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Assassination in Court, U.S. Argues to Make Legal What It’s Always Done

9:45 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

What an incredible era we live in!

Today in federal court, government attorney Douglas Letter argued against a lawsuit brought by both the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that the U.S. executive power had the right to kill an American citizen abroad, without review by the judiciary. In his argument to drop the suit, brought on behalf of the father of “radical” Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi [Awlaki], Letter claimed, ““If we use lethal force we do so consistent with the law.”

According to the Christian Science Monitor story on today’s proceedings:

The lawsuit does not seek to prevent the government from carrying out targeted killings. Instead, the ACLU is asking Judge Bates to examine the government’s criteria for placing Awlaki on the alleged kill list.

To justify lethal action, the ACLU suit says, the government must be able to demonstrate that the targeted killing is necessary to prevent a direct and imminent threat to public safety. In addition, the suit says, the government must be able to show there are no non-lethal options available to neutralize a threat from Awlaki.

According to a joint press release by ACLU and CCR:

“If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, who presented arguments in the case. “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.”

Chickens and Coincidences

It seems strongly coincidental that on the day of the hearing, a new Awlaki video should appear on the scene, courtesy of the dubious SITE Institute, remembered for their unveiling of another timely video, the 2007 Osama bin Laden 9/11 statement, which featured a robotic, unmoving bin Laden, which even MSNBC questioned as faked. Then there was that Gainsville, Georgia chicken farm, whose lawsuit against SITE is still pending, accused by SITE of funneling money to terrorists. SITE’s founder Rita Katz delivered one of the more memorable of all “war on terror” quotes when she told 60 Minutes, “”Chicken is one of the things that no one can really track down.”

Now SITE is back, with a new name (from SITE Institute to SITE Intelligence Group), with a new fire-snorting Awlaki video, just in time for the government’s arguments to dismiss the suit that would challenge the government’s right to kill the U.S.-born cleric, supposedly hiding out in Yemen, a leader of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninula (AQAP). The New York Times led the way with a blog story by Robert Mackey this morning, “Kill Americans, Says Yemeni-American Cleric.” The story followed the news last week that You Tube had removed all of al-Awlaki’s videos from its site. Mackey references SITE and their new Awlaki video, while blandly noting that Monday was the day “a federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by civil libertarians who claim that the Obama administration does not have the right to order the targeted assassination of Mr. Awlaki and other suspected militants.” Gee, what a coincidence the headline for that same Monday article quotes the same Mr. Awlaki as inciting the killing of Americans. As is often the case, the rest of the U.S. press stood up and saluted as the Times sent the story up the proverbial flagpole.

“How popular will Anwar al-Awlaki’s latest video be?” asks the Christian Science Monitor. CNN weighed in, too: “U.S.-born cleric rails against Yemen, Iran, United States.” Paula Kruger at Australia’s ABC was not to be outdone, however, with a headline clanging in its clarion call of danger: “US-born cleric calls for death of all Americans.”

ANWAR AL-AWLAKI (translation): Do not seek any permission when it comes to the killing of the Americans. Fighting the devil doesn’t need a religious edict, deliberation, prayer or guidance. They are the party of the devil and fighting them is the personal duty of our times.

We reach that moment when it is either us or them. We are two opposites that will never meet. They want something that cannot happen unless they wipe us out. This is a decisive battle. This is a battle of Moses and pharaoh; this is a battle of righteousness and falsehood.

“We reach that moment when it is either us or them.” Well, if it was your head being hunted by the CIA or the Pentagon’s JSOC Special Forces assassination squads, you might see the world that way, too. In fact, the blurriness of right and wrong is only made worse by the U.S. assertion that it can kill whomever it wants to, irregardless of constitutional niceties, if only it can claim the right is somehow lodged in the 9/11-inspired Authorization for Use of Military Force. Congress has rubber-stamped the AUMF for years now, and President Obama dutifully pressed it upon a Democratic Party-controlled House and Senate… well, once controlled, as Democratic Party lassitude in the wake of the worst economic recession, if not depression, in sixty years saw their short lived ascendancy in both houses of Congress come crashing down around their well-deserving heads.

Mackey at the Times makes sure we don’t forget that Awlaki is associated with AQAP, which smuggled — no doubt in Mackey’s mind — those bomb packages on freight cargo jets last month. And he notes that a Yemeni judge has issued an order for Awlaki’s capture. But, in the tradition of open-mindedness so bally-hooed around the Times, he gives the final word to legal pundit Jonathan Turley, who noted last August:

If a President can unilaterally kill a U.S. citizens on his own authority, our court system (and indeed our constitutional rights) become entirely discretionary. The position of the Administration contains no substantial limitations on such authority other than its own promise to make such decisions with care.

Bathed in Blood

“War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight, The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade,” wrote the Romantic English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley almost 200 years ago now. But one can only look back to an interesting story in the London Times to gain another kind of perspective on the current events surrounding the obscene U.S. argument for assassinating its own citizens without due process, of running hit teams and killing or death lists.

In 1976, journalist Peter Watson was at a NATO conference in Oslo, when a U.S. Navy psychologist, Dr. Thomas Narut, from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples told Watson and New Jersey psychologist Dr. Alfred Zitani, that the Navy sought men to train as assassins in overseas embassies. The following is from the London Sunday Times, “The soldiers who become killers,” September 8, 1974, but reproduced from a conspiracy site, as the original, and most references to it, plentiful even when I first read about it some years ago, are limited now to a few dozen conspiracy sites. The story is also told at some length in Watson’s book (out of print), War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, published by Basic Books in 1978.

[Narut's] naval work involved establishing how to induce servicemen who ma[y] not be naturally inclined to kill, to do so under certain conditions. When pressed afterwards as to what was meant by “combat readiness units,” he explained this included men for commando-type operations and – so he said – for insertion into U.S. embassies under cover, ready to kill in those countries should the need arise. Dr. Narut used the word “hitmen” and “assassin” of these men.

The method, according to Dr. Narut, was to show films specially designed to show people being killed and injured in violent ways. By being acclimated through these films, the men eventually became able to dissociate any feelings
from such a situation. Dr. Narut also added that U.S. Naval psychologists specially selected men for these commando tasks, from submarine crews, paratroops, and some were convicted murderers from military prisons. Asked whether he was suggesting that murderers were being released from prisons to become assassins, he replied: “It’s happened more than once.”

The story goes into various mind-control methods by which the training was done. The Pentagon denied the story, and also wouldn’t allow Watson access to interview personnel at the U.S. Naval Neuropsychiatric Center in San Diego, where the training was supposedly done. The whole tale might seem fantastic, unless one remembered that the U.S.-sponsored Phoenix Program in Vietnam was responsible for the assassination of 20,000 or more people in the 1960s. The U.S. also supplied assassination lists to the Indonesian government during the bloody 1965 coup that slaughtered half a million people.

“For the first time, U.S. officials acknowledge that in 1965 they systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured, according to the U.S. officials,” Kathy Kadane wrote for South Carolina’s Herald-Journal on May 19, 1990. [Kadane's article also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on May 20, 1990, the Washington Post on May 21, 1990, and the Boston Globe on May 23, 1990.]

The Indonesian mass murder program was based in part on experiences gleaned by the CIA in the Philippines. “US military advisers of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) and the CIA station in Manila designed and led the bloody suppression of the nationalist Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan,” notes Roland G. Simbulan (Covert Operations and the CIA’s Hidden History in the Philippines).

The history of the United States and assassination, post-World War II, and particularly from the 1960s on, has been a sorry tale of botched public attempts (as of Castro), and a bloodbath dealt by U.S. proxy death squads, and if we can believe the Watson story, by deep cover U.S. assassins themselves. In 1976, in the wake of the many revelations about U.S. government crimes, including assassinations, President Gerald Ford issued a presidential directive (EO 11905) banning assassinations, a directive whose basic premises lie in shreds after ten years of Bush/Obama rule.

It would be remiss not to note in this context the blood bath that is U.S. history on the subject, not to bring up Phoenix, and all the rest of it. Recent revelations in the Iraq logs Wikileaks cache of documents suggests that the U.S. helped form torture squads, and perhaps death squads in Iraq. In any case, they certainly turned thousands of prisoners over to Iraqi forces they knew from hundreds of observations were torturing prisoners, often to death. This deliberate war crime, a direct violation of the Convention Against Torture treaty, was conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. But where in our society is the outrage? The society cannot seems to pick itself up out of the muck of triviality and standard party politics and cable TV scandal-mongering.

So forgive me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon to talk about Bush and his approval of waterboarding claims. Is he smug? Of course he’s smug, because Americans have been ignoring news about torture and assassinations on behalf of the ruling elite for decades now. I don’t know what it will take to turn such a historical situation around. Looking at the young and those vulnerable to such confusions as massive societal hypocrisy can allow, one can understand why some have turned even to radical Islam. But I can’t recommend it. I’d like to see the young take up the banner that was once Percy Shelley’s: free love, hatred of tyrannies, including — if not especially — the tyranny of one’s own state, and equality of all sexes, peoples, religious practice (including atheism), and add to it the wisdom of a century’s struggle for economic justice and against the exploiters of mankind.

But for now, all forward-seeking and progressive individuals should be backing the CCR/ACLU lawsuit, because if the U.S. gets its way, tomorrow it may not be the unsavory Awlaki, it may be you or me. And anyone who was forced to study history a semester or two knows that to be true.

CIA Training Intelligence Agents for “State Sponsor of Terrorism” Sudan

11:58 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The government of Sudan has been miffed that it cannot get off of the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism. It could be because of the history of arbitrary arrests, killings and torture by the administration of Sudan President Omar Al Bashir, as documented in a recent report by Amnesty International. Or it could be because the Sudanese government is widely reported to back the Jangaweed militia attacks against citizens of Darfur, a campaign that has killed over 300,000 people and displaced approximately three million more. Or perhaps it is Sudan’s political support (and possibly military aid) to Hamas, foe of the U.S., the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority? In any case, the Obama administration has not seen fit to take Sudan off their list of bad guy countries.

So what is one to make of Jeff Stein’s report today at his Spy Talk blog at the Washington Post that the CIA has been training and equipping Sudan’s notorious National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS)?

“The U.S. government is training the Sudanese intelligence services and conducting bilateral operations with them — all in the name of the long war,” said a former intelligence officer who served in Sudan….

Another knowledgeable former U.S. intelligence official said the CIA-NISS partnership began even earlier, in the Clinton administration, and called it "incredibly valuable."

While Erik Prince and his Blackwater Worldwide company is being fined for ignoring sanctions against Sudan and trying to "secure lucrative defense business in Southern Sudan," the central government in Khartoum is having its security forces — one the most brutal in the Arab world — trained by the CIA.

According to Stein, U.S. officials maintain the operations are limited to counterterrorism. But one wonders how the NISS separates out such training from its general operations of domestic oppression. Earlier this year, NISS arrested six doctors, members of the Doctors Strike Committee, and tortured at least two, before releasing them after being held without charges for almost a month. As recently as June 27, NISS agents were reported to be roaming "hospitals in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, ensuring that the doctors had returned to work."

According to a report by Amnesty International, referenced by Stein in his article, NISS seems to have it in for doctors.

Ahmed Ali Mohamed Osman, a doctor also known as Ahmed Sardop, was arrested by the NISS on March 20, 2009 in Khartoum after criticizing rapes in the Darfur region and the government’s decision to expel humanitarian organizations from Sudan….

"They leaned me over a chair and held me by my arms and feet while others hit me on the back, legs and arms with something similar to an electrical cable," he told Amnesty International. "They kicked me in the testicles repeatedly while they talked about the report on rape in Darfur."

Ahmed Sardop filed a complaint with the police and was examined by a doctor who confirmed his allegations of torture. A few days later, he started receiving telephone death threats: "We will soon find you and we will kill you." He now lives in exile.

But it isn’t only doctors, as NISS has targeted journalists, human rights activists, and students. The agents of the NISS operate in an atmosphere of near-impunity, as they "have immunity for all the violations they commit, under the 2010 National Security Act."

Anyone who believes the NISS agents trained by the CIA limit their indelicate actions to "take-downs" of "terrorists" in Sudan knows very little about the omnipresent operations of security forces such as NISS, or the Mukhabarat in Egypt and Jordan, in this part of the world. This kind of training and involvement with some of the world’s more notorious secret police is the real face of U.S. foreign policy, more so than the aid programs that other portions of the government may provide in various countries. (It’s worth noting here, too, that the Palestinian Authority has received training for its security forces from the CIA.) Whatever aid is provided, the U.S. ensures the rule of governments with domestic terror regimes. Along with U.S. support for the forceable suppression of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and its campaign of wide-spread assassination throughout the region, this is the actual cause for hatred and attacks against the United States.

Apropos of the U.S. policy of widespread assassinations, today the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights have filed a lawsuit "challenging the government’s asserted authority to carry out ‘targeted killings’ of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone."

The groups charge that targeting individuals for execution who are suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged – without oversight, judicial process or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists – also poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people. In recent years, the U.S. government has detained many men as terrorists, only for courts or the government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or unreliable.

A major change in U.S. policy must involve a significant change in the world-view of the U.S. populace, and a wholesale transformation of its political representatives, who remain meekly subservient to whatever military or intelligence policy that the White House demands, no matter how seemingly contradictory or self-defeating, or how costly to those in other countries who suffer under the police rule of their respective states.

For more information on the ACLU/CCR joint lawsuit, visit visit: www.aclu.org/targetedkillings and ccrjustice.org/targetedkillings.

NYT Backs Torture Accountability Law, ACLU To Conduct Friday “Flash Mob” Event

8:38 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

In a June 24 editorial, the New York Times called for the passage of a New York State law that would bar health professionals from licensure it they had participated in torture. Known as the Gottfried-Duane Bill to Stop Health Professional Participation in Torture, the legislation has 45 co-sponsors, and the vote on the legislation could happen as soon as today. (See here for PDF text of the bill.)

"Health professionals who facilitate torture are violating the most fundamental medical ethics and ought to be punished," the Times editorial states, noting that the refusal of Congress and the Obama administration to investigate or prosecute "on a national level" means that we must turn to what options we have to turn back U.S. torture. Earlier this month, the NY Times also wrote an editorial in support of investigations by the executive branch and Congress into charges of illegal human experimental research undertaken in support of Bush and Cheney’s torture program. The charges were made by Physicians for Human Rights in a report released on June 6, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program" (PDF).

The website, When Healers Harm, describes the background to the NY state anti-torture bills:

In April 2009, the Bush administration’s “torture memos” as well as reports by the Senate Armed Services Committee and the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that doctors and psychologists have been directly involved in the design, justification, supervision and execution of torture at U.S. military and intelligence facilities. This violates state, federal and international law and professional ethics.

Despite proof of wrongdoing, the health professionals involved in torture still hold their professional licenses to practice. To ensure accountability for torture and to prevent such atrocities from happening again, New York State Legislators have introduced Bills A. 6665-B in the Assembly and S. 4495-A in the Senate, new legislation that:

* Confirms that NY-licensed health professionals’ duty to do no harm applies to their professional relationships with all patients and under all employers;
* Reaffirms that health professionals licensed in New York are prohibited from involvement in torture or other abuse of prisoners, wherever that abuse takes place;
* Removes NY-licensed health professionals from interrogations; and
* Helps NY-licensed health professionals resist unlawful orders that could place them at risk of criminal prosecution and civil damages lawsuits.

The legislation has the backing of top medical professionals in New York State (see PDF list), the New York Civil Liberties Union, NY State Psychological and Nursing Associations, the NY Chapter of the American College of Physicians, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights First and other professional, religious and human rights organizations. Sign a petition urging the New York Legislature to pass the N.Y. Anti-Torture Bill in 2010.

Meanwhile, as New York State awaits the vote on Gottfried-Duane, the ACLU announced this morning a "flash mob" event for Torture Awareness Month, to take place today. From a press release:

ACLU Plans Torture Awareness Event Friday In New York

On Eve Of International Day In Support Of Victims Of Torture, Group Calls For Accountability

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union announce a "flash mob" event today, June 25, at 12:00 p.m. EDT in Union Square in New York City to remind the public that the United States has yet to hold accountable government officials who knew about and authorized torture under the Bush administration. The event marks the signing of the Convention Against Torture and the eve of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the ACLU has unearthed thousands of pages of documents that show that hundreds of prisoners were abused or tortured in CIA and Department of Defense custody, and that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Despite extensive documentation, however, the U.S. has yet to hold any high-level officials accountable for their roles in the torture program. Today’s event aims to visually depict the 150,000 pages of torture documents made public through the ACLU’s FOIA litigation and renew the call for meaningful accountability.

Many of the formerly-secret documents can be viewed online at www.thetorturereport.org, where the ACLU has been posting and writing about them throughout June in observance of Torture Awareness Month.

WHAT:
Torture Awareness Day public "flash mob" event to remind the public about the need to hold government officials accountable for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody

WHO:
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union national office and NYCLU will converge in a high-traffic area of Union Square to interact with members of the public.

WHEN:
Friday, June 25
12:00 p.m. EDT

WHERE:
Union Square
Near 14th Street
New York, NY

Torture News: Anti-Gitmo Protesters Acquitted; RCMP Investigating U.S. Officials on Arar Rendition

7:40 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The Washington Examiner is reporting that Judge Russell Canan of the D.C. Superior Court has dropped all charges against 27 (some reports say 24) defendants arrested at the U.S. Capitol on January 21 in a demonstration called by Witness Against Torture. The protesters were demonstrating peacefully on the steps of the Capitol, dressed as Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits, and with banners reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” calling for President Barack Obama to shut down Guantanamo prison. Police say they refused to disperse as ordered.

Inside the Capitol Rotunda, at the location where deceased presidents lie in state, fourteen activists were arrested performing a memorial service for three men who died at Guantanamo in 2006. Initially reported as suicides, the deaths may have been — as recent evidence suggests — the result of the men being tortured to death (see Scott Horton, “Murders at Guantanamo, March 2010, Harpers).

One of the protesters was contacted by cell phone after the judgment for acquittal, according to a story at MassLive.com:

[Patricia] Wieland, contacted by cell phone outside the court house, called the ruling a major victory because it upheld the First Amendment, namely the protections for freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly.

“We did exactly what the First Amendment tells us to do,” she said. “We actually exercised the First Amendment and won.”

SCOTUS Stiffs Arar Complaint, While RCMP Investigating U.S./Syrian Officials in Arar Rendition

According to a press release by Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the U.S. Supreme Court "decided today not to hear the [CCR] case on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against U.S. officials for their role in sending him to Syria to be tortured. I discussed last November the en banc decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where the court made it clear that victims of extraordinary rendition, i.e., kidnapping and being sent to be tortured, as Arar was, right from JFK Airport in New York City. (File this in the "it could be you" department.)

Glenn Greenwald castigated the Supreme Court’s decision in his column today, "The U.S. wins the right to abduct innocent people with impunity":

The Canadians, who cooperated with the U.S. in Arar’s abduction, conducted a sweeping investigation of what happened, and then publicly "issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured," and made clear he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Then, Canada’s Prime Minister personally and publicly apologized to Arar, and announced that Canada would compensate him with a payment of $ 8.5 million.

But what has the U.S. done. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Really worse than nothing, as the Obama administration actively sought to prevent Arar’s suit, including filing a brief arguing against the Supreme Court taking up the Second Circuit ruling. Furthermore, the U.S. has refused to allow Arar into the United States, even though it admits he never did anything wrong. The only reason for this is to keep his story from being heard.

Meanwhile, according to CCR, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating U.S. officials involved in the rendition of Mr. Arar.

According to Mr. Arar and his attorneys, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has been conducting a criminal investigation into U.S. as well as Syrian officials for their role in his rendition to torture.

To their knowledge, this is the first time the existence of the RCMP’s criminal investigation of U.S officials has been made public. Mr. Arar has met with the RCMP in conjunction with the investigation.

Said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood, “The U.S. should be conducting its own criminal investigation of the officials responsible for sending an innocent man to Syria for a year to be interrogated under torture, not covering for them. Again, the Canadians are doing the right thing by criminally investigating not only Syrian officials, but officials from the U.S. as well. The Obama administration should look to the Canadian example and do what’s right – apologize to Maher and hold his torturers accountable.”

It’s a good thing (for certain people) that the United States is quite large, because as this country sinks into the status of an international pariah, intent on protecting its torturers, if not the right to torture prisoners it considers outside the pale of national and international law, U.S. officials involved in these crimes against humanity will soon find they cannot go to even Canada, as they would fear arrest and prosecution.

Other Links

Those more interested in Maher Arar’s case should check out this CCR link.

Those, like myself, who could not attend the Culture Project’s "Blueprint for Accountability" shindig at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, NYU, on June 7, with Valerie Plame, Ron Suskind, Jeremy Scahill, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Vince Warren and others, can now watch the unchaptered video of the event online here.

The full text of the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) complaint to the federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) is now online, offering the opportunity to sign on to complaint itself. The official petition draws upon findings by PHR that the CIA experimented on detainees in its custody, based upon the following evidence of wrongdoing detailed in declassified government documents. See PHR’s full investigatory report here.

PHR’s filing has been joined by other major human rights and civil liberties groups, including Amnesty International, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

ACLU reminds us that June is "Torture Awareness Month," and is using the occasion to publicize many of the torture documents it painstakingly won via hard-fought FOIA lawsuits. Now, if they would only sign on to PHR’s OHRP complaint. Hey, ACLU, what’s up with that?