On May 6 a court in Istanbul, acting on the orders of Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, sentenced the editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper to five years and ten months in prison for publishing a report about illegal provision of weapons to Islamist terrorists in Syria by Turkey’s secret service. His bureau chief got five years.
Two weeks later Istanbul was host to the World Humanitarian Summit, which was held «to stand up for our common humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering». Attendance included 65 heads of state. It was the usual total waste of time (Oxfam called it «an expensive talking shop» and those who refused to be there included President Putin and the global medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières), but the point is that a humanitarian conference should never have been held in Turkey, which is being transformed into a dictatorship by a president who is well-described by Professor Alan Sked of the London School of Economics as «a volatile, unstable, highly authoritarian personality».
The professor went on to observe that Erdogan «has pursued a civil war in his own country and has clamped down on the opposition and social media at will. Thousands have been imprisoned for merely criticising him. He has ordered the shooting down of a Russian warplane, and his country has been accused by Russia of trafficking secretly in oil with Isis. He cannot be trusted…»
Erdogan is a bigoted thug, yet the international community rushed to his country to hold a humanitarian conference and foreign heads of state flock to press his hand in friendship. He is treated with deference around the world and there can be no public criticism of him in the many countries that have laws prohibiting disparagement of heads of state and holding defamation and insult of their leaders to be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.
In January over 1,100 Turkish academics signed a letter asking Erdogan to cease his merciless blitz on Kurdish centres in the south east of the country. Thousands of Kurds had been (and continue to be) killed and crippled by ground and air assaults of merciless savagery. Erdogan’s response to the petition was to declare that these compassionate scholars «spit out hatred of our nation’s values and history on every occasion. The petition has made this clearer… In a state of law like Turkey, so-called academics who target the unity of our nation have no right to commit crimes. They don’t have immunity for this».
Some thirty of the humanitarian signatories were arrested and fifteen were dismissed from their university posts. They live under constant threat, as do all who attempt to disagree with the imperial president.
Yet Erdogan’s Turkey is strongly supported by the United States and by the European Union, albeit for very different reasons.
The US backs him because he supports Washington’s efforts to destroy President Assad of Syria and is a strident and aggressive opponent of Russia, while the EU is behind him because if he chose he could control the influx of Syrian refugees to Europe. So Erdogan can persecute and jail as many journalists and academics as he likes, while continuing to slaughter Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and although there may be a few murmurs of disapproval in Brussels and Washington there will be no action whatever taken by either the US or the EU to stop the President of Turkey wielding absolute power over his people.
In March, while Erdogan was attending the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington (yet another total waste of time and money, except for the travel industry) he met separately with the US president and vice-president, neither of whom had the moral courage to take him to task for his blatant oppression of those of his citizens who dare to have ideas and opinions contrary to his own.
As the Voice of America reported on March 31, «President Barack Obama assured his Turkish counterpart of American commitment to the security of Turkey, a critical ally in the fight against the Islamic State group», while the White House “readout” of the Erdogan-Biden meeting recorded that «the Vice President reiterated the United States’ unwavering commitment to Turkey’s national security as a NATO Ally». They discussed «ways to further deepen our military cooperation» which was no doubt heartening to a bellicose thug whose aim is to persecute and preferably kill Kurds wherever they may be.
In spite of all the evidence, the United States refuses to acknowledge that Erdogan’s Turkey has sent massive quantities of weaponry to Islamic terrorist groups who are prepared to kill Kurds. It does not appear to matter to Washington that «Not only has Erdoğan done almost everything he can to cripple the forces actually fighting ISIS; there is considerable evidence that his government has been at least tacitly aiding ISIS itself».
The countries of the European Union, in similar blinkered mode, ignore Erdogan’s transformation of Turkey from democracy to dictatorship because they are prepared to make almost any sacrifice to reduce the flood of refugees now threatening their countries. Their leaders are terrified that behaving in a humanitarian manner will damage their domestic electoral chances and have set up an extraordinary deal with Erdogan who has agreed to «do more to prevent refugees from traveling to Europe via its territory and take back all migrants and refugees who manage to cross into Europe from Turkey … In return, the European Union has doubled the financial aid it promised Turkey from 3 billion to 6 billion euros, has agreed to take in more Syrian refugees from Turkey, and will move to provide visa-free travel to Turks and reopen EU accession talks».
Little wonder that Erdogan is on the crest of a wave and can persecute dissenters and slaughter Kurds with hardly a word of international criticism. In March, when he took over Turkey’s largest newspaper, the independent Zaman, and replaced the entire staff with his supporters, US State Department spokesman John Kirby called the seizure «troubling». And it was reported on 25 May that, «the EU wants Ankara to narrow its definition of terror to stop prosecuting academics and journalists for publishing ‘terror propaganda’, but Turkey has refused to do so».
Unless the US and the EU bring pressure to bear on Erdogan to restore democracy in his country, he will continue to suppress and persecute his critics and continue his killing spree. But he is too valuable to them for that to happen. All they will do is hold more humanitarian conferences.
One thing Californians agree on is their opposition to laws that allow law enforcement to seize and keep people’s cash and property merely for being suspects of a crime, also known as asset forfeiture (learn more here).
That’s according to a two new surveys by the Public Policy Polling. The surveys found “overwhelming statewide and local opposition” to asset forfeiture laws. Over two-thirds of voters surveyed (82 percent) opposed these laws compared to 14 percent in favor of them.
Opposition to asset forfeiture also transcended party lines. Rough the same amount of Democrats, Republicans and independents expressed aversion to the idea that our property rights don’t apply when someone is suspected of crime – even if they’re never convicted.
Their support is not due to voter ignorance, as PPP also found that “opposition to civil asset forfeiture laws strengthens as voters learn more about them” and very few changed their minds after hearing law enforcement arguments justifying these laws. Maybe that’s because 17 percent of those surveyed knew someone who had lost property to police without a conviction.
Although California has asset forfeiture restrictions a loophole allows local police to pass off cases to the federal government, while still getting up to 80 percent of the proceeds obtained through civil forfeiture.
A bill introduced last year in the California state Senate would rein in these practices by law enforcement agencies. After passing the Senate by a wide margin, SB 443 was hit by massive opposition and delays in the Assembly. It was pulled from the “inactive file” this week and a final Assembly vote is expected in coming days.
California residents should contact their Assemblymember and insist the loophole be closed once and for all.
There’s also a Facebook group to support SB443 – HERE.
In Bolivia, a CIA-backed military coup led to the overthrow of leftist President Juan Torres. Following the coup, dictator Hugo Banzer had over 2,000 political opponents arrested without trial, tortured, raped and executed.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel voiced his opposition to celebrations over the conviction of 15 military officials in Argentina. In his view, there is nothing to celebrate.
Perez Esquivel, recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize, said Friday that Plan Condor was a conspiracy to kill leftist movements in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In his view, there is no reason to celebrate the conviction of those who participated in Plan Condor in Argentina. An Argentine court found 15 military officials guilty Friday.
“Plan Condor should never have happened,” the Argentine Nobel laureate and human rights defender wrote on the social network Twitter.
Photographs of the disappeared in Argentina. Photo:Colección AGRA, Archivo Memoria Activa
After the sentencing of several of the military officials, Chilean journalist and diplomat Odette Magnet said “justice was achieved, but we need the truth,” referring to her sister Maria Cecilia Magnet who was disappeared during the dictatorship in the country.
The journalist explained that for 40 years she has played an active role in seeking the truth about repression during the military dictatorships in Latin America.
“I want to know where they are, where (the death squads) threw them, where all the victims of this macabre plan are,” Magnet said. Officials from the dictatorships across Latin America would often throw victims out of helicopters and airplanes into the ocean.
“Nobody knows what really happened to our people, we have no information because the murderers do not speak, they will not talk and that is very frustrating because we have the facts,” Magnet concluded.
The cops charged in the death of Freddie Gray had another good day in a Baltimore courtroom, on Monday, when one of the six officers was found not guilty of second degree assault, misconduct and reckless endangerment. Officer Edward Nero had opted not to undergo a trial by jury, so the case was decided by a Black circuit court judge, Barry Williams. The trial of another cop, William Porter, ended in a mistrial back in December when the jury deadlocked on all four counts. If Officer Porter is tried again, it will be after the trials of all the other cops are completed.
But Officer Nero is home free, because Judge Williams ruled that there was “no evidence that the cop intended for a crime to occur.” Judge Williams was affirming the triple legal standard that exists in American law: one standard for cops, another for civilians in general, and no reliable expectation of justice at all for Black people.
Officer Nero was one of the cops that arrested Freddie Gray, dragged his limping body to a police transport wagon, and then failed to secure him with a seatbelt. Gray was given a wild ride through the streets of Baltimore, his handcuffed body crashing into the sides and front of the vehicle, fatally severing his spine.
Lawlessness Begins with the Lawmen
Freddie Gray’s only offense was to run away after making eye contact with a police supervisor – which is not a crime in anybody’s law book. But, as my colleague Bruce Dixon often says, cops are like hounds, and Black people are treated like rabbits, and when a rabbit runs away from the hounds they will chase it down and tear it apart.
So, the hounds are on trial in Baltimore. The prosecution maintains that the cops had no right to arrest and move Freddie Gray – that this amounted to second degree assault on his person. In her closing arguments, deputy state’s attorney Janice Bledsoe said “people get jacked up in the city all the time” by cops, and such behavior must be punished. But, the judge seemed to think it would be ridiculous to treat every arrest as criminal just because there were no grounds for arrest. Officer Nero’s lawyer agreed, saying it didn’t make any difference if the cops acted illegally in arresting Freddie Gray. “Wrong or right isn’t the standard,” said the cop’s attorney. “The standard is, were they so wrong that it was unreasonable?”
So, cops have to be more than just guilty of breaking the law; they must be “unreasonably” guilty – whatever that is.
Warren Brown, a defense lawyer who observed the proceedings, said: “If you’re going to go back and charge every police officer whose arrest was determined to be illegal with assault, or every search that’s deemed to be absent probable cause, [then] you’re going to indict the entire police force.”
Sounds good to me. Indict them all, and empower the people to form a security force that respects, and is answerable to, the community it serves. But, of course, it would be “unreasonable” for Black people to expect anything that smacks of justice in America.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Yahdih Ould Slahi holds up a photo of his brother Mohamedou in a May 2016 video by American Civil Liberties Union © acluvideos / YouTube
US authorities detained, interrogated and sent back a German citizen flying in to campaign for the release of his brother – author of the best-selling “Guantanamo Diary,” who has been imprisoned and tortured at the US camp since 2002.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir, heavily redacted by government censors, was published in 2015 and quickly became a best-seller. The Mauritanian native was arrested in 2001 and rendered to Jordan for interrogation by the CIA. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay the following year.
His younger brother Yahdih, a German citizen, has campaigned for Mohamedou’s release for years. Yahdih was supposed to attend a number of events in the US this week, seeking to persuade Guantanamo’s Periodic Review Board to set Mohamedou free at the June 2 hearing.
When Yahdih Slahi arrived at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday, however, he was detained by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents, questioned for hours, and sent back to Germany the following day, The Intercept reported.
“He was asked questions about his family, his brother, and what he knew about why his brother was in Guantánamo,” said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It was a harrowing, stressful, and exhausting experience.”
Yahdih Slahi is a German citizen who lives in Düsseldorf, and would have been able to enter the US under the visa waiver program that Germany participates in. The CBP gave no explanation for denying Slahi entry.
In his memoir, Mohamedou Slahi described being held in isolation and subjected to beatings, extreme cold, sleep deprivation, sexual abuse, a simulated kidnapping, and a simulated execution. At one point, his captors tried to trick him by showing him a forged letter from his mother, Yahdih recounted in 2015. The ploy failed because the forgery misspelled Slahi’s name – and because, unbeknownst to his jailers, Slahi’s mother was illiterate.
Mohamedou Slahi admits that he fought in Afghanistan in the early 1990s with what became Al-Qaeda– when the organization was backed by the US in its struggle against the socialist government in Kabul. While he had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda since 1992, Slahi did stay in touch with his cousin and former brother-in-law, Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, who served as a lieutenant to Osama Bin Laden.
Slahi was never charged with any crime, but the 2010 decision to release him has been held up by government appeals.
“The judge said there was no evidence in 2010 to hold him. There’s certainly not evidence now. The Chief Prosecutor said when he resigned in 2007, that there was no evidence then,” Slahi’s attorney Nancy Hollander told RT in January 2015.
Slahi’s family and friends hope the Periodic Review Board will recommend his release at the June 2 hearing. The inter-agency panel ruled on Monday to set free an Afghan man, known only as Obaidullah, who was held at Guantanamo for 14 years.
It took a decade of fighting with the government for the Guantanamo Diary, written in 2005, to see the light of day. Slahi is the first Guantanamo prisoner to publish a memoir while still at the camp. He has not been allowed to receive a copy of his book.
Draconian plans to target alleged extremists through a controversial anti-radicalization program are at risk of creating a ‘Thought Police’ in the UK, the officer leading the operation has warned.
In a damning critique, Leicestershire Police Chief Constable Simon Cole said the ‘Prevent’ legislation risks making cops judges of “what people can and cannot say.”
The government formally announced a controversial new bill to tackle extremism in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament last week. It is considered to be Prime Minister David Cameron’s flagship policy of the year.
The legislation widens the police fight to include those who are defined as ‘extremists’, but who do not take part in or even advocate terrorism themselves.
“Unless you can define what extremism is very clearly then it’s going to be really challenging to enforce,” Cole told the Guardian.
“We don’t want to be the Thought Police. We absolutely don’t want to be the Thought Police.”
When asked if the Prevent strategy could make this happen, Cole said: “Potentially there is a risk.”
Cole’s intervention will prove damaging for the government, coming from a senior counterterrorism officer.
Cameron already faced several embarrassing defeats last parliamentary year, despite having a slim majority of seats in the House of Commons, and will be keen to avoid another capitulation.
But Cole believes the legislation has triggered serious reservations among British Muslims.
“The police need to be able to safeguard people without being drawn into a hugely contentious potential role about a kind of thought police control of what people can and cannot say.
“And that needs really clearly defining and it needs parliament to lay out what is and isn’t acceptable,” he added.
Despite spending eight months drafting a “legally robust” definition of extremism, government officials are still struggling to complete the task.
Cole said he has concerns about how “enforceable” the legislation would be, adding it is important for police officers to speak out.
While he accepted that society must impose “some limits” on what can and cannot be said, “They [the limits] need to be as broad as they possibly can be.”
In another setback for the death penalty trial of the five men accused of aiding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, two defense lawyers for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed say the U.S. government secretly destroyed relevant evidence.
On May 11, defense lawyers for the accused mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks asked for judge Col. James Pohl and the prosecution team to be recused from the trial, and for the case to be shut down. Defense lawyers David Nevin and Maj. Derek Poteet say that the U.S. government destroyed evidence related to the case, according to the New York Times. The two men are unable to provide further details because the issue is classified, but Mr. Nevin said the evidence was “favorable” to the defendants.
Major Poteet also told the Times that the defense was first informed in February that Colonel Pohl would provide them with a “summary of a substitute” for the original, classified evidence. The defense requested Colonel Pohl to preserve the evidence for the record and Pohl complied. Or so they thought.
“But they learned in February, they said, that about 20 months earlier, and without their knowledge, prosecutors had obtained from Colonel Pohl a secret order that reversed his previous decision,” the Times writes. “By the time they found out, the government had already destroyed the evidence, giving them no opportunity to challenge the move.”
Major Poteet said the situation created the appearance that Colonel Pohl was “colluding with the government.” The Times reports that the original, now destroyed evidence, may have been related to one of several foreign black site prisons operated by the Central Intelligence Agency in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Afghanistan, and at a secret site at the Guantánamo base. KSM was tortured for several years at one of these sites before being transferred to the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in 2006.
The accusations are likely to delay upcoming scheduled hearings from May 30 to June 3. If there is a delay it will be latest in a long line of interruptions to this alleged pursuit of justice. Most recently, Col. Pohl canceled two weeks of hearings that were scheduled to begin on Friday, April 1st.
“The whole thing is really odd to me. I thought it was an April Fools’ joke,” said Chicago defense attorney Cheryl Bormann, who was already in Washington to travel to Guantánamo this weekend to represent alleged 9/11 plot deputy Walid bin Attash.
The destruction of evidence is, unfortunately, not the first controversy this trial has faced. Another conflict of interest became an issue in 2014 when the defense attorneys for Mohammed and the four alleged co-conspirators said they believed they were being spied on by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Foreign Policy reported,
the FBI had secretly conducted an investigation into possible wrongdoing on the part of one or more members of the five separate defense teams (one for each defendant). Such an investigation could put defense team members in the untenable position of having to provide information to defend themselves or others against possible criminal action — information that could be used against the interests of their own clients.
There was also the issue of interference from outside sources during the hearings. FP continues:
In January 2013, the court’s audio-visual feed, visible to a small set of commission observers, was abruptly cut off by someone other than Judge Pohl; previously, Pohl was believed to be the only person with the authority to use the unique-to-Guantanamo “kill-switch.”
Later, a clearly annoyed Pohl learned that something called the Original Classification Authority (OCA) — which is likely the CIA given that most of the information subject to censorship in the case is related to the agency’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program — had hit the kill switch. Judge Pohl promptly cut off their privileges.
In February 2013 it was revealed that listening devices were hidden within smoke detectors, possibly infringing upon attorney-client privileges. The defense also claimed their emails and work files were disappearing. Former defendant Ramzi Bin al-Shibh was also removed from the trial by the judge in an attempt to speed the process along after so many delays. However, critics argue that al-Shibh was removed because he refused to be quiet, complaining loudly of sleep deprivation.
Is this trial really about truth, justice, and upholding law and order? If the military court hopes to find something close to the truth they should open the hearings to the public, end the spying on the defense team, and be transparent about the treatment of the alleged hijackers. Only by allowing the truth to be released will the wounds of 9/11 begin to heal.
The British government is providing military training to the majority of nations it has blacklisted for human rights violations, a new report reveals.
In a report published on Sunday, the Independent revealed that 16 of the 30 countries on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s “human rights priority” watchlist are receiving military support from the UK despite being accused by London itself of issues ranging from internal repression to the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts.
According to the UK Ministry of Defense, since 2014, British armed forces have provided “either security or armed forces personnel” to the military forces of Saudi Arabia , Bahrain, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Burundi, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
Britain is a major provider of weapons and equipment such as cluster bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in its year-long military aggression against Yemen that has killed nearly 9,400 people, among them over 2,230 children.
Since the conflict began in March 2015, the British government has licensed the sale of nearly $4 billion worth of weaponry to the Saudi kingdom.
British commandos also train Bahraini soldiers in using sniper rifles, despite allegations that the Persian Gulf monarchy uses such specialist forces to suppress a years-long pro-democracy uprising in the country.
Bahraini forces visited the Infantry Battle School in Wales last week, accompanied by troops from Nigeria, the Defense Ministry said.
Nigeria’s top military generals are accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes by causing the deaths of 8,000 people through murder, starvation, suffocation and torture during security operations against the Boko Haram Takfiri terrorists, according to the report.
Andrew Smith, with the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said Britain should not be “colluding” with countries known for being “some of the most authoritarian states in the world.”
Haaretz reported today that “Israeli Death Penalty for Terrorists Won’t Apply to Jews.”
The death penalty for murder in a ‘terror act’ that incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman seeks will only apply to military courts, said a Likud source involved in the talks to bring Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party into the governing coalition.
Such a move, which Lieberman demands if his party is to join the government, would effectively exclude its application against Jews. Palestinians accused of terror offenses are prosecuted in Israeli military courts, while Jews charged with similar crimes against Palestinians are usually tried in Israeli civilian courts, noted the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The meaning of it is simple. Though Jews are not a race, Jewish politics (left, right and centre) is always racist to the core.
The leader of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, heaps praise on the movement’s military commander Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in Syria last week, saying he was a front-runner in the fight against Israel.
“Badreddine played a key role alongside [his predecessor] Imad Mughniyeh… in the 2006 war against Israel before assuming several responsibilities including the dismantling of Israeli spy networks,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Friday.
Nasrallah was speaking to mark one week after Badreddine was killed.
He said Badreddine was tasked with overseeing Hezbollah’s security and military units in Syria since Takfiri militants initiated a war there in 2011.
Hezbollah fighters are combating alongside the Syrian government forces against a range of terrorist groups operating in the war-torn Arab country, including Daesh and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
The Hezbollah leader said Badreddine was initially directing the Syria operation from Lebanon, but later “insisted” on traveling to Syria to oversee in person the sensitive operation.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was against Badreddine’s presence in Syria as the group knew of the media controversy that would arise of his involvement in the war.
He noted that Badreddine’s presence in Syria helped Hezbollah prevent the fall of the country “into the hands of Takfiris and their American masters and spies in the region.”
The 55-year-old Hezbollah commander led Hezbollah’s military wing which is helping the Syrian government drive out foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists from Syria.
Badreddine also directed military operations against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and was a frequent target of attempts by Tel Aviv, Washington and its allies to assassinate or capture him.
He was the cousin and brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2008.
He said Hezbollah has not entirely ruled out Israel of having a hand in Badreddine’s killing, but the group has not found any clues during the probe that could directly hint at Israel’s role.
Nasrallah denied speculations raised in some Arab media that Hezbollah did not assign blame on Israel for Badreddine’s killing because it wanted to escape responsibility for retaliation, saying throughout 34 years of confrontation with Israel, the regime in Tel Aviv has never doubted the genuineness of Hezbollah pledges for carrying out such retaliations.
“Our history is a proof that when we vow to retaliate we honor our pledges,” Nasrallah said, adding that Hezbollah would not stand on ceremony to openly blame Israel for perpetrating a crime when the evidence exists.
Nasrallah said Badreddine’s murder came at the hands of Takfiri groups and was orchestrated by those actively seeking to undermine the resistance front, including the United States.
He said, however, that the death of the commander would not lead to Hezbollah withdrawing from Syria. “Badreddine’s blood will push us to a bigger presence in Syria… We will remain in Syria and more leader will go into Syria,” Nasrallah said.
Else in his speech blasted Al-Saud’s calls for « democracy » in Syria and said:
The Saudi regime wants early parliamentary and presidential elections in Syria. But Saudi Arabia from its very inception as a nation-state until now has never had elections on its own soil. There is a ‘king’ and a ‘royal’ family and a dictatorship. Does anyone dare open his mouth against the regime in Saudi Arabia?! If someone dares to post two lines on Twitter, the ‘royal’ family goes crazy and sentences him to 1,000 lashes. What kind of Islam is this?! What sort of religion is this?! This is the ugliest form of hypocrisy!
Nasrallah continued, “This is not about freedom or democracy or elections or constituons! This is about the Syrian government not kneeling! This is about #Syria refusing to be a tool of American-Zionist hegemony. This is because Syria holds on to Resistance, refuses to betray Iran, defends Palestine, demands the return of the Golan Heights and maintains its sovereignty. This is because Syria is still a bastion of Arabism. Mark my words, if Bashar al-Assad was to say right now that he’d become a slave of the US-‘Israeli’ project, the war against Syria would be over tomorrow.”
Hizbollah Secretary Genral concluded his speech by saying: “I say to you with all confidence, throughout our 34 years, we have witnessed worse circumstances than what we’re dealing with today. And with our loyalty, steadfastness and commitment to the ongoing march on our path of Resistance, we shall overcome this new phase as well. In this battle, we are advancing and achieving victories. The Americans, the Zionists and Al-Saud said they’d gobble up #Syria five years ago, but yet Syria still stands today! This is because of the sacrifices of our martyrs. Indeed, Sayyed Mustafa’s blood and the blood of all our martyrs is the fuel which contributes to driving us to victory in this historic defense of the Ummah. Therefore our decision about continuing this fight is a simple one. I say to all of you who propagandized we’d leave Syria because of Sayyed Mustafa’s martyrdom – The martyrdom of any of our commanders has never made us leave any battle. Quite to the contrary, their martyrdoms will only make us increase our presence in Syria. We will be in Syria in greater numbers and different forms until victory. This is how we honor our martyrs and bring defeat to the US-Zionist-Takfiri-Saudi project. This project will fall; this project will be destroyed. I vow to you once more, Syria will never become the tool of our enemies and they will never get control of our region!”
Police Nationwide Are Secretly Exploiting Intrusive Technologies With the Feds’ Complicity
Can’t you see the writing on the touchscreen? A techno-utopia is upon us. We’ve gone from smartphones at the turn of the twenty-first century to smart fridges and smart cars. The revolutionary changes to our everyday life will no doubt keep barreling along. By 2018, so predicts Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, more than three million employees will work for “robo-bosses” and soon enough we — or at least the wealthiest among us — will be shopping in fully automated supermarkets and sleeping in robotic hotels.
With all this techno-triumphalism permeating our digitally saturated world, it’s hardly surprising that law enforcement would look to technology — “smart policing,” anyone? — to help reestablish public trust after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the long list of other unarmed black men killed by cops in Anytown, USA. The idea that technology has a decisive role to play in improving policing was, in fact, a central plank of President Obama’s policing reform task force.
In its report, released last May, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasized the crucial role of technology in promoting better law enforcement, highlighting the use of police body cameras in creating greater openness. “Implementing new technologies,” it claimed, “can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy.”
Indeed, the report emphasized ways in which the police could engage communities, work collaboratively, and practice transparency in the use of those new technologies. Perhaps it won’t shock you to learn, however, that the on-the-ground reality of twenty-first-century policing looks nothing like what the task force was promoting. Police departments nationwide have been adopting powerful new technologies that are remarkably capable of intruding on people’s privacy, and much of the time these are being deployed in secret, without public notice or discussion, let alone permission.
And while the task force’s report says all the right things, a little digging reveals that the feds not only aren’t putting the brakes on improper police use of technology, but are encouraging it — even subsidizing the misuse of the very technology the task force believes will keep cops honest. To put it bluntly, a techno-utopia isn’t remotely on the horizon, but its flipside may be.
Getting Stung and Not Even Knowing It
Shemar Taylor was charged with robbing a pizza delivery driver at gunpoint. The police got a warrant to search his home and arrested him after learning that the cell phone used to order the pizza was located in his house. How the police tracked down the location of that cell phone is what Taylor’s attorney wanted to know.
The Baltimore police detective called to the stand in Taylor’s trial was evasive. “There’s equipment we would use that I’m not going to discuss,” he said. When Judge Barry Williams ordered him to discuss it, he still refused, insisting that his department had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI.
“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” replied the judge, threatening to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer. And yet he refused again. In the end, rather than reveal the technology that had located Taylor’s cell phone to the court, prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence, jeopardizing their case.
And don’t imagine that this courtroom scene was unique or even out of the ordinary these days. In fact, it was just one sign of a striking nationwide attempt to keep an invasive, constitutionally questionable technology from being scrutinized, whether by courts or communities.
The technology at issue is known as a “Stingray,” a brand name for what’s generically called a cell site simulator or IMSI catcher. By mimicking a cell phone tower, this device, developed for overseas battlefields, gets nearby cell phones to connect to it. It operates a bit like the children’s game Marco Polo. “Marco,” the cell-site simulator shouts out and every cell phone on that network in the vicinity replies, “Polo, and here’s my ID!”
Thanks to this call-and-response process, the Stingray knows both what cell phones are in the area and where they are. In other words, it gathers information not only about a specific suspect, but any bystanders in the area as well. While the police may indeed use this technology to pinpoint a suspect’s location, by casting such a wide net there is also the potential for many kinds of constitutional abuses — for instance, sweeping up the identities of every person attending a demonstration or a political meeting. Some Stingrays are capable of collecting not only cell phone ID numbers but also numbers those phones have dialed and even phone conversations. In other words, the Stingray is a technology that potentially opens the door for law enforcement to sweep up information that not so long ago wouldn’t have been available to them.
All of this raises the sorts of constitutional issues that might normally be settled through the courts and public debate… unless, of course, the technology is kept largely secret, which is exactly what’s been happening.
After the use of Stingrays was first reported in 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other activist groups attempted to find out more about how the technology was being used, only to quickly run into heavy resistance from police departments nationwide. Served with “open-records requests” under Freedom of Information Act-like state laws, they almost uniformly resisted disclosing information about the devices and their uses. In doing so, they regularly cited nondisclosure agreements they had signed with the Harris Corporation, maker of the Stingray, and with the FBI, prohibiting them from telling anyone (including other government outfits) about how — or even that — they use the devices.
Sometimes such evasiveness reaches near-comical levels. For example, police in the city of Sunrise, Florida, served with an open-records request, refused to confirm or deny that they had any Stingray records at all. Under cover of a controversial national security court ruling, the CIA and the NSA sometimes resort to just this evasive tactic (known as a “Glomar response“). The Sunrise Police Department, however, is not the CIA, and no provision in Florida law would allow it to take such a tack. When the ACLU pointed out that the department had already posted purchase records for Stingrays on its public website, it generously provided duplicate copies of those very documents and then tried to charge the ACLU $20,000 for additional records.
In a no-less-bizarre incident, the Sarasota Police Department was about to turn some Stingray records over to the ACLU in accordance with Florida’s open-records law, when the U.S. Marshals Service swooped in and seized the records first, claiming ownership because it had deputized one local officer. And excessive efforts at secrecy are not unique to Florida, as those charged with enforcing the law commit themselves to Stingray secrecy in a way that makes them lawbreakers.
And it’s not just the public that’s being denied information about the devices and their uses; so are judges. Often, the police get a judge’s sign-off for surveillance without even bothering to mention that they will be using a Stingray. In fact, officers regularly avoid describing the technology to judges, claiming that they simply can’t violate those FBI nondisclosure agreements.
More often than not, police use Stingrays without bothering to get a warrant, instead seeking a court order on a more permissive legal standard. This is part of the charm of a new technology for the authorities: nothing is settled on how to use it. Appellate judges in Tallahassee, Florida, for instance, revealed that local police had used the tool more than 200 times without a warrant. In Sacramento, California, police admitted in court that they had, in more than 500 investigations, used Stingrays without telling judges or prosecutors. That was “an estimated guess,” since they had no way of knowing the exact number because they had conveniently deleted records of Stingray use after passing evidence discovered by the devices on to detectives.
Much of this blanket of secrecy, spreading nationwide, has indeed been orchestrated by the FBI, which has required local departments eager for the hottest new technology around to sign those nondisclosure agreements. One agreement, unearthed in Oklahoma, explicitly instructs the local police to find “additional and independent investigative means” to corroborate Stingray evidence. In short, they are to cover up the use of Stingrays by pretending their information was obtained some other way — the sort of dangerous constitutional runaround that is known euphemistically in law enforcement circles as a “parallel construction.” Now that information about the widespread use of this new technology is coming out — as in the Shemar Taylor trial in Baltimore — judges are beginning to rule that Stingray use does indeed require a warrant. They are also insisting that police must accurately inform judges when they intend to use a Stingray and disclose its privacy implications.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
And it’s not just the Stingray that’s taking local police forces into new and unknown realms of constitutionally questionable but deeply seductive technology. Consider the hot new trend of “predictive policing.” Its products couldn’t be high-techier. They go by a variety of names like PredPol (yep, short for predictive policing) and HunchLab (and there’s nothing wrong with a hunch, is there?). What they all promise, however, is the same thing: supposedly bias-free policing built on the latest in computer software and capable of leveraging big data in ways that — so their salesmen will tell you — can coolly determine where crime is most likely to occur next.
Such technology holds out the promise of allowing law enforcement agencies to deploy their resources to areas that need them most without that nasty element of human prejudice getting involved. “Predictive methods allow police to work more proactively with limited resources,” reports the RAND Corporation. But the new software offers something just as potentially alluring as efficient policing — exactly what the president’s task force called for. According to market leader PredPol, its technology “provides officers an opportunity to interact with residents, aiding in relationship building and strengthening community ties.”
How idyllic! In post-Ferguson America, that’s a winning sales pitch for decision-makers in blue. Not so surprisingly, then, PredPol is now used by nearly 60 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and investment capital just keeps pouring into the company. In 2013, SF Weekly reported that over 150 departments across the nation were already using predictive policing software, and those numbers can only have risen as the potential for cashing in on the craze has attracted tech heavy hitters like IBM, Microsoft, and Palantir, the co-creation of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Like the Stingray, the software for predictive policing is yet another spillover from the country’s distant wars. PredPol was, according to SF Weekly, initially designed for “tracking insurgents and forecasting casualties in Iraq,” and was financed by the Pentagon. One of the company’s advisors, Harsh Patel, used to work for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm.
Civil libertarians and civil rights activists, however, are less than impressed with what’s being hailed as breakthrough police technology. We tend to view it instead as a set of potential new ways for the police to continue a long history of profiling and pre-convicting poor and minority youth. We also question whether the technology even performs as advertised. As we see it, the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is likely to best describe how the new software will operate, or as the RAND Corporation puts it, “predictions are only as good as the underlying data used to make them.”
If, for instance, the software depends on historical crime data from a racially biased police force, then it’s just going to send a flood of officers into the very same neighborhoods they’ve always over-policed. And if that happens, of course, more personnel will find more crime — and presto, you have the potential for a perfect feedback loop of prejudice, arrests, and high-tech “success.” To understand what that means, keep in mind that, without a computer in sight, nearly four times as many blacks as whites are arrested for marijuana possession, even though usage among the two groups is about the same.
If you leave aside issues of bias, there’s still a fundamental question to answer about the new technology: Does the software actually work or, for that matter, reduce crime? Of course, the companies peddling such products insist that it does, but no independent analyses or reviews had yet verified its effectiveness until last year — or so it seemed at first.
In December 2015, the Journal of the American Statistical Association published a study that brought joy to the predictive crime-fighting industry. The study’s researchers concluded that a predictive policing algorithm outperformed human analysts in indicating where crime would occur, which in turn led to real crime reductions after officers were dispatched to the flagged areas. Only one problem: five of the seven authors held PredPol stock, and two were co-founders of the company. On its website, PredPol identifies the research as a “UCLA study,” but only because PredPol co-founder Jeffery Brantingham is an anthropology professor there.
Predictive policing is a brand new area where question marks abound. Transparency should be vital in assessing this technology, but the companies generally won’t allow communities targeted by it to examine the code behind it. “We wanted a greater explanation for how this all worked, and we were told it was all proprietary,” Kim Harris, a spokeswoman for Bellingham, Washington’s Racial Justice Coalition, told the Marshall Project after the city purchased such software last August. “We haven’t been comforted by the process.”
The Bellingham Police Department, which bought predictive software made by Bair Analytics with a $21,200 Justice Department grant, didn’t need to go to the city council for approval and didn’t hold community meetings to discuss the development or explain how the software worked. Because the code is proprietary, the public is unable to independently verify that it doesn’t have serious problems.
Even if the data underlying most predictive policing software accurately anticipates where crime will indeed occur — and that’s a gigantic if — questions of fundamental fairness still arise. Innocent people living in or passing through identified high crime areas will have to deal with an increased police presence, which, given recent history, will likely mean more questioning or stopping and frisking — and arrests for things like marijuana possession for which more affluent citizens are rarely brought in. Moreover, the potential inequality of all this may only worsen as police departments bring online other new technologies like facial recognition.
We’re on the verge of “big data policing,” suggests law professor Andrew Ferguson, which will “turn any unknown suspect into a known suspect,” allowing an officer to “search for information that might justify reasonable suspicion” and lead to stop-and-frisk incidents and aggressive questioning. Just imagine having a decades-old criminal record and facing police armed with such powerful, invasive technology.
This could lead to “the tyranny of the algorithm” and a Faustian bargain in which the public increasingly forfeits its freedoms in certain areas out of fears for its safety. “The Soviet Union had remarkably little street crime when they were at their worst of their totalitarian, authoritarian controls,” MIT sociologist Gary Marx observed. “But, my god, at what price?”
To Record and Serve… Those in Blue
On a June night in 2013, Augustin Reynoso discovered that his bicycle had been stolen from a CVS in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. A store security guard called the police while Reynoso’s brother Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and two friends tried to find the missing bike in the neighborhood. When the police arrived, they promptly ordered his two friends to put their hands up. Zeferino ran over, protesting that the police had the wrong men. At that point, they told him to raise his hands, too. He then lowered and raised his hands as the police yelled at him. When he removed his baseball hat, lowered his hands, and began to raise them again, he was shot to death.
The police insisted that Zeferino’s actions were “threatening” and so their shooting justified. They had two videos of it taken by police car cameras — but refused to release them.
Although police departments nationwide have been fighting any spirit of new openness, car and body cameras have at least offered the promise of bringing new transparency to the actions of officers on the beat. That’s why the ACLU and many civil rights groups, as well as President Obama, have spoken out in favor of the technology’s potential to improve police-community relations — but only, of course, if the police are obliged to release videos in situations involving allegations of abuse. And many departments are fighting that fiercely.
In Chicago, for instance, the police notoriously opposed the release of dashcam video in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, citing the supposed imperative of an “ongoing investigation.” After more than a year of such resistance, a judge finally ordered the video made public. Only then did the scandal of seeing Officer Jason Van Dyke unnecessarily pump 16 bullets into the 17-year-old’s body explode into national consciousness.
In Zeferino’s case, the police settled a lawsuit with his family for $4.7 million and yet continued to refuse to release the videos. It took two years before a judge finally ordered their release, allowing the public to see the shooting for itself.
Despite this, in April 2015 the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners approved a body-camera policy that failed to ensure future transparency, while protecting and serving the needs of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). In doing so, it ignored the sort of best practices advocated by the White House, the president’s task force on policing, and even the Police Executive Research Forum, one of the profession’s most respected think tanks.
On the possibility of releasing videos of alleged police misconduct and abuse, the new policy remained silent, but LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, didn’t. They made it clear that such videos would generally be exempt from California’s public records law and wouldn’t be released without a judge’s orders. Essentially, the police reserved the right to release video when and how they saw fit. This self-serving policy comes from the most lethal large police department in the country, whose officers shot and killed 21 people last year.
Other departments around the country have made similar moves to ensure control over body camera videos. Texas and South Carolina, among other states, have even changed their open-records laws to give the police power over when such footage should (or should not) be released. In other words, when a heroic cop saves a drowning child, you’ll see the video; when that same cop guns down a fleeing suspect, don’t count on it.
Curiously, given the stated positions of the president and his task force, the federal government seems to have no fundamental problem with that. In May 2015, for example, the Justice Department announced competitive grants for the purchase of police body cameras, officially tying funding to good body-cam-use policies. The LAPD applied. Despite letters from groups like the ACLU pointing out just how poor its version of body-cam policy was, the Justice Department awarded it $1 million to purchase approximately 700 cameras — accountability and transparency be damned.
To receive public money for a tool theoretically meant for transparency and accountability and turn it into one of secrecy and impunity, with the feds’ complicity and financial backing, sends an unmistakable message on how new technology is likely to affect America’s future policing practices. Think of it as a door slowly opening onto a potential policing dystopia.
Hello Darkness, Power’s Old Friend
Keep in mind that this article barely scratches the surface when it comes to the increasing numbers of ways in which the police’s use of technology has infiltrated our everyday lives.
In states and cities across America, some public bus and train systems have begun to add to video surveillance, the surreptitious recording of the conversations of passengers, a potential body blow to the concept of a private conversation in public space. And whether or not the earliest versions of predictive policing actually work, the law enforcement community is already moving to technology that will try to predict who will commit crimes in the future. In Chicago, the police are using social networking analysis and prediction technology to draw up “heat lists” of those who might perpetuate violent crimes someday and pay them visits now. You won’t be shocked to learn which side of the tracks such future perpetrators live on. The rationale behind all this, as always, is “public safety.”
Nor can anyone begin to predict how law enforcement will avail itself of science-fiction-like technology in the decade to come, much less decades from now, though cops on patrol may very soon know a lot about you and your past. They will be able to cull such information from a multitude of databases at their fingertips, while you will know little or nothing about them — a striking power imbalance in a situation in which one person can deprive the other of liberty or even life itself.
With little public debate, often in almost total secrecy, increasing numbers of police departments are wielding technology to empower themselves rather than the communities they protect and serve. At a time when trust in law enforcement is dangerously low, police departments should be embracing technology’s democratizing potential rather than its ability to give them almost superhuman powers at the expense of the public trust.
Unfortunately, power loves the dark.
Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor with the American Civil Liberties Union. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly.
Jay Stanley is senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. He is the editor of the ACLU’s Free Future blog and has authored and co-authored a variety of ACLU reports on privacy and technology topics.
Copyright 2016 Matthew Harwood and Jay Stanley
Visiting an art exhibit featuring works about the U.S. war on terror or going to a lecture about Islam wouldn’t be cause for worry—unless you found out that the government was monitoring and keeping track of attendees. At that point, some people would be spooked and stay away, sacrificing their interests and curiosity to protect their privacy, not look suspicious, or stay off a list some intelligence agency might be keeping.
Government surveillance has that chilling effect—on our activities, choices and communications—and carries serious consequences. We argue in our lawsuit First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, et al v. NSA that the government’s collection of phone records violates the First Amendment rights of our clients—churches and civil and human rights organizations—by discouraging members and constituents from associating and communicating with them for fear of being spied on.
Now two new studies examining the use of Facebook and Wikipedia show that this chilling effect is real. Both studies demonstrate that government surveillance discourages speech and access to information and knowledge on the Internet. What happens is that people begin to self-police their communications: they are more likely to avoid associating with certain groups or individuals, or looking at websites or articles, when they think the government is watching them or the groups/people with whom they connect. This hurts our democracy and society as a whole.
The Facebook study, published in Journalism & Mass Communications Quarterly, showed that people censor themselves on the social network, refraining from posting comments voicing minority views when they’re aware that the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors online activities.
Participants in the study were told of NSA monitoring and shown a fictional Facebook posting about U.S. airstrikes against ISIS. They were asked about their willingness to comment, share, and like the post, or create a new post about the same topic. They were also asked whether they supported or opposed U.S. airstrikes, what they thought most other Americans believed about the airstrikes, and whether surveillance is necessary for national security.
The study showed that people who are aware of government surveillance and support it are significantly less likely to speak out when their views differ from what they perceive to be the majority opinion. As Dr. Elizabeth Stoycheff, Wayne State University assistant professor of journalism and new media and study author, writes:
This is the first study to provide empirical evidence that the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion… These individuals expressed that surveillance was necessary for maintaining national security and they have nothing to hide. However, when these individuals perceive they are being monitored, they readily conform their behavior—expressing opinions when they are in the majority, and suppressing them when they’re not.
The Wikipedia study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, found a dramatic fall in monthly traffic to Wikipedia articles about terror groups and their techniques after the June 2013 disclosures of the NSA PRISM surveillance program by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The study looked at 48 Wikipedia articles that contained terrorism-related keywords tracked by the Department of Homeland Security, such as “suicide attack” and “dirty bomb.”
Article views dropped 30 percent after June 2013, which supports “the existence of an immediate and substantial chilling effect,” wrote author Jonathon Penney. He also found that monthly views continued to fall, suggesting that the chilling effects of NSA surveillance are long term. The study, he says, has “implications for the health of democratic deliberation among citizens” and the broader health of society.
The government itself uncovered evidence in a recent survey that its surveillance causes Americans to limit their online activity. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) found that in a survey of 41,000 U.S. households that use the Internet, one in five avoided online activity because of concerns about data collection by the government.
These studies provide evidence of what we have long argued—our freedom to read what we choose online and communicate and associate with others privately is profoundly affected by the prospect of the government looking over our shoulder. It’s changed our behavior, whether that means not commenting on a Facebook post about terrorism, avoiding a Wikipedia page, or steering clear of certain organizations.
The stakes are high for the 24 diverse political and activist groups that are our plaintiffs in First Unitarian. They connect people to advance political beliefs, and sometimes take dissenting positions on issues. Government surveillance of phone records to and from these groups, which work with whistleblowers, dissidents, Muslims, patients, gun owners, laborers, and others, have hurt their ability to carry out their missions. Their members and potential clients simply don’t want to call them, visit them on the web, or email them when they know the government is watching. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Ohio, a community service and civil rights organization that assists Muslim facing racial profiling, harassment, and discrimination, has seen a decrease in communications from its constituency of Muslim Americans. Calguns, a group that assists California gun owners in exercising their rights, has also experienced fewer communications from members who want their communications with the group to be confidential. Human Rights Watch, another plaintiff, says fewer people are reporting human rights abuses—the organization can no longer guarantee security and confidentiality in their communications and those people contacting the group fear retaliation.
We’ve documented these and other affects of the government surveillance in our court filings. We argue that phone record collection violates our clients’ freedoms to associate with others to advance political beliefs. Their work is hampered by the fact that people are deterred from contacting them and they can’t guarantee confidentiality because of government surveillance.
Penney points out that courts, legal scholars, and researchers have been skeptical about the extent and even the existence of the chilling effects of government surveillance. We think these studies strongly support that phone record collection has discouraged Americans from communicating and speaking out, and should put that skepticism to rest.