Detention, Torture and Accountability

Activists prepare to blocade Department of Justice (1/11/11)
Credit: Sarah K. Hogarth

NDAA and the Threat of Indefinite Detention without Charge or Trial:
-- Take Action
-- FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act
-- FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act

Bradley Manning:
-- Manning, Whistleblowers and Legislation
-- DDF takes lead organizing Quantico protest (January 2011)
--Manning transferred from Quantico, conditions improve (April 2011)
-- UN Special Rapporteur on Torture: concerned about Manning's detention
(July 2011)
-- releases unredacted chat logs (July 2011)
-- Take Action -- visit the Bradley Manning Support Network

Holding Police Accountable:
-- Cops & Cameras: An Activist's Right (Responsibility) to Record Police Actions
-- Former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge convicted of lying about torture

Campaign to Close Guantanamo:
-- Protests, fasting and other actions mark beginning of 10th year of Gitmo
-- Activists outline concerns in letter to DOJ -- a great resource and overview of the issues!
-- Meeting with DOJ: report on the meeting and the many attempts to follow-up

Accountability for Torture :
-- Letter to President Obama calling for accountability and transperency


FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

February 21, 2013: DDF Testifies in Support of HB558
Sue Udry testified in Annapolis, MD today in support of the "Maryland Liberty Preservation Act," introduced by Republican Delegate Don Dwyer. The bill would prohibit Maryland law enforcement agents from aiding U.S. agents in detaining people under the NDAA.

DDF Testimony Maryland Liberty Preservation Act by DefendingDissent

Take Action on NDAA here
The House approved the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act on May 18, 2012 with a vote of 299-120.On their way to passing the massive $643 billion bill, a majority of House members made clear their absolute ignorance of the Constitution and disregard for the rule of law. In a truly pitiful spectacle, the House rejected an amendment that would have addressed the problems created by the detention provisions in the 2012 NDAA; instead they passed a bait and switch amendment which pretended to fix a problem that didn’t even exist, creating an even bigger problem.

Defending Dissent Foundation, and a broad coalition of human rights groups fought hard for the Smith-Amash amendment, which would have imposed an explicit statutory ban on any president or other government official from ordering the military to place anyone in the United States into indefinite detention without charge or trial, or from ordering anyone in the United States to be tried before a military commission. Although such actions would obviously be inconsistent with the Constitution and other laws, the explicit statutory ban is necessary due to the ambiguous language of the detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA. It was a bipartisan amendment that simply clarified the due process rights already enshrined in the Constitution. Read our coalition letter in support of the amendment here. The vote was 238-182 against the amendment. See how your Representative voted here.

Then, in a stunning display of ignorance, 243 members of the House voted for the Gohmert Amendment which claimed to “preserve” the right of Habeas Corpus, but in fact narrows the scope of habeas, placing confusing time limits on the right for U.S. citizens and guaranteeing the right only to people lawfully in the U.S. Furthuremore, the right to Habeas was never in question, even under the 2012 detention provisions.

Are they idiots, or do they think we are?

The NDAA now moves to the Senate, but action on the detention provisions is unlikely. Stay tuned.

FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

The National Defense Authorization Act is a massive, $662 billion spending bill for the defense department that codifies the indefinite military detention without trial of peope accused of supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces. Although it has long been the practice of both the Bush and Obama Administrations to assert their indefinite detention authority, this bill affirms the authority in statute. And, the bill usess such expansive and ambiguous language in describing who can be detained that it has been interpreted to apply to U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

Read Glenn Greenwald's extensive analysis of the bill here


Timeline :
December 31, 2011: President Obama signs the NDAA
December 15, 2011: Senate passes revised NDAA on Bill of Rights Day
Apparently 220 years of the Bill of Rights is long enough for 83 members of the Senate. In a crushing blow to basic rights, the NDAA passed the Senate in spite of a draconian provision to allow for the indefinite detention without trail of people accused of being connected to terrorism. The roll call vote is here.
December 14, 2011: House passes NDAA
The massive National Defense Authorization Act passed the House by a vote of 283-138. This bill contains $554 billion for the Pentagon base budget and another $115.5 billion for the wars, and includes dangerous provisions for the "indefinite detention" of terrorism suspects and includes restrictions on the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo -- even those who have been cleared for release. Roll call vote is here.
December 1, 2011: Senate passes NDAA
The Senate voted 93-7 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, in spite of the fact that the bill contains provisions allowing the president to order the military to pick up people and detain them indefinitely without charge or trial. That includes U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil.

Campaign to Close Gitmo

Protesters Block DOJ Entrances

January 11, 2011 marked the beginning of the 10th year of confinement, abuse and injustice for the men at Guantanamo. To mark the shameful anniversary, DDF joined Witness Against Torture, Center for Constitutional Rights and others at the White House for a press conference, followed by a “prisoner procession” to the Department of Justice for nonviolent direct action. Dozens of members of Witness Against Torture remained in Washington until January 22 to fast and hold daily vigils and demonstrations throughout Washington, haunting the sites of power with the specter of Guantanamo’s cruel injustice. January 22, 2009 is the day President Obama promised to close Guantanamo within a year, but two years later, 174 men are still imprisoned there.

Activist outline demands and concerns

In a letter to the Department of Justice, Witness Against Torture, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Center for Constitutional Rights, Defending Dissent Foundation, No More Guantanámos, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International, and Voices for Creative Non-Violence outline their concerns and demands regarding detention policy. Read the letter here

Activists Meet with Department of Justice

On June 15, 2010, DDF and activists from Witness Against Torture, Center for Constitutional Rights and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) pressed the Department of Justice on detention policy and accountability for torture at a meeting with Portia Roberson, Director of the Office of Public Relations. We were joined by two powerful voices whose personal experiences appeared to move Ms. Roberson: Orlando Tizon, and Syed Anwar Hashmi. Orlando spoke of his experience in the Philippines where he was unjustly imprisoned and tortured in 1982. He said torture still continues today in the Philippines because those who tortured him decades ago were never held accountable. Mr. Hashmi’s son Fahad spent 3 years in pre-trial solitary confinement in prison in New York where he was held under Special Administrative Orders (SAMs). Mr. Hashmi spoke of the nightmare conditions his son suffered and the unjustifiable brutality of SAMs.

The meeting was initially viewed as constructive and Ms. Roberson pledged to arrange additional meetings with DOJ staff responsible for policy decisions. See Jeremy Varon's report about the meeting here, and the letter we sent before the meeting here.

Three months after this intial meeting, activists sent another letter to the Department of Justice seeking accountability for the lack of progress on the issues we raised on June 15. In the letter, we noted a number of alarming developments:

- The New York Times reported in its June 26 article “Closing Guantánamo Fades as a Priority” that the Obama administration has essentially abandoned its efforts to close the detention facility anytime soon. The administration’s reported inertia, cynicism, and political fear with respect to Guantánamo leads us to wonder if the will exists within it to close Guantánamo at any point in the future.

- despite the outcry of both domestic and international human rights organizations and legal observers, the United States has gone ahead with the prosecution by Military Commission of Omar Khadr for alleged conduct while he was a “child soldier.”

- men detained at Guantánamo continue to win their habeas cases but remain incarcerated. Without a mechanism for the speedy release of those whom Federal Judges rule are detained in error, the habeas right becomes all but meaningless, negating the victory for the rule of law, the Constitution, and the rights of the accused that the 2007 Boumediene decision represents.

- Fahad Hashmi, whose father was present at our meeting and pleaded for the humane treatment of his son, has since been transferred from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City to the federal high security prison in Florence, Colorado. He remains under the severe isolation of SAMs. The Florence facility is the most draconian prison in the federal system, and has been criticized by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Court of Human Rights, among others, for the severe isolation that the prisoners there endure.

Unfortunately, after many phone calls seeking the promised follow-up meeting, it became apparent that none would be forthcoming. On October 2, 2010, activists protested outside the Justice Department, and issued this press release vowing to keep up the pressure.

January 11, 2011 marked the beginning of the 10th year of confinement, abuse and injustice for the men at Guantanamo. To mark the shameful anniversary, DDF joined Witness Against Torture, Center for Constitutional Rights and others at the White House for a press conference, followed by a “prisoner procession” to the Department of Justice for nonviolent direct action. Dozens of members of Witness Against Torture remained in Washington until January 22 to fast and hold daily vigils and demonstrations throughout Washington, haunting the sites of power with the specter of Guantanamo’s cruel injustice. January 22, 2009 is the day President Obama promised to close Guantanamo within a year, but two years later, 174 men are still imprisoned there.

Bradley Manning/ Whistleblowers

“If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

“God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

-Quotes from an online chat attributed to Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning is the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking thousands of State Department cables and the video “Collateral Murder,” which shows a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down 11 unarmed civilians, including children. The leaked information exposes war crimes and human rights abuses that admittedly do make the United States look less than honorable, but in order to hold criminals accountable, you have to expose the crime.

Sadly, it isn’t the soldiers who fired on unarmed children who are being held accountable and, it isn’t the State Department officials who engaged in bribery or otherwise bent the rules who are on trial. It’s Bradley Manning. He’s already spent two years in jail, including 10 months in solitary confinement (against military protocol). He faces life in prison.

Manning sought to expose the truth and is paying a steep price. He isn’t the only whistleblower suffering the consequences of telling the truth to the American people, or even trying to alert Congress and following what are considered the “proper channels.” surveillance, but the members of Congress and others with whom they communicated. Unfortunately, that rarely works. Consider the case of six scientists at the Food and Drug Administration who were fired for raising concerns to their supervisors and to Congress about FDA approval of medical devices that exposed patients to excessive radiation. Although they raised those concerns through proper channels, the FDA targeted not only the scientists for surveillance, but the members of Congress and others with whom they communicated.

President Obama came into office promising to protect whistleblowers, but instead he has investigated and prosecuted more than any other administration. The scope of government wrongdoing exposed by whistleblowers over the last several years is mind-blowing: warrantless wiretaps, massive surveillance and data retention, threats to public health, war crimes… not to mention torture, extrajudicial killings and more. But rather than investigate these egregious crimes, Congress has decided to go after whistleblowers.

Last month, upon learning that President Obama personally checks off on the list of people to assassinate in drone strikes, members of Senate expressed their outrage and sprung into action with uncharacteristic speed… to ban leaks, not assassinations. The Senate Intelligence Committee has included anti-leak provisions in the 2013 Intelligence Authorization Bill that will both punish whistleblowers and cut off the flow of information from the government to the media. It would revoke a government employee’s pension benefits if the head of their agency determines they have leaked classified information, allowing for no exception for disclosures that reveal illegal conduct or waste, and providing no avenue for recourse for the employee. The bill also prohibits all but the highest-level officials from speaking with the press about “classified intelligence activities,” and puts other restrictions on disclosing information to the media.

In short, the bill is both anti-Free Press and anti-whistleblower. Defending Dissent Foundation joined over a dozen other open government groups on a letter asking the Senate to oppose the bill.

Quantico Protest -- January 16, 2011
Scores of activists marched to the gates of Quanitco Marine Base on MLK Day to support accused whistleblower Bradley Manning, and protest the conditions of his detention. DDF took the lead in organzing the protest. Officials have put Manning under special detention conditions that amount to extreme pre-trial punishment: he is confined to his small cell for 23 hours per day, is allowed only limited exercise, and is not allowed to interact socially with other prisoners. Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Amnesty International have also raised concerns about the conditions of Manning’s confinement. It was the largest protest ever seen at the base, and we were not welcomed with open arms. We sought to deliver a box of “humanitarian aid” (books, a blanket, etc) to Bradley, but base officials refused to accept it. The protest garnered significant local news coverage, and may have led to punitive action against Manning by base officials. Bradley Manning Support Network founder Mike Gogulski stated “Immediately following a rally by more than 150 supporters at Quantico last week, Brad was put on suicide watch for two days for reasons his counsel could only conclude were punitive. He was stripped of all of his clothing except his boxer shorts and his glasses were taken away. It seems to me that the Marine command is now reacting in the worst possible way to rising pressure on them.”

Less than a week after the protest, David House (a friend of Brad’s and one of his few approved visitors) and Jane Hamsler ( founder) attempted to visit Manning during visitor hours, and to deliver a petition to base officials. They were both detained, questioned and not allowed to visit. (In our December newsletter, we reported that David House had been detained at O’Hare in November, and his electronics confiscated).

Manning moved to Ft. Leavenworth - April 2011
In January, DDF took the lead in organizing a rally outside of Quantico Marine Base, where Bradley Manning had been held in pre-trial solitary confinement for over seven months. The protest highlighted the inhumane conditions of Manning’s confinement and helped propel the issue into the mainstream media. A flurry of incidents kept the issue in the media, including the firing of PJ Crowley, the assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs at the U.S. State Department over his strong public criticism of Manning’s treatment. He declared that “what is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defense.” In March, the Bradley Manning Support Network organized another, larger protest at Quantico, which culminated in a sit-in that shut down the highway in front of the base for hours and resulted in the arrest of over 30 activists.

Due to the international and domestic pressure campaign, the Department of Defense decided to move Manning out of Quantico to Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas. He was moved on April 20 and his attorney reports that the conditions there are acceptable. Activists in Kansas City are planning a June 4th protest outside the prison. We expect his preliminary trial to be in early June in the D.C. area.

Many people think that Manning was treated so harshly in order to compel him to incriminate WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. We do know for sure that a Grand Jury has been impaneled to investigate Assange and WikiLeaks, and the government desperately wants to be able to show that Assange conspired with Manning to liberate the documents. On April 26, the FBI served a subpoena to a target who wishes to remain unnamed to appear before the Grand Jury. It looks like the Grand Jury is focusing on Manning, and is looking to find a way to indict Assange under the Espionage Act.

July 13, 2011: Bradley Manning Updates:
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, released a statement on July 12 expressing concerns about restrictions the U.S. has placed on his visits to Bradley Manning. He wants to be able to talk to Manning "under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid," about conditions of his confinement at Quantico. releases unredacted chat logs. When the website initially released the redacted version last year, the logs seemed to incriminate Bradley Manning. Read the unredacted version here.

Take Action: Sign a letter to Bradley Manning and/or participate in the grassroots video campaign here.

Cops and Camaras

With a cell phone in the hands of virtually everyone, photography has become a powerful tool for oversight and accountability, shining a light on unjust or illegitimate police practices. Recently, that’s been especially true for protesters experiencing heavy-handed or brutal police repression.

That police don't like this new power is quite clear, as evidenced by the many reports of police intimidation, harassment and arrests of photographers, often accompanied by the seizure and destruction of pictures and videos.

But, it is absolutely legal to film police in public in every state of the Union, a fact that many police officers either don’t understand, or choose to ignore. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't arrest you anyway, and illegally delete what you have recorded. A few months ago, Clark Stoeckley was walking through Penn Station in New York City and came across Metropolitan Transit Authority police carrying automatic weapons. He snapped their picture on his cell phone and was immediately arrested. He reports that the MTA cops told him they felt threatened by his cell phone, which, they said, could have been a phone gun. He was charged with “engaging in threatening behavior.”

More insidious perhaps than the police who arrest you for taking pictures, are the ones who don’t. Instead, your legal act of taking a picture could land you on a terror watch list without you ever knowing about it. That’s because a national initiative called “Suspicious Activity Reporting” encourages or requires police to collect information about a long list of legal activities that are considered “suspicious,” including taking pictures (either of police, other security personnel or facilities, buildings or infrastructure).

But here’s a new twist: your local police could just get really annoyed with you, and decide to stick your face on a precinct “Wanted” poster:

This flyer warns NYPD officers about professional agitators whose "mo is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on youtube." Can you count the number of problems in that sentence? NYPD animosity toward activists is clear, as well as the vilification of a legal activity whose purpose is clearly police accountability: the “routine stops” are part of the NYPD's notorious Stop and Frisk program, which targets Blacks and Latinos for random stops (and frisks). Videotaping the stops helps expose the injustice and unconstitutionality of the program, and is a legitimate First Amendment activity.


The Law is on OUR Side
The law is clearly on the side of photographers, but lack of training, oversight and/or clear policies means that police continue to violate the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of individuals recording the police. The Department of Justice set forth specific policy recommendations in a May, 2012 guidance issued to the Baltimore, Maryland Police Department. Policies should:
♦ affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity
♦ clarify that police are prohibited from: interfering with recording; blocking or obstructing recording devices; threatening or discouraging people from recording; search or seizure of recording devices without a warrant; deleting recordings
♦ clarify that criticizing the police or the police activity or even yelling obscenities at the police are lawful, and not to be considered “interfering with police activities”

Torture in Chicago

Former Chicago police commander Jon Burge is accused of overseeing the torture over 100 African American men during his time on the police force over a decade ago. He was found guilty in June - not for the torture, but for lying about it. The statute of limitations on torture had expired by the time prosecutors got around to investigating Burge, so the only charges that could be brought were for perjury and obstruction of justice. Although he could face forty-five years in prison, the guilty verdict is bittersweet to many of the victims and activists who fought for justice. Count Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) among them: "The Jon Burge trial has ended with a verdict of guilty to the charge of perjury and obstruction of justice, which to me and countless others is simply not enough". So Davis has introduced the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act (H.R.5688), which criminalizes torture committed by law enforcement officials, creates a federal definition for torture and removes the statute of limitations.

Don't cover up torture!

November 24, 2009,
Defending Dissent Foundation has joined 28 other activist groups on a letter to President Obama calling for accountability and transparency on torture:
We write to express our support, in the strongest possible terms, for a complete and independent investigation of all former U.S. officials allegedly complicit in incidents—or policies—of torture of detainees housed at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. We also exhort you to reconsider your administration’s refusal to disclose evidence of torture even in the face of court orders mandating disclosure. More broadly, we write to remind you of the context in which this issue arises, explain why transparency and robust accountability are a strategic national security imperative, and to expose the self-interest of voices counseling against accountability.



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