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US court rejects lawsuit challenging NYPD’s spying on Muslims

Press TV – February 21, 2014

A federal court in the United States has rejected a civil rights lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department’s spying activities against Muslims.

On Thursday, the court in Newark in the state of New Jersey ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the NYPD’s intelligence unit had discriminated against Muslims by spying on mosques and other locations in New Jersey.

The 2012 lawsuit was the first to challenge the NYPD’s spying operations against Muslim groups and individuals in the US. It had accused the police of spying on Muslims at several mosques, restaurants and schools since 2002.

The plaintiffs “have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion,” US District Judge William Martini wrote in the decision. “The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies.”

“The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself,” the judge added.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, warned that the ruling could give the green light to more spying on Muslims elsewhere in the US.

“In addition to willfully ignoring the harm that our innocent clients suffered from the NYPD’s illegal spying program, by upholding the NYPD’s blunderbuss Muslim surveillance practices, the court’s decision gives legal sanction to the targeted discrimination of Muslims anywhere and everywhere in this country, without limitation, for no other reason than their religion,” CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy said.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, False Flag Terrorism, Islamophobia | , , , , | Comments Off on US court rejects lawsuit challenging NYPD’s spying on Muslims

Abu Ghraib torture victims sued by ‘torturers’

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Press TV – August 15, 2013

American defense contractor CACI International has sued four former detainees in Abu Ghraib prison to compensate the legal expenses it paid over their dismissed lawsuit regarding the company’s role in torturing the plaintiffs in the notorious jail in Iraq.

The four Iraqi nationals had earlier filed a lawsuit in a District Court in Alexandria against the company accusing it of torturing, humiliating and dehumanizing them when they served time in the prison.

But in July, the judge dismissed the case, saying the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit because the incidents happened overseas.

The Arlington-based company has now demanded the plaintiffs pay over $15,000 for travel allowances, deposition transcripts and witness fees, Common Dreams reported.

The lawyers for former Abu Ghraib prisoners in a federal court filing rejected the request.

Our clients “have very limited financial means, even by non-US standards, and dramatically so when compared to the corporate defendants in this case,” according to the filing.

“At the same time, plaintiffs’ serious claims of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and war crimes were dismissed on very close, difficult – and only recently arguable – grounds.”

“Given the wealth disparities between this multi-billion dollar entity and four torture victims, given what they went through, it’s surprising and appears to be an attempt to intimidate and punish these individuals for asserting their rights to sue in US courts,” said Baher Azny, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and the attorney for the plaintiffs.

“Our case is based on reports and investigations by high-level US military investigators, recognizing CACI’s role in conspiracy to torture detainees,” Azny added

“Once we get past legal obstacles and present the case to a jury, we are hopeful justice will come to these Iraqi victims.”

The lawyers who are planning to appeal the case to the US Court of Appeals in fall argue that US law should apply to CACI International as it is an American-based company that operated in a US military prison.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | 3 Comments

US Security Company Seeks Dismissal of Abu Ghraib Torture Charges because Victims were not Allowed to Leave Iraq

By Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky | AllGov | May 21, 2013

CACI International, a U.S. defense contractor that supported the notorious Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war, is trying to get a lawsuit dismissed because some of the plaintiffs have been stuck in Iraq and are unable to enter the U.S.

In Al Shimari v. CACI, four Iraqis claim the contractor helped torture them while providing interrogation services at Abu Ghraib. All of them were ultimately released without being charged with a crime. They allege that CACI subjected them to a variety of torture techniques, including “electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs.”

CACI lawyers have contended the case should be dismissed on two grounds. One argument centers on the fact that three of the plaintiffs have not appeared in court.

One plaintiff living in Qatar gave a deposition in person, while two others have been prevented from leaving Iraq. They had already received boarding passes for a flight from Baghdad to the United States when airport officials stopped them from actually boarding the flight.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee is weighing this argument for dismissal, as well as another one put forth by CACI. The second claim is based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum) that CACI attorneys say should apply to their case.

“In Kiobel, the high court found that the Alien Tort Statute—under which most of the claims against CACI were brought—is presumed not to apply to actions outside the United States,” according to Marjorie Censer of The Washington Post. Lawyers for the Iraqi plaintiffs dismissed this argument by pointing that the Kiobel ruling applied to a case in which none of the parties involved were based in the United States, whereas CACI is most definitely headquartered in the U.S.

To Learn More:

Judge Weighs Motions that could Result in Dismissal of Abu Ghraib Claims against CACI (by Marjorie Censer, Washington Post)

Al Shimari v. CACI et al. (Center for Constitutional Rights)

Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid (Free Detainees.org)

Private Contractor Torture Cases Given Go-Ahead by Federal Court (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on US Security Company Seeks Dismissal of Abu Ghraib Torture Charges because Victims were not Allowed to Leave Iraq

A Thousand Years of Solitude

By Joanne Mariner | Justia.com | June 4, 2012

Imagine spending a month alone in a windowless cell the size of a small bathroom.  Now multiply that by 100, and you can begin to understand the average period of solitary confinement endured by prisoners held in the Security House Unit at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.

The SHU, as the unit is called, houses more than 1,000 men, most of them remaining in solitary confinement for years, even decades.

According to official prison statistics, more than 500 prisoners at the SHU (or about half the total population) have been held there for more than 10 years. What is more, 78 prisoners have been held at the SHU for more than 20 years.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit public interest law firm, filed a class action complaint in federal court last week on behalf of ten named plaintiffs who are incarcerated in the SHU, calling the SHU’s solitary confinement regime “inhumane and debilitating.”  The plaintiffs, who had originally filed the case without legal assistance, have each been held in solitary confinement for between 11 and 22 years.

These numbers are stunning no matter how one looks at them. A recent European human rights court case condemned Russia for holding a prisoner in solitary confinement for three years, which, compared to the length of prisoners’ stays in the SHU, is a short stint. In the aggregate, prisoners held at the SHU spend thousands of years in their cells alone. It is a large-scale experiment in sensory deprivation and social isolation.

Communication as a Disciplinary Offense

The complaint paints a stark picture of daily life in the SHU.  Prisoners in the SHU “normally spend between 22 and one-half and 24 hours a day in their cells. They are typically allowed to leave their cells only for ‘exercise’ and to shower.”

The cells are made entirely of concrete and measure approximately 80 square feet.  They contain a concrete bed, a sink, and a toilet, as well as a concrete desk and stool.  Prisoners’ personal belongings are extremely limited.  The cell doors are made up of solid steel, not bars, and have small round perforations that allow a partial view into the hallway.

The only means prisoners have to communicate is to yell or speak loudly to their neighbors, which may be deemed to be a disciplinary offense.

“Exercise,” according to the complaint (which puts the word in quotes), takes place in “a barren, solid concrete exercise pen, known as the ‘dog run.’” Until last year, the exercise pen was empty.  Following an organized hunger strike by prisoners, the authorities added a handball to the pen.

Phone calls are not allowed, except in exceptional circumstances like a death in the family, and even then permission to make a call is granted at the prison authorities’ discretion.  The complaint describes how one of the plaintiffs, Gabriel Reyes, “was denied a telephone call home after his stepfather died, because he had been allowed a telephone call several months earlier when his biological father died.”

Family members are limited to non-contact visits, behind plexiglass, with communication taking place over a telephone handset.  The prison gets few visitors, as it is located far from most prisoners’ home cities, near the state’s northern border with Oregon, and visiting hours are extremely limited. As the complaint explains, many prisoners have “been without face-to-face contact with people other than prison staff for decades.”

Prisoners have no access to recreational or vocational programming.  Psychological counseling is minimal, despite the obvious mental health risks at issue. When one plaintiff requested mental health care, the complaint asserts, “he was referred to a ‘self-help’ library book.”

While most prisoners are held in solitary confinement, a few are double-celled.  The complaint suggests that the only thing nearly as bad as solitary confinement is being locked in close quarters with one other person, with no possibility of leaving the room. “[D]ouble-celling,” the complaint says, “requires two strangers to live around-the-clock in intolerably cramped conditions, in a cell barely large enough for a single human being to stand or sit.”

Indefinite Confinement

No judge ever sentences a prisoner to serve time at the Pelican Bay SHU.  Instead, it is the state prison bureaucracy that puts people there and keeps them there.  California has a serious problem of gang violence, both in the prisons and beyond, and segregation in the SHU, where prisoners’ ability to act and communicate is extremely limited, is viewed as an effective control mechanism.

Prisoners end up at the SHU via a process called prison gang validation, which often relies on information provided by confidential informants. Prisoners who are believed to be associated with a gang—even without any indication of gang activity, or even actual gang membership—are “validated” as gang affiliates.  They then can be placed in the SHU for an indefinite term.

The only real way to exit the SHU, short of being released from prison after serving one’s sentence(s), is to “debrief” to the prison authorities, i.e., to formally renounce any association with a gang and to report on other prisoners’ gang activity.  This is an obviously dangerous option, and many prisoners refuse to try it.

After six years in the SHU, there is supposed to be another way out, but the complaint alleges that it does not operate as it should.  Prisoners receive a six-year review to evaluate whether they are “active” with a gang or have gained “inactive” status.  But, the complaint states, the review lacks seriousness, with the prison authorities pointing to reading material, artwork, and minor disciplinary offenses such as talking to other prisoners as grounds for denying inactive status.

The empty promise of the six-year review is especially damaging for prisoners who are eligible for parole.  One such prisoner is George Ruiz, is a 69-year-old Latino man who has spent the last 28 years of his life in solitary confinement, 22 of those years at the SHU. Ruiz has been eligible for parole since 1993, but the parole board has reportedly told him that he will never obtain parole as long as he is held at the SHU.

A recent UN report, issued by the UN special rapporteur on torture, criticized this sort of indeterminate segregation.  It explained that “[t]he feeling of uncertainty when not informed of the length of solitary confinement exacerbates the pain and suffering of the individuals who are subjected to it.”  “Indefinite solitary confinement,” the report concluded, “should be abolished.”

The Outer Bounds of Psychological Tolerance

Conditions at the Pelican Bay SHU have been challenged in court before.  In the early 1990s, a few years after the prison opened, a class action suit was brought on behalf of prisoners there. The resulting court decision found SHU conditions to be unconstitutional for mentally ill prisoners and prisoners who were at high risk of mental illness.

Although the court emphasized that the harsh conditions at the SHU “may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate,” it did not find them to constitute cruel and unusual punishment for all prisoners held there. The court emphasized, however, that its ruling covered people who had been held at the SHU for a few years—mostly three years or less—and that it could “not even begin to speculate on the impact on inmates confined in the SHU for periods of 10 to 20 years or more.”

The present case poses exactly the situation that the previous court did not reach.  It catalogues a range of psychological harms stemming from confinement at the SHU, including depression, nervousness, headaches, insomnia, nightmares, fears of an impending nervous breakdown, hallucinations, and multiple suicide attempts.

“I feel dead,” said Luis Esquivel, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, to his lawyers. “It’s been thirteen years since I have shaken someone’s hand and I fear I’ll forget the feel of human contact.”

~

Joanne Mariner, a Justia columnist, is the director of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program. She is an expert on human rights, counterterrorism, and international humanitarian law. She is the author of the Human Rights Watch report, No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons.

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pakistani Lawyer Representing Victims of Drone Strikes Prevented From Speaking in U.S.

Center for Constitutional Rights | April 9, 2012

Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar has been invited to speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, but the U.S. government is failing to grant him a visa.

The Summit is organized by the peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Akbar, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, is important to the Summit because of his work providing legal aid to victims of CIA-operated drone strikes. Akbar filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on victims’ behalf.

While Akbar has traveled to the United States in the past, he has not been granted permission to return since becoming an outspoken critic of drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians. He was previously invited to speak about drone strikes at Columbia University in New York, but he never received a response to the visa application he filed in May 2011. One year later, he is still waiting for a response, and he has been unable to get an answer from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as to why his application is being held up.

“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the U.S. government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world,” Akbar said. “The CIA, which operates the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have the right to know.”

The CIA’s secret drone program has killed hundreds of people in Pakistan with no due process and no accountability. Akbar represents families whose innocent loved ones have been killed and maimed in these drone attacks.

“Shahzad is the voice for these poor tribal people who have had no recourse,” said CODEPINK co-director Medea Benjamin. “It’s outrageous that our government is trying to keep him from speaking at the Drone Summit.”

“The Obama administration has already launched six times as many drone strikes as the Bush administration in Pakistan alone, killing hundreds of innocent people and devastating families,” said Leili Kashani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “By refusing to grant Shahzad Akbar a visa to speak about this abhorrent reality in the United States, the Obama administration is further silencing discussion about the impact of its targeted killing program on people in Pakistan and around the world.”

The Drone Summit’s organizers vow to keep pressuring the U.S. government to grant Akbar a visa.

April 10, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Judge throws out Israel-backed lawsuit against Olympia Food Co-op, upholds right to boycott

By Ali Abunimah – The Electronic Intifada – 02/27/201

Supporters of the Olympia Food Co-op before a court hearing on Monday, 27 February. (TESCDivest)

In a major setback for Israeli efforts to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States, a judge in Olympia, Washington today dismissed a lawsuit designed to force the Olympia Food Co-op to rescind its boycott of Israeli goods.

The judge ruled that the lawsuit, brought by opponents of the boycott, violated a Washington State law designed to prevent abusive lawsuits aimed at suppressing lawful public participation. The court said it would award the defendants attorneys’ fees, costs, and levy sanctions against the plaintiffs.

While the lawsuit was brought by several individuals against present and former members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board, it was planned in collusion with StandWithUs, a national anti-Palestinian organization, working with the Israeli government, an Electronic Intifada investigation revealed last September.

“SLAPP” lawsuit designed to chill free speech

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), whose lawyers acted for the Olympia Food Co-op argued that the lawsuit was an example of “SLAPP” – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. In a statement this afternoon, CCR explained:

SLAPPs are lawsuits that target the constitutional rights of free speech and petition in connection with an issue of public concern  Although many cases that qualify as SLAPPs are without legal merit, they can nonetheless effectively achieve their primary purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending against a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and can divert attention away from the public issue and intimidate and silence other speakers. Washington State’s Anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 2010 to deter such lawsuits.

Today, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee told a packed courtroom he agreed with that analysis and dismissed the lawsuit, ordering the StandWithUs-backed plaintiffs to pay court costs and legal fees.

The judge also also upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s anti-SLAPP law, which the plaintiffs had challenged, CCR noted. Each of the defendants in the case could be entitled to receive up to $10,000 from the plaintiffs in addition to legal fees.

“We are pleased the Court found this case to be what it is – an attempt to chill free speech on a matter of public concern.  This sends a message to those trying to silence support of Palestinian human rights to think twice before they bring a lawsuit,” CCR quoted Maria LaHood, a senior staff attorney as saying.

BDS is a national movement, judge finds

In attempting to overturn the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods, the plaintiffs had argued that the Co-op could only observe “nationally-recognized” boycotts, and that BDS did not fit that description.

According to live tweets of the judge’s statement by Anna-Marie Murano, on behalf of the Palestine Freedom Project the judge found that BDS was “nationally recognized.”

CCR Statement in full

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 2 Comments