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One Thousand Days Too Many

7:45 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

Bradley Manning - Caricature

Bradley Manning - Caricature

By Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights

America, Bradley Manning stood up for your right to know what the government does in your name and with your tax dollars. The truth was ugly, eye-opening, embarrassing for the Bush and Obama administrations alike. It also came at a high cost: As of today, Bradley Manning has spent over 1,000 days in prison without trial. He was tortured. And if the U.S. government gets its way, he will have a trial marred by secrecy and spend the rest of his life locked up.

But you can help change this. You can stand with this brave soldier, this true American hero and demand his freedom. The government’s conduct in this case has been so shameful, unlawful and immoral that Judge Lind should dismiss all charges. It sounds like a long shot, but it has been done before.

Daniel Ellsberg, who has campaigned tirelessly on Manning’s behalf, was also subject to incredible government misconduct during his trial over the release of the Pentagon Papers. He was also being made an example for anyone who attempted to expose state crimes. The judge in his case, Judge Byrne, who had been comprised by a secret offer to head the FBI while presiding, was forced to condemn the government’s unlawful behavior and drop the case. “An insult to justice,” he called it.

By Ellsberg’s own account, the prosecution of Manning has been “unprecedented in legal terms.” The government is trying to charge Manning under the Espionage Act, accusing him of aiding Al Qaeda. They are subjecting him to incredible pressure to implicate his publisher, WikiLeaks, and they are making not just his legal defense but also media coverage of his case practically impossible.

Walking into the pre-trial hearings has been like waking up in a Franz Kafka novel: endless proceedings, one’s legal defense made impossible. This is quickly becoming the government’s playbook for whistleblower cases. Jeremy Hammond’s case is a concurrent example. Aaron Swartz’s a tragic one.

And so, despite the excellent work David Coombs is doing to defend Manning, I wonder if anything short of massive mobilization by the American people will change this brave soldier’s fate. How can his lawyer defend him when the key evidence the government is supposedly using to claim Manning harmed U.S. national security can be withheld? How can he show Manning did not intend to “aid the enemy” when the judge will not allow him to present evidence about Manning’s motives for releasing the information? It’s outright absurd.

A soldier takes this oath when enlisting:

“I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Unfortunately, we live in a time in which the first part of this oath is often in conflict with the second part. In the face of the government’s lies and abuse, the horrors of war Manning witnessed, what would you have done? Manning chose true faith and allegiance to the higher law: the Constitution.  Now it’s our turn: Stand with Bradley Manning, join the Bradley Manning Support Network, support the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case demanding public and press access to the court case again Manning, and defend the vital role of whistleblowers in a democratic society.
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Solitary Confinement Is Torture

10:51 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

by Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

This week, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it will launch an assessment of its use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system, amid growing scrutiny of the practice.

The use of solitary confinement is nothing new. In the early nineteenth century, the U.S. led the world in a new practice of imprisoning people in solitary cells, without access to any human contact or stimulation, as a method of rehabilitation. The results were disastrous — prisoners quickly became severely mentally disturbed — and the practice was abandoned. However, a century later, the practice made a dramatic comeback.

Today, the use of solitary is rampant in U.S. prisons. Tens of thousands of individuals across the country are detained inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells in a state of near-total solitude for between 22 and 24 hours a day. The cells have a slot in the door large enough for a guard to slip a food tray through. Prisoners in solitary confinement are frequently deprived of telephone calls and contact visits. “Recreation” involves being taken, often in handcuffs and shackles, to another solitary cell where prisoners can pace alone for an hour before being returned to their cell.

Read about the experiences of one prisoner here.

Not only is solitary confinement severely restrictive, it is also incredibly harmful. Social scientists have documented the devastating psychological and physical effects of prolonged solitary confinement, including significant psychological harms. Researchers have demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement causes a persistent and heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, and fear of impending nervous breakdowns. Other documented effects include obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, social withdrawal, hallucinations, violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, feelings of overall deterioration, and suicidal ideation.

This exposure to such life-shattering conditions is clearly cruel and unusual punishment.  Indeed, the use of solitary has been condemned as torture by the international community.

In addition, the use of solitary confinement is a tool in service of political, racial, and religious repression. Ever since solitary confinement came into existence, it has been used as a tool of repression against individuals, particularly prisoners of color, who advocate for just conditions of confinement, or are political prisoners from various civil rights and independence movements.

In in light of the rampant and increased use of solitary confinement, and its perilous effects, a growing movement is calling for its end. Most important, prisoner-led movements are attracting media attention and public scrutiny of harsh conditions of confinement, including overcrowding, the use of isolation, deplorable health conditions, substandard medical care, and the discriminatory and careless treatment of people with mental illnesses. These efforts have included prisoner-led hunger strikes. Take action here in solidarity with the prisoners.

In 2012, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il.) chaired a hearing on the use of solitary confinement in the nation’s federal prisons, and has since met twice with the BOP Director to call for an assessment and reforms.  The Center for Constitutional Rights, along with others, has also launched a legal challenge against California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement in the infamous Pelican Bay prison. Learn more about the Ruiz v. Brown lawsuit with this link.  Many others have launched legislative and advocacy campaigns, as well as legal challenges, to limit and end the use of solitary across the country. This week’s announcement marks a critical step forward towards rethinking the use of this egregious practice, but must not result in a whitewash. We will be standing watch.

WikiLeaks: Still Standing, Still Speaking Truth to Power

7:27 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

Despite Crippling Financial Blockade And Other Efforts To Set Them Back, Publishers Of Biggest Leaks In Journalistic History Press On

By Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

December 19, 2012 – Six months ago today, Julian Assange was forced to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to the United States via Sweden. Assange knew this could mean an indefinite stay at the embassy, but he also knew it was the only way to avoid sharing Private Bradley Manning’s tragic fate of being locked up and tortured by the U.S. government for allegedly revealing its crimes.

Many thought Assange’s high-wire situation signaled the end of WikiLeaks. They were wrong. Despite efforts to silence their publisher-in-chief and his confinement to the embassy in London, a crippling financial blockade, and the silence of the major media who once partnered with WikiLeaks and still use their material, the transparency group continues providing civilians all over the world with an honest record of what their governments do in their name.

Assange is wanted for questioning on unrelated allegations in Sweden, and those allegations must be taken seriously and answered. He has been willing to do so in London and has said he would go to Sweden if guaranteed he would not be sent to the United States.  Sweden, however, has refused both suggestions.

Despite it all, WikiLeaks has kept busy. In 2012 alone the group published over a million documents, including the rules for the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in Iraq, as well as U.S. military interrogation manuals. This year they also began publishing the Syria files – more than two million emails from political figures and ministries that demonstrate the duplicity of Western countries and corporations in dealing with Syria. WikiLeaks’ work continues to play an active role in shaping the actions of governments throughout the world.  Just a few days ago the European Court of Human Rights, citing cables published by WikiLeaks, ruled that the CIA’s rendition and treatment of Khaled El-Masri constituted torture.

While at the embassy, Assange also co-authored a groundbreaking book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. The thesis that “the power of the internet to provide free uncensored communications” has also given governments “the power to surveil all the communications that were occurring” is both provocative and important for us to remember. As if on cue, The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that the National Counterterrorism Center is now examining millions of records, including databases of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and flight records of U.S. citizens, even if they have no relationship to any crimes or investigations.

But defending our right to know and bearing the brunt of the United States’ war on whistleblowers and their publishers has a high cost. There is no end in sight for Assange’s stay at the embassy as Britain continues to neglect its diplomatic obligations under the UN’s Refugee Convention by preventing Ecuador from safely transferring him out of the country. And credit card companies, including American Express, Master Card, Visa and PayPal, have taken their cue from the American and British governments and done everything in their power to bankrupt WikiLeaks by refusing to accept donations on their behalf.

Those allegedly involved in furnishing document to WikiLeaks are likewise facing serious consequences for their actions. Bradley Manning was not only tortured, but faces life imprisonment. Jeremy Hammond, the alleged leaker of the Stratfor documents, was denied bail and faces imprisonment of 37 years to life.

Let the sacrifices of these heroic individuals serve as a reminder to citizens all over the world that it is our duty to defend those who defend our right to know what our governments do in our name, with our tax money and against our most fundamental principles.

The cost of exposing state crimes is now higher than ever. WikiLeaks is still standing but only because supporters worldwide have gone on the offensive. It is vital that this support stays strong. In light of all this year’s obstacles, doing so just got a bit easier. This week, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit with a board that includes Pentagon Papers publisher Daniel Ellsberg, journalist Glenn Greenwald, writer Xeni Jardin, filmmaker Laura Poitras, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and actor John Cusack, was launched to support media organizations like WikiLeaks dedicated to transparency and accountability. WikiLeaks’ fight to open governments continues to stay on course. Let us all stand with them in 2013.

Image by robertxcadena under Creative Commons license

The Michigan Law that Wouldn’t Die

10:08 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

By Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager, Center for Constitutional Rights
Michigan voters spoke loud and clear last month when they repealed their state’s Emergency Manager Law. They said no to unconstitutional power grabs, where unelected appointees can unilaterally rule over entire towns or even dissolve them. But, true to form, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is ignoring them. He claims the managers he appointed are still lawful under the previous law that had been replaced by the Emergency Manager Law the voters overturned. The Center for Constitutional Rights, the Sugar Law Center and others are challenging that claim in court.

The original law, passed in 1990, allowed the governor to appoint financial managers to oversee the fiscal affairs of financially-troubled school districts and cities. In 2011, the legislature passed a new version of the law that expanded these hand-picked managers’ powers to assume unilateral control of not only financial issues but all the affairs of school districts and municipal governments the governor deemed to be in financial emergency. The criteria for defining these ‘emergencies’ was overly vague, and the unelected officials’ powers to run entire cities, if the Governor so decided, was overly sweeping. In a word, the law allowed for the suspension of democratically elected government by executive fiat.

Under the 2011 law (Public Act 4), Emergency Managers could make decisions and enact laws without going through any form of legislative process. Managers had unfettered control of entire cities. They could void collective bargaining agreements and decide public sector wages and pensions; they could shut down schools regardless of their quality and turn fire departments and public utilities over to private corporations; they could even merge cities and dissolve municipalities. Not surprisingly, the governor imposed these measures disproportionately in communities of color, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Black, Latino and other ethnic groups throughout the state of Michigan. The city of Pontiac is currently in the process of being dismantled piece by piece; now Detroit is heading towards the same fate.

The fundamental right to self-government that is at the heart of our nation’s most fundamental beliefs was effectively abolished in Michigan. The people were no longer electing those that governed them.

But the people of Michigan were not ready to cede their rights. They knew the threat this represented – a “democracy emergency” – and began to organize. People protested across the state. Twenty-eight Michigan residents challenged the 2011 law as unconstitutional under the Michigan State Constitution. They were represented in the case by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, Goodman & Hurwitz, the Sanders Law Firm, and Miller Cohen PLC.

Over the last year, groups worked tirelessly to collect signatures seeking a referendum on their state’s emergency manager law, and on Election Day, Michiganders relegated the emergency manager law to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

And there it should have stayed. But like the seven-headed hydra, the emergency manager threat has reared its ugly head again. Instead of honoring the people’s vote, Gov. Snyder decided to back several of the emergency financial managers who claim they have the right to stay in power under the repealed 1990 financial manager law. As if that were not enough, there are recent reports that Republicans intend to put forward a bill similar to the repealed law during the legislature’s lame duck session – which began last week – to replace the law Michiganders thought they had defeated once and for all on Election Day.

In light of this threat, advocates are rolling up their sleeves to be ready to challenge that bill as soon as it appears. Despite the governor’s best efforts, the people of Michigan refuse to back down in this battle for democracy.

 

Update:

News just came out that Members of the Michigan House of Representatives rushed through a Local, Intergovernmental and Regional Affairs Committee House session to pass the new bill (the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act) on Thursday morning. The bill may go before the full House and Senate in the upcoming days.

 

Co-written by Aya Tasaki.

Torture Survivors Ask the UN: What’s the Point of Having Laws Against Torture if They Don’t Apply to the Powerful?

11:53 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

By Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights

One thing brings these four men together. Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani and Murat Kurnaz—they are all survivors of the systematic torture program the Bush administration authorized and carried out in locations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo, and numerous prisons and CIA “black sites” around the world. Between them, they have been beaten, hung from walls or ceilings, deprived of sleep, food and water, and subjected to freezing temperatures and other forms of torture and abuse while held in U.S. custody. None was charged with a crime, two were detained while still minors, and one of them remains at Guantánamo.

This week, in a complaint filed with the United Nations Committee against Torture, they are asking one question: how can the man responsible for ordering these heinous crimes, openly enter a country that has pledged to prosecute all torturers regardless of their position and not face any legal action?

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) filed the complaint on the men’s behalf.

The country in question is Canada, visited last year by former U.S. President George W. Bush during a paid speaking engagement in Surrey, British Columbia. Bush’s visit drew hundreds in protest, calling for his arrest, and it also provided bin Attash, el-Hajj, Tumani and Kurnaz the opportunity to call on the Canadian government to uphold its legal obligation under the U.N. Convention against Torture, and conduct a criminal investigation against Bush while he was on Canadian soil.

To this end, the four men, submitted a 69-page draft indictment that CCR and CCIJ had presented to Canada’s attorney general ahead of Bush’s arrival in support of their private prosecution. The submission included thousands of pages of evidence against Bush consisting of extensive reports and investigations conducted by multiple U.S. agencies and the U.N. The evidence is overwhelming, not to mention the fact that Bush has admitted, even, boasted of his crimes, saying “damn right” when asked if it was permissible to waterboard a detainee – a recognized act of torture.

Canada should have investigated these crimes. The responsibility to do so is embedded in its domestic criminal code that explicitly authorizes the government to prosecute torture occurring outside Canadian borders. There is no reason it cannot apply to former heads of state, and indeed, the Convention has been found to apply to such figures including Hissène Habré and Augusto Pinochet. A criminal investigation into the allegations was the lawful thing to do. It was also what Canada had agreed to do when it pledged its support to end impunity for torture by ratifying the Convention.

But Canada looked the other way. Not only did federal Attorney General Robert Nicholson refuse to investigate Bush, but the Attorney General of British Columbia swiftly intervened to shut down a private criminal prosecution submitted to a provincial court in his jurisdiction the morning of Bush’s visit.

Thanks to the Obama administration’s call to look only “forward” – even in the face of torture that demands a proper reckoning – and a court system in the U.S. that has readily closed its doors to torture survivors, the crimes of the Bush era are effectively beyond the reach of justice in the U.S. But the immunity – the impunity – granted to these criminals here should not follow them into other countries, particularly those that are signatories to international laws and treaties against torture.

If the Convention against Torture is to have any hope of fulfilling its mission of preventing torture, the committee must send countries like Canada a clear message: it is their legal obligation to ensure there is no safe haven for torturers and any action to the contrary makes these states effectively complicit in furthering impunity for some of the worst crimes of the past decade.

These four survivors are asking the U.N. to enforce its own convention, nothing more and nothing less. They call upon the U.N., unlike Canada, to unequivocally reject a worldview in which the powerful are exempt from rules, treaties and prohibitions against senseless acts of barbarity.  Will the U.N. hear their call?

U.S. Torture Program Architects Must Face Justice

7:05 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

With the DOJ’s failure to prosecute the Bush Six and other torturers, Spain has a legal obligation to ensure impunity does not cross borders

Guantanamo Bay (Photo: US Army / Flickr)

It has become abundantly clear that the U.S. government has no intention to prosecute anyone within its ranks for the Bush administration’s torture program. This unwillingness underscores the urgent need for other countries to act on behalf of the global community and ensure these officials face justice. In the next couple of months, Spain will have the opportunity to do precisely that.

Ten years after the infamous ‘torture memos’ and with no prosecutions of any high-level U.S. officials, any remaining doubts about the United States’ commitment to addressing the abuses of the Bush era were put to rest by the recent announcement from the Justice Department that it would not charge anyone involved in the torture of over 100 men held in CIA-run prisons overseas, and the deaths of two men in custody.

Back in 2009, securing the outcome of this investigation before it even opened, Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that the DOJ would not prosecute “anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.”  By placing this ‘legal guidance,’ a euphemism for the infamous torture memos, outside the scope of any investigation, Holder effectively ensured that no government personnel – from the Bush administration lawyers who approved the torture program to those who implemented it – would be prosecuted for state crimes.

But the United States’ failure to investigate and prosecute its own officials’ acts of torture does not mean that these crimes will go unpunished—or that impunity will prevail.

In Spain, there is currently one open criminal investigation into the U.S. torture program.   While it is proceeding slowly, this case has a broad mandate: to examine “an authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment on persons deprived of their freedom without any charge and without the basic rights of any detainee, set out and required by applicable international conventions.”

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