30 July 2008

Please respond to this appeal from our friends in Pakistan

FAISAL, who blogs at United4Justice, sent this to AOC's email comments:

A Pakistani Dr. Afia Siddiqi who was kidnapped(with her little children) by Pakistani and USA agencies in 2003 is in Bagram Jail in Afghanistan.

According to media reports she has faced severe torture and due to constant rape by allied force members she has lost her mind.

Please support the appeal for Dr. Afia :


Here is a full reprint of additional material from The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) by way of FAISAL:

Where is Dr Afia Siddiqui? AHRC

Dr. Afia Siddiqui [Photo] left her mother’s house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province, along with her three children, in a Metro-cab on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, Punjab province, but never reached the airport. The press reports claimed that Dr. Afia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of three sons the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month.

A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. The mother of the victim, Mrs. Ismat (who has since passed away) termed the NBC report absurd. She went on to say that Dr. Afia is a neurological scientist and has been living with her husband, Amjad, in the USA for several years.

On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of the then Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. When questioned with regard to Dr. Afia’s arrest he denied that she had been arrested. This was followed by another Urdu daily article on April 2 regarding another press conference in which the same minister said Dr. Afia was connected to Al Qaeda and that she had not been arrested as she was absconding. He added: “You will be astonished to know about the activities of Dr. Afia” A Monthly English magazine of Karachi in a special coverage on Dr. Afia reported that one week after her disappearance, a plain clothed intelligence went to her mother’s house and warned her, “We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of your daughter’s disappearance.” According to the report the mother was threatened her with ‘dire consequences’ if she made a fuss.

Whilst Dr. Afia’s whereabouts remain unknown, there are reports of a woman called ‘Prisoner 650′ is being detained in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison and that she has been tortured to the point where she has lost her mind. Britain’s Lord Nazeer Ahmed, (of the House of Lords), asked questions in the House about the condition of Prisoner 650 who, according to him is physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at prison. Lord Nazeer has also submitted that Prisoner 650 has no separate toilet facilities and has to attend to her bathing and movements in full view of the other prisoners.

Also, on July 6, 2008 a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, for over four years. “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her,” Ms Ridley said at a press conference.

Ms Ridley, who went to Pakistan to appeal for help, said the case came to her attention when she read the book, The Enemy Combatant, by a former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg. After being seized in February 2002 in Islamabad, Mr Begg was held in detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram for about a year before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He recounted his experiences in the book after his release in 2005. Mr. Imran Khan, leader of Justice Party (T.I) suspects that prisoner 650 is the Dr. Afia Siddiqui and USA and Pakistani authorities are hiding facts of ‘Prisoner 650′.

To date, neither the American nor the Pakistani government have come out about the arrest and detention of Dr. Afia in either Bagram or Guantanamo Bay where suspected terrorists are held. On December 30, 2003 Dr. Fawzia Siddiqui, Dr. Afia elder sister met with Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat at Islamabad with Mr Ejazul Haq, MNA, regarding the whereabouts of Dr. Afiai. Mr Faisal told Dr. Fawzia and Mr Ejazul Haq that according to his information Dr. Afia Siddiqui had already been released and that she (Dr. Fawzia) should go home and wait for a phone call from her sister.


Dr. Afia Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.

Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Afia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. On learning of the FBI campaign against her she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping. The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International was exclusively devoted to Al Qaeda. The core of the issue was an article “Al Qaeda’s Network in America”. The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members - Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr. Siddiqui and had long since returned to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge leveled against Dr. Afia is that “she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity.

28 July 2008

John McCain, Torture Enabler

In an interview for the upcoming issue of Newsweek, John McCain had this exchange about the role of the CIA in the interrogation of prisoners:

On torture, why should the CIA be treated differently from the armed services regarding the use of harsh interrogation tactics?
Because they play a special role in the United States of America and our ability to combat terrorists. But we have made it very clear that there is nothing they can do that would violate the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits torture. We could never torture anyone, but some people misconstrue that who don't understand what the Detainee Treatment Act and the Geneva Conventions are all about.

The number of lies in this statement, and the personal role that John McCain has played in promulgating these lies, is staggering. As a victim of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese when he was a prisoner of war, McCain should be in a unique position in the Senate to lead the charge to abolish torture of prisoners from Iraq and Afghanistan, yet, time after time, he has yielded instead to political expediency and has allowed himself to be used as a pawn by the Bush Administration in an attempt to cover up the war crimes that have been committed and that continue to this very day.

There were attempts to abolish torture in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, but this fell short and the issue was taken up again with the Military Commissions Act of 2006. As with the previous bill, McCain played the role of the righteous fighter against torture, but in this case wound up brokering a “compromise” that handed Bush everything he wanted. As described by the New York Times, the compromise “would make illegal several broadly defined abuses of detainees, while leaving it to the president to establish specific permissible interrogation techniques.”

Anyone who believes that this President would hold anything back when given the power to determine what comprises torture is living in a fantasyland. For proof, here (see 06-F-01532 doc 07 from the April 13, 2007 entry, page 6) is a portion of a briefing of the Pentagon’s “military analysts” regarding treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo:

In GTMO, that ego down translated down to telling the detainee that his mother and sister were whores, he was forced to wear women's lingerie, multiple allegations of his homosexuality, he was forced to dance with a male interrogator, he was strip searched for control measures, and he was forced to perform dog tricks on a leash.

Now, the basic line there - you say that sounds, you know, like I did - that sounds like degrading. Well, we said yes, it could be. The basic line though in the charter for those interrogations was humane treatment. And humane treatment is spelled out by the President. It's a safe, secure environment that provides medical care, food, water, and the basics of that person's security. Not this. Was this person injured, harmed?

Note that this briefing outlining horrendous treatment clearly constituting torture takes place well after enactment of the Military Commissions Act and goes on to state that this treatment is not torture because the President has said that these prisoners have a “safe, secure environment”, so they are not being tortured. McCain had to know that this is how Bush would interpret the freedom given him by the “compromise” in the MCA and so he had to know that he was the central figure in enabling the ongoing torture at Guantanamo and other detention facilities around the world.

As for the specific role of the CIA in interrogation techniques, McCain played a large role in that, as well. On February 13 of this year, McCain interrupted his campaign for President to come back to the Senate to vote against HR 2082, the Intelligence Authorization Act. The specific provision of this act which McCain wanted to vote against was its extension of the Army Field Manual interrogation techniques to the CIA as the only allowable techniques to be employed. This provision would remove the bulk of the “enhanced techniques” employed by the CIA which are responsible for much of the torture carried out by US personnel. Despite McCain’s “No” vote on this bill, it passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 45, only to be vetoed by Bush on March 8, based in part on McCain’s call for a veto. The override attempt failed in the House before getting to the Senate.

So now we have McCain’s hands directly on the specific exemption of the CIA from the Army Field Manual interrogation techniques behind his brazen statement in Newsweek that the CIA should be allowed to torture because of its “special role” when it is time to “combat terrorists”. His addition of a disclaimer that we don’t torture simply rings hollow based on the evidence of how prisoners have been treated both before and after the passage of both the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act. McCain’s personal role in enabling further torture by US personnel is inexplicable given his personal history as a victim of torture.

Finally, one more aspect of the “special role” of the CIA is being made clear as the military tribunals for prisoners at Guantanamo are beginning. According to the Los Angeles Times, in a story on July 27:

The name of the Central Intelligence Agency cannot be spoken in the war crimes trial here.

No records of the agency's interrogations of Salim Ahmed Hamdan can be subpoenaed, and no agent can be called to testify about what he or she learned from Osama bin Laden's former driver.

When defense attorney Harry H. Schneider Jr. attempted to demonstrate how many interrogations Hamdan had undergone in the months after his November 2001 arrest -- at least 40 -- he couldn't list the CIA along with more than a dozen other agencies including the Secret Service and what was then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The prohibition against naming the CIA came in a "protective order" issued by the court at the government's request. The tribunal's deputy chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bruce A. Pagel, couldn't say which agency sought the shield or what arguments were made to justify it.

"It's a bit absurd to go through an entire trial pretending that the CIA doesn't exist," said Matt Pollard, a legal advisor for Amnesty International here to monitor the proceedings.

"The CIA plays a role with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay that has never been fully acknowledged, and the bottom line is that national security should never be claimed against any evidence of torture or human-rights violations."

So now the charade becomes a bit clearer. Legislative efforts to present a false picture that the US does not torture specifically exempt the CIA from torture prohibitions and vest in the President the sole authority to determine what comprises torture. Not surprisingly, the President then allows a wide range of torture techniques and the government takes action to prevent any evidence of the involvement of CIA personnel in interrogations. Sitting smack in the middle of this enabling of war crimes is the one man with the personal history to understand it in its fullest, John McCain.

I truly wonder how he can sleep at night.

22 July 2008

Our Potential Leaders Visiting the Middle East

Now that Barack Obama has visited the Middle East in his role as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, how can we assess his progress toward looking like a leader, especially when compared to the "more experienced" John McCain. Here's a photo AP just put out of a press conference where Obama is flanked by his traveling companions Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed:

That looks pretty leader-like to me. Last March, John McCain went to the same area with Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The Washington Post showed us how well that one went:

There really is nothing more to add.

21 July 2008

There Is No Political Center

One of the biggest treats to me at Netroots Nation was a session late Thursday afternoon in which Democracy for America hosted Professor George Lakoff in their small hospitality suite for a live audio webcast of a session of their Night School. They also videotaped the presentation and it is likely a link to the video will be posted here. The topic for the session was Lakoff’s latest book, The Political Mind. In this photo, Professor Lakoff and Matt Blizek, Training Director for Democracy for America , are speaking into the speaker phone while Jim Dean, Chair of DFA, is a blur of activity in the background.

As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff gets our attention immediately by informing us that an estimated 98% of our thought is not conscious. That leads us to the shocking conclusion that our brains constantly make decisions of which we have no awareness. Working from this premise, Lakoff contrasts the “18th Century brain” of the Enlightenment, which is purely based on conscious reason applied to known, verifiable facts with the “21st Century brain” where most thought is not conscious. He then warns us of the dangers of using the older model to address the politics of today.

Because of the prevalence of unconscious thought, Lakoff informs us that when it comes to politics, we think in terms of frames based on moral values. Further, he sees two main modes of political thought, progressive and conservative.

His description of progressive thought is found on page 47 of the book:

Behind every progressive policy lies a single moral value: empathy, together with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. Never forget “responsibility and strength,” because there is no true empathy without them.

That is contrasted with the description of conservative thought on page 60:

It begins with the notion that morality is obedience to an authority—assumed to be a legitimate authority who is inherently good, knows right from wrong, functions to protect us from evil in the world, and has both the right and duty to use force to command obedience and fight evil…Obedience to legitimate authority requires both personal responsibility and discipline, which are prime conservative values.

To me, the key concept that Lakoff is presenting is that there is no linear scale from progressive to conservative (or left to right). Instead, on any particular issue, individuals will have a progressive or a conservative view. Further, individuals may be bi-conceptual. That is, it is possible to adhere to the progressive worldview on one issue and the conservative worldview on another.

To illustrate the concept that there is not a linear scale, Lakoff holds up the brilliant example of Senators Joe Lieberman and Chuck Hagel. The popular press incessantly describes both as “centrists”, yet they share virtually no views. On social issues, Lieberman is consistently progressive and Hagel is solidly conservative. On the war, Lieberman is conservative and Hagel is progressive. They share views on nothing, yet both are branded as centrists. How can there be such a thing as a centrist, or a center, if these two agree on nothing?

This brings us to Lakoff’s prescient admonition about the dangers of progressive politicians “moving to the middle”. Note that this book was released in June, so the final version went to press before Barack Obama became the presumptive nominee and started his move to the middle. Lakoff’s warning against this move, I believe, captures entirely the anguish and frustration of progressives who fought hard to make Obama the nominee, only to see him abandon them. From page 59:

Accepting the left-to-right scale leads to the logic—and the claim—that to get more votes you have to move to the right. This actually has three counterproductive effects for progressives:

1. Giving up on policies that fit the progressive moral worldview and hence alienating your base;

2. Accepting policies that fit the conservative moral worldview, thus activating the conservative worldview in voters, which helps the other side; and

3. Not maintaining a consistent moral worldview at all, which makes it look as though you have no values.

I would add that I think it is this third observation, of appearing to have no values, that has led to the widespread complaint in progressive circles that Obama has become “just another politician”, in that politicians are commonly seen as not having values. The “change” that many progressives thought they saw in Obama during the primary battle was his apparent adherence to progressive worldviews without the unprincipled, calculating moves of the politician who readily abandons ideals.

It is truly a shame that Senator Obama did not read an advance copy of this book and follow its very valuable advice.

19 July 2008

Showing It To The Speaker

Madam Speaker,

Did you see me? I think you did. When you took the stage at Netroots Nation 2008 this morning, I was the DFH who held my pocket copy of the Constitution high for you to see. I held it there the entire time you were speaking. I thought that perhaps you needed a reminder of the oath you swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

For the past seven and a half years, our Constitution has been under fierce attack from domestic enemies. Just this month, the Fourth Amendment was eviscerated. Our founders blessed us with a system of government based on checks and balances with three co-equal branches of government. Today, we have a unitary executive and the Congress and the Courts are reduced to mere spectators as our country careens away from consent of the governed. In fact, the press reported that Congress “bowed” to President Bush when it passed the FISA Amendment Act.

The list of offenses is too long to repeat here, and I am sure that your office receives hundreds of communications daily reminding you of just how this government has gone wrong. What I want you to know from my protest is that I am especially appalled at the bipartisan effort to prevent holding anyone in the Bush Administration accountable for the many criminal offenses they have committed.

Those efforts started with you. Despite an overwhelming mandate to punish the Bush Administration for its crimes as evidenced in the 2006 Congressional elections, you, instead, chose to take impeachment off the table.

Now that we have additional, iron-clad evidence of systematic torture of prisoners, which the International Committee of the Red Cross termed “categorically torture”, there is now an even louder drumbeat from apologists to prevent accountability.

Even here, at Netroots Nation 2008, the apologists are out in force. Yesterday, Cass Sunstein, legal advisor to Senator Obama, after a long exposition of the legal morass facing the next President, told us that prosecutions create a cycle of criminalizing political behavior.

However, there is a huge difference between prosecutions undertaken because of a political agenda and prosecutions undertaken to uphold the rule of law. Also appearing yesterday was Governor Don Siegelman. During the question and answer session after his discussion with Sam Seder, I asked the Governor whether he felt, as a victim of a politically based prosecution, that the citizens of the United States could distinguish that from prosecutions to uphold the rule of law. He affirmed, very quickly and vehemently, that our citizens can indeed tell the difference.

Another interesting case is Congressman Bob Barr. Just yesterday, he joined the bipartisan effort known as Accountability Now (and Strange Bedfellows) to call for accountability for the crimes that have been committed in our name. Now we have a veteran of pursuing politically based prosecution of President Clinton calling for bipartisan enforcement of the Constitution. It should be noted that his position on upholding privacy rights is not a new position for his Presidential campaign, but comes from the traditional conservative position of respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.

As Speaker of the House, you have been the one person in the world best positioned to bring this lawlessness to an end. Multiple articles of impeachment have been introduced, and you have sent them to committee to die. Acting almost entirely on your own, it would be possible, even now, for you to see that these charges receive appropriate hearings and then proceed to a vote. Your failure to act in this way makes you an accomplice in these crimes against humanity. Check out the international law terms jus cogens and obligatio erga omnes. The heinous nature of these crimes, your awareness of them and your failure to take action make you equally guilty.

Recently, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court filed charges against Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan. Because you will not force Congress to hold this administration accountable, when Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo files his charges against US officials, I suspect the first three charged will be George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney and Nancy P.D. Pelosi.

13 July 2008

The Face of Evil; Updated With the Face of Justice

Do you know who this man is?

He is Stuart Taylor, Jr. and he is yet another hack for Brookings Institution. He also writes for Newsweek Magazine and his latest excrement at Newsweek is among the lowest things I have ever seen in print. Just read the first two paragraphs yourself:

Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level "war crimes," including the Bush administration's approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.

It's a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers. (It would be unseemly for Bush to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney or himself, but the next president wouldn't allow them to be prosecuted anyway—galling as that may be to critics.) The reason for pardons is simple: what this country needs most is a full and true accounting of what took place. The incoming president should convene a truth commission, with subpoena power, to explore every possible misdeed and derive lessons from it. But this should not be a criminal investigation, which would only force officials to hire lawyers and batten down the hatches.

Oh such high and mighty pronouncements on what is "seemly", and all this from a person who was there front and center when the pummeling of Bill Clinton over his sex life began. Here's Howard Kurtz on Taylor in the Washington Post in March, 1998:
Friends worry that Taylor, by so constantly and unambiguously assailing Clinton as a liar, may be tarnishing his hard-won reputation as a dispassionate legal analyst. The "NewsHour," concerned about the appearance of bias, has stopped using him to talk about Clinton and Lewinsky.

Says Taylor: "There's hardly anyone in the city of Washington who believes him. I don't see much point in pretending the evidence is in equipoise when it isn't."

Or how about Frank Rich, in April, 1998 on Taylor:

Then there's Stuart Taylor Jr., the writer whose 15,000-word article in 1996 declaring Ms. Jones's evidence ''highly persuasive'' -- and describing her as ''a curvaceous, big-haired, outgoing, eye-catching woman'' -- somehow persuaded the mainstream press to find latent legal merit in a case it had originally dismissed as summarily as Judge Wright later would. Second only to Ms. Carpenter-McMillan and William Ginsburg in forging a TV career out of Sexgate, Mr. Taylor has written a new essay titled ''Why Clinton Will Miss Paula Jones'' -- but who's really going to be missing her now?
So there we have it, one of the chief occupants of the fainting couch over Bill Clinton's private life now tells us it would be unseemly to prosecute Bush, Cheney or any of their accomplices for torture, even though he admits, right up front, that these crimes have occurred.

Just yesterday, Glenn Greenwald presented the perfect counterarguments to the drivel Taylor just put out. First, Glenn takes on the assertion by Taylor that "Any prosecutions would also touch off years of partisan warfare." No sir, we can't have that partisan warfare,that is, if Republicans are the ones in the wrong, even if it encompasses crimes against humanity.
Nope, we can only argue for partisan warfare when a Democrat has done something wrong, even if it is only a sexual dalliance.

Here's Greenwald's response to such claims about prosecuting torture:

There are many political disputes -- probably most -- composed of two or more reasonable sides. Whether the U.S. Government has committed war crimes by torturing detainees -- conduct that is illegal under domestic law and international treaties which are binding law in this country -- isn't an example of a reasonable, two-sided political dispute. Nor is the issue of whether the U.S. Government and the telecom industry engaged in illegal acts for years by spying on Americans without warrants. Nor is the question of whether we should allow Government officials to break our laws at will by claiming that doing so is necessary to keep us Safe.

There just aren't two sides to those matters. That's what the International Red Cross means when it says that what we did to Guantanamo detainees was "categorically torture." It's what the only federal judges to adjudicate the question -- all three -- have concluded when they found that the President clearly broke our laws with no valid excuses by spying on our communications for years with no warrants. It's why the Bush administration has sought -- and repeatedly received -- immunity and amnesty for the people who have implemented these policies. It's because these actions are clearly illegal -- criminal -- and we all know that.

No, this isn't an opportunity for revenge for the punishment of Bill Clinton. Any person with any humanity will want acts that are "categorically torture" to be punished to the full extent of the law.

Finally, the main point of Greenwald's post yesterday was to point out that our country now has arrived at the point where the rule of law is gone and the rule of a few men has been substituted:
This is what a country becomes when it decides that it will not live under the rule of law, when it communicates to its political leaders that they are free to do whatever they want -- including breaking our laws -- and there will be no consequences. There are two choices and only two choices for every country -- live under the rule of law or live under the rule of men. We've collectively decided that our most powerful political leaders are not bound by our laws -- that when they break the law, there will be no consequences. We've thus become a country which lives under the proverbial "rule of men"...
If our country intends to return to the fold of civilization, it is imperative that those responsible for torture are held fully accountable for their crimes. That is the only way that the rest of the world would be able to believe us when, after the trials are completed and sentences delivered, our country stands up as one to say "Never Again!"

Taylor sees the evil that has been perpetrated by the Bush cabal, but he piles even greater evil upon it by calling for pardons. When he looks in the mirror in the morning, he is seeing the face of evil looking back at him.

Update, July 14:

Do you know who this man is?
He is Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Today, he filed charges of genocide against Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan. In an interview with CNN's Nic Robertson, this exchange was particularly enlightening:

Q. Sudan's representative, ambassador to the U.N. has already said on the strength of this -- that you are playing with fire by going after Sudan's president.

A. I have a responsibility to the security council -- the security council referred the case to me and requested me to investigate. After 3 years I have strong evidence that al Bashir is committing a genocide -- I cannot be blackmailed -- I cannot yield. Silence never helped the victims. Silence helped the perpetrators. The prosecutor should not be silent.

What a contrast! Ocampo-Moreno understands that silence in the face of crimes against humanity only further enables the perpetrators. Taylor, on the other hand, not only wants silence, but also wants overt acts to pardon the perpetrators. My only hope for the future, is that when George Bush or Dick Cheney looks in the mirror, they will be looking to see if the face of justice is gaining on them.

08 July 2008

The Past Through the Looking Glass, Darkly

Today, attention for stopping the FISA Amendment, H.R.6304, is turning towards the Bingamen amendment, which would delay the retroactive immunity that Title II of the bill grants to the telecoms until the review, in Title III, is conducted and Congress has 90 days to review it. The amendment is seen as the last best hope of passing something to prevent the immunization of the companies involved, dismissing the lawsuits, and finding out how the program worked. The review, for its part, identifies several government agencies, and asks for all communications with and participation of individuals and entities in the private sector.

Tellingly, it begins review at September 11, 2001, and ends it at January 17, 2007. Since we have benchmarks for when the intelligence agencies began breaking the law elsewhere in the handiwork of the Congress, perhaps the final date should be moved to the present. A year and a half is a long time in the computer and surveillance industries. And since it's good enough for the intelligence agencies with respect to other lawbreaking (war crimes, for instance), perhaps that earlier date should be moved to November 26, 1997.

And then, since the list of participants is incomplete, we should add in those that are conspicuously missing from the list of public and private sector entities: Companies and governments outside the United States. I'd like to add Singapore, for instance. Singapore implemented the John Poindexter's TIA program when the Congress here shut it down. That means the program got a beta test offshore, and you can take it to the bank that a group already operating illegally isn't going to ask for permission to bring it online once it works. And we really ought to know what foreign R&D labs of American companies have been cooking up in the way of products that our government can access off-the-shelf. So we should add those R&D labs, if any of their product was ever used by the U.S. government, even if they developed the product for other governments, like China, Pakistan, or other places where the government makes deals to listen to, or restrict, communications.

Sadly, though, any investigation, no matter how detailed, is just looking through the glass darkly, and every revelation of lawbreaking will simply be a way of telling the American citizen what is presently being done legally. The new bill gives such sweeping power to eavesdrop that it is hard to know where to start. I put up a note to this effect on FireDogLake yesterday, I will embellish it here:

As I and others have warned many times before, it is very necessary to look at this bill as stating what queries and artificial intelligence, what data mining, they will be allowed to do on a database of enormous proportions containing the information on the internet, including the traffic of communications (emails, text messaging, etc.). Any interpretation that brings to mind a guy up on your telephone pole splicing wires and some guys in a dark van with lots of glowing LEDs outside your house is simply the wrong picture entirely. The machine that Mark Klein saw being installed in San Francisco takes a snapshot of the web as it is being transmitted at any instant, and reconstructs it to web pages, images, videos, emails, text messages, VoiP, not to mention phone calls and the rest, directly from the optical signals in the fiber optic trunk lines where it is installed.

There are very thoughtful opinions available online that such information quantities are not useful because of things like false positives. In actuality, there are many ways around the problems with false positives if you have the capital in equipment, people to monitor output, and money to spend on research and development. And false positives don't wreck the intelligence so much as make it hard to find. Hard to find intelligence results in spying on more people than you have to, not in abandoning the program. It also results in more and more intense spying on the target, the same way that failure to get usable information out of prisoners results in harsher and harsher torture.

Another thing. I think you could call it toponoesis, since I can't find a term for it, the gut perception that one is in a space. It pervades all of our talk about the internet. The feeling is palpable that one is looking out into a vast virtual place where websites live and spiders and bots roam, where people get together in groups, and movies and various -casts get shown. The intelligence people see it much the same way, in fact, it may not be possible for people to see it as what it really is, a large number of one-to-one and one-to-many communications, with requests made by your browser and fulfilled by a server on the other end of a routed, packetized communication stream.

So there is no way to sit quietly at some vantage point and look with binoculars for some bad guy out there, because there isn't really an out there, and there are no vantage points. What seems like a vantage point, if that vantage point is somewhere in our toponoetic world that can see everything, is actually an enormous vacuum cleaner sucking down a copy of every piece of communications going through it. Think of the guy in the Matrix that points to the vertical strings of numbers and characters and says, "I don't even see the numbers anymore, I see a person here, and agent there..."

Got it? The vacuum cleaner and the database and all that? Because it's important not to let people frame what's going on as just listening in when al Qaeda makes a phone call.

The bill allows surveillance of targets for whom the names and addresses are still not known. Under the circumstances, the requirements in the minimization rules that they delete such information are meaningless.

Consider the following information: Each of 7 people are members of a database and each is a member of one of 7 groups. No two members are members of more than one group, all members are members of at least one group as any other. Under these circumstances, regardless of whether you destroy the personal information of any member, you can always use group memberships to target a single individual. Group memberships in this kind of set up are who you call on the phone, or even which vocabulary words you use most frequently, not to mention nationality or political affiliation.

This is the simplest possible example of what is called an admissible set for an inverse finite Radon transform, sometimes in more general situations called a Galois connection, in very constrained form like in this particular example it is also called a BIBD (balanced incomplete block design), sometimes it is called a finite projective geometry. With all those names, its a good bet that the phenomenon in the previous paragraph is well studied. It needn't be 7 and 7 and 2, it can be a lot of combinations, it can contain more categories than it needs, it can contain more overlaps than 2.

What it means is that if a database exists that contains enough categorical (who is in what group) information, it can always target individuals even though the identification information has been deleted. If part of the identification information is where the individual is (and it is), then one can claim that there was a reasonable expectation that the person is outside the United States with as just as much surety and impunity as one can testify under oath before a Senate committee that one “does not remember” even though it is obvious to everyone watching that one does.

I hope this helps clarify whether, after the passage of this bill, there is anybody they cannot legally target temporarily (for 7 to 60 days depending on court interations after the targeting has started). Once they narrow to a specific individual, this bill, together with those passed before (Patriot Act, FISA upgrades), allows them to claim what this bill says needs to be claimed to get a warrant, and continue the surveillance.

Any bill that does not include rolling back information as a requisite for minimization, and allows targeting without personal information, as this one does, allows spying on you. You. Not just some guy in a turban with a rocket launcher, You. Period and end of story. Go to the White House complaint list for the Leahy bill (SJC version from last Fall) and read what the Bush people hated in that bill, if you don’t believe me.

Oh, and there is that extra kicker I've been trying to warn about, too. Part of the quest for power of this administration is built on developing a class of people who have no rights, and then making that class as large as possible. The designation whenever the class needs to be justified to the public is terrorist. The designation whenever the offender is a country, is proliferator or creator of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Barbara Olshansky's book, Democracy Detained, contains an excellent account of how the class of no rights is intimately involved with mixing up criminal/police work with military/intelligence work until the distinctions between the laws of war and the laws of civil society have been so blurred as to render both meaningless and create the place with no law. Conflating of weapons definitions, emergency medical definitions, civil rights laws, and international human rights laws does the person thing: It creates the person so evil that they belong in the place in which there is no law, and the situation so dangerous that they need to be put there so good people will be allowed to do evil to stop them.

Section 110 of this bill makes everyone that transgresses in any way in the "Global War on Terror" into a trafficker in Weapons of Mass Destruction. If they are persons, they become agents, if they are nations they become proliferators. The IED and any similar weapon becomes a WMD -- a mushroom cloud, to use Condi Rice's characterization. By blurring the lines between a homemade improvised bomb and what the Geneva Conventions commentary refers to as "weapons of annihilation", everyone in the class of people with no rights becomes as evil as if they had detonated a nuclear weapon. Thereby cementing in the public consciousness why they have absolutely no rights and can be tortured. Every country accused of trafficking to such people in weapons or parts, has then been accused of a major act that can, and has been, used as a casus belli for pre-emptive war.

This bill ought to be called the Democratic Version of the Patriot Act. Just like the Republican version, it seeks to remove from living memory whatever it was that patriots once stood for.

07 July 2008

My Fax to Barack Obama

July 7, 2008

Senator Barack Obama
713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Via Fax (202) 228-4260

CC: Senator Bill Nelson Fax (202 ) 228-2183

Dear Senator Obama,

In 1755, a brave founder of our country said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

In 1776, another founder wrote “…that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”

On January 28, 2008 another patriot said :

Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.

The FISA court works. The separation of power works…..

No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people – not the President of the United States and not the telecommunication companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program.

Tomorrow the Senate will take up H.R. 6304. Will you stand with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and the Barack Obama of last January? It will not be enough merely to vote for the Dodd-Feingold amendment to strip retroactive immunity from the bill and then to vote in favor of the bill if immunity fails. There are many flaws in this bill and they all err on the side of sacrificing liberty for safety. The Barack Obama of January would not make that sacrifice.

The citizens of the United States also would not make that sacrifice. In a poll released July 3, Rasmussen Reports, an organization with a distinctly Republican flavor, reports that Americans overwhelmingly support the Constitution. Especially telling from the poll is that when faced with the question of which is the bigger danger to the country, a government that is too powerful or one that is too weak, a resounding 59% of the voting public believe that the bigger danger lies in a government that is too powerful.

You sir, stand poised at a unique tipping point in the history of our country and your actions this week will say much about our joint futures. I urge you to stand with those brave patriots who founded our country on its love for liberty. To take this stand is not to appease the “loony left”. To take this stand is to join with our founders and a majority of voters today to endorse liberty as the only true course to security. Should you choose instead to “triangulate” to the middle on this issue, your action this week could well be seen by future historians as a missed, last, chance to prevent our Constitution being relegated to the dustbin as another failed experiment.


Jim White