Category Archives: Surveillance

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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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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Gamergate, autoblocker, anti-trans violence and sea lions: Katherine Cross for the win

One of the most productive commentators about so-called gamergate is Katherine Cross.  Her recent post on Feministing is so on point that it deserves some archival / expansion work.

1.  There is an autoblocking program for twitter that removes most of the posts from gamergate trolls.  For anyone out there interested in civil space, this is a big improvement.  Cross describes it this way:

What offends GamerGaters about the autoblocker, aside from the fact that a woman found a technical solution to a social problem, is that it denies them the ability to impose themselves on targets. The idea that the women, people of colour, and queer folk who’ve comprised the majority of GG’s targets might be able to curate their online spaces and have certain discussions only with those of their choosing is repugnant to many GamerGaters. In the absence of genuine legal recourse, the worst thing you can do to a bully, harasser, or troll is ignore them after all.

via Revenge of the Sealion: GamerGate’s crusade against blocking.

2.   Underscoring much of the gamergate vitriol is a toxic anti-trans politics.  Much of the visibility of the violence seems to have a direction.  Again Katherine Cross gathers enough targeted tweets and message board quotes to rile me up.   For those who are trans-inclusive, trans-positive, or simply kind human beings, it is worth marking gamergate as a particularly anti-trans moment in time.

3.  Katherine Cross introduces me to the idea of “sealioning” — a refined bullying tactic.  Cross explains:

“Polite” GGers, defined as those who do not explicitly swear or use slurs, nevertheless harry the people they target because they do not take no for an answer and come in packs. The phenomenon of “sealioning”– barraging a target with politely worded but interrogating questions asked in bad faith– gained a name under GamerGate because of how common the tactic was.

via Revenge of the Sealion: GamerGate’s crusade against blocking.

Also provided is this nice comic!

Sealion-Comic

 

 

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Inspired by ‘Who gets to graduate’

Paul Tough has a very strong essay in the New York Times called “Who gets to graduate.”  It is a snapshot of the strategies used by caring teachers and administrators at the University of Texas at Austin to help students succeed.  I appreciated the emphasis on successful strategies.  Here are a few of my favorite points.   Chemistry professor David Laude gets props for his initial approach:

In 1999, at the beginning of the fall semester, Laude combed through the records of every student in his freshman chemistry class and identified about 50 who possessed at least two of the “adversity indicators” common among students who failed the course in the past: low SATs, low family income, less-educated parents. He invited them all to apply to a new program, which he would later give the august-sounding name the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, or TIP. Students in TIP were placed in their own, smaller section of Chemistry 301, taught by Laude. But rather than dumb down the curriculum for them, Laude insisted that they master exactly the same challenging material as the students in his larger section. In fact, he scheduled his two sections back to back. “I taught my 500-student chemistry class, and then I walked upstairs and I taught this 50-student chemistry class,” Laude explained. “Identical material, identical lectures, identical tests — but a 200-point difference in average SAT scores between the two sections.”

Laude was hopeful that the small classes would make a difference, but he recognized that small classes alone wouldn’t overcome that 200-point SAT gap. “We weren’t naïve enough to think they were just going to show up and start getting A’s, unless we overwhelmed them with the kind of support that would make it possible for them to be successful,” he said. So he supplemented his lectures with a variety of strategies: He offered TIP students two hours each week of extra instruction; he assigned them advisers who kept in close contact with them and intervened if the students ran into trouble or fell behind; he found upperclassmen to work with the TIP students one on one, as peer mentors. And he did everything he could, both in his lectures and outside the classroom, to convey to the TIP students a new sense of identity: They weren’t subpar students who needed help; they were part of a community of high-achieving scholars.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

Laude’s interventions have been successful with many students.  Inspired by Laude, UT has developed a research tool which helps them discover which incoming first year students are likely to need some help.

I have a pang of concern about privacy and labeling.  There is something terrible about telling a student from a poor family who has worked really hard that they are “unlikely to succeed” because of some algorithm. This notion of a computer assessing students seems particularly soul crushing.   I appreciate that the folks at UT have something similar in mind in their communication strategy about their interventions.  Paul Tough again:

Perhaps the most striking fact about the success programs is that the selection criteria are never disclosed to students. “From a numbers perspective, the students in these programs are all in the bottom quartile,” Laude explained. “But here’s the key — none of them know that they’re in the bottom quartile.” The first rule of the Dashboard, in other words, is that you never talk about the Dashboard. Laude says he assumes that most U.L.N. students understand on some level that they were chosen in part because of their financial need, but he says it is important for the university to play down that fact when dealing directly with students. It is an extension of the basic psychological strategy that he has used ever since that first TIP program: Select the students who are least likely to do well, but in all your communications with them, convey the idea that you have selected them for this special program not because you fear they will fail, but because you are confident they can succeed.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

UT has turned to psychologists to help figure out how to best communicate to at-risk incoming students that they belong.  How do you best re-articulate the fears and doubts to make them manageable?  Here is Paul Tough explaining UT professor David Yeager and his insights about persuasion and argument:

Yeager began working with a professor of social psychology named Greg Walton, who had identified principles that seemed to govern which messages, and which methods of delivering those messages, were most persuasive to students. For instance, messages worked better if they appealed to social norms; when college students are informed that most students don’t take part in binge drinking, they’re less likely to binge-drink themselves. Messages were also more effective if they were delivered in a way that allowed the recipients a sense of autonomy. If you march all the high-school juniors into the auditorium and force them to watch a play about tolerance and inclusion, they’re less likely to take the message to heart than if they feel as if they are independently seeking it out. And positive messages are more effectively absorbed when they are experienced through what Walton called “self-persuasion”: if students watch a video or read an essay with a particular message and then write their own essay or make their own video to persuade future students, they internalize the message more deeply.

In one experiment after another, Yeager and Walton’s methods produced remarkable results. At an elite Northeastern college, Walton, along with another Stanford researcher named Geoffrey Cohen, conducted an experiment in which first-year students read brief essays by upperclassmen recalling their own experiences as freshmen. The upperclassmen conveyed in their own words a simple message about belonging: “When I got here, I thought I was the only one who felt left out. But then I found out that everyone feels that way at first, and everyone gets over it. I got over it, too.” After reading the essays, the students in the experiment then wrote their own essays and made videos for future students, echoing the same message. The whole intervention took no more than an hour. It had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study: Compared with a control group, the experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class, and it cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A. It even had an impact on the students’ health — the black students who received the belonging message had significantly fewer doctor visits three years after the intervention.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

As a communication professor I’d like to claim some particular insight into these persuasive pathways.  Communication and Rhetoric teachers tend to think about exactly this kind of strategic approach to making messages, but it is also kind of common sense.   I bet English, Ethnic Studies Women’s Studies and Social Work professors all recognized some of our core principles in our fields in these insights.

I don’t think it is about credit.  There is certainly work to go around.  Part of the story is the structural support of administrators and the other part of the story are the good teachers primed  to implement these ideas.   You’d need administrators and informed teachers working in cooperation for a while to get results.   And you’d need all those teachers from all those fields who already know this to implement change successfully at a university.

Much of the ‘ah-ha’ arguments of the article are about a communication practice known as inoculation — that you pre-warn someone about a coming moment of persuasion in order to steer the person’s understanding of that moment when it happens.

Often used by political candidates to warn about an argument about to be spoken by an opponent in a debate, the tactic works equally well when thinking about education.   Here is Paul Tough analyzing UT’s online messaging module which helps to intellectually-inoculate first year students about belonging and doubt:

Our first instinct, when we read about these experiments, is that what the interventions must be doing is changing students’ minds — replacing one deeply held belief with another. And it is hard to imagine that reading words on a computer screen for 25 minutes could possibly do that. People just aren’t that easy to persuade. But Yeager believes that the interventions are not in fact changing students’ minds — they are simply keeping them from overinterpreting discouraging events that might happen in the future. “We don’t prevent you from experiencing those bad things,” Yeager explains. “Instead, we try to change the meaning of them, so that they don’t mean to you that things are never going to get better.”

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

Nice essay and more to think about as we do the important work of hustling to make change.

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Surveillance as fame: Chief Keef

Ben Austin in Wired:

We naturally associate criminal activity with secrecy, with conspiracies hatched in alleyways or back rooms. Today, though, foolish as it may be in practice, street gangs have adopted a level of transparency that might impress even the most fervent Silicon Valley futurist. Every day on Facebook and Twitter, on Instagram and YouTube, you can find unabashed teens flashing hand signs, brandishing guns, splaying out drugs and wads of cash. If we live in an era of openness, no segment of the population is more surprisingly open than 21st-century gang members, as they simultaneously document and roil the streets of America’s toughest neighborhoods.

via Public Enemies: Social Media Is Fueling Gang Wars in Chicago | Underwire | Wired.com.

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Star Trek and the NSA and paywalls

picard finger

I think it is totally messed up that the NSA spy dude General Keith Alexander built a replica Start Trek: Enterprise bridge.  HEY REAL WORLD SURVEILLANCE WARMONGERS: leave my fiction alone.  Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing explains using a quote from a Foreign Affairs article:*

When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a “whoosh” sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather “captain’s chair” in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

via Replica Enterprise bridge used to sell surveillance to Congress – Boing Boing.

*I couldn’t read the actual article because Foreign Affairs paywall was so dominating.  I guess I’ll have to read it via the school library server.  You know, paywall-mass-media-publication people: most of the nerdy people would read FOREIGN AFFAIRS probably can get a copy through their library.

It is convenient that I can follow the link from the Boing Boing article to the essay in question.  But if I open another tab, log into my school account, finding the article is a matter of a few more links.  So be honest, paywall-media-people, what you are selling is convenience.

Charge me convenience prices.  I just want to read one story.  Let me  drop ten cents (or a quarter!) of hard-earned digital cash for a nice story.  I don’t want to sign up, I want to pay for something the way you used to be able to buy a newspaper and not have to give your vital information.  Please mass media sources, get with the 2000s and make portions of your insightful work available to the public at reasonable prices.

And kick some of that digital cash to support investigative journalism.

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Ten Frisk Commandments: Jasiri X

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes (of course sometimes you gotta run). Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Stay free y’all.

Salute to Jasiri X!

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