceration.  In particular the use of the federal 851 statute (mandatory minimums) to coerce suspects to admit guilt.

Between 1980 and 2013, the number of drug defendants incarcerated in federal custody had exploded from 4,749 to 100,026 — a 2,006 percent uptick. Fifty percent of all federal inmates were serving time on drug charges.

Not only did mandatory minimums put small-time dealers in prison for long periods but 851 enhancements also had another harsh effect. Because the decision to file rested solely with the prosecution, it could be used as a threat: If you go to trial, we’ll file an enhancement.

A study by Human Rights Watch showed that in 2012, “the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).” When sentencing enhancements were in play for defendants with prior convictions, defendants “who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied” than those who pleaded guilty.

New York Federal District Judge John Gleeson noted that use of 851s had gotten out of control. He wrote in an October 2013 decision that they brought on “the sentencing equivalent of a two-by-four to the forehead.” As a result, so many people chose to plead guilty rather than take chances at trial that a federal criminal trial was “on the endangered species list,” he said. “The government’s use of [851 enhancements] coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”

Proof was in the data: In 1980, only 69 percent of defendants in federal drug cases pleaded guilty and took plea deals; by 2010, 97 percent did.

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

This essay is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful reflection on the drug war.  Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.

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Filed under capitalism, class, do-it-yourself, drugs, human rights, prisons, punishment, race, representation, resistance

Public Enemy – Mine Again

Yes.

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Filed under hip hop, human rights, music

Sandra Bland and police killing

It feels indulgent to write about anything other than the murder of Sandra Bland at the hands of police officers.   I don’t have much to add to the sad and terrified discourse surrounding the Bland killing.

But it gets you thinking about how a human being like Texas officer Brian Encinia becomes so brutally callous as to cry “good” when the suspect he is slamming to the ground declares that she has epilepsy.

Or how a young activist headed to a new job in a new place might run afoul of the police system she had critiqued.

Edited video, officer suspended, suspicious death in the jail.  These things should enrage you and be motivation for culture change which is deeply necessary.   Watch the traffic stop video if you can:

Rest In Power Sandra Bland.

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Filed under human rights, memorial, police, punishment, race, representation, sexism, Surveillance

Defection from white supremacy

What does it look like when white people defect from the traditions of white supremacy?  It probably looks (and sounds) like South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne talking about removing the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house.

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Filed under communication, human rights, kindness, memorial, race, representation, resistance, vulnerability