Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Democracy Now Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush's Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Supporters of Mousavi Hold Mourning Rally in Tehran

Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir hossein Mousavi are staging a fifth day of protest today to honor persons killed during the mass demonstrations over the past week. Mousavi accuses President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging last week’s election. Hundreds of opposition activists, journalists and intellectuals have been reportedly arrested in recent days, including former Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Tavassali. Earlier today Iran’s most senior legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it will meet the three defeated candidates from Friday’s presidential election to discuss their complaints about the poll.

Iran Accuses U.S. Of Meddling In Its Internal Affairs

The Iranian government is now accusing several foreign nations of interfering in it internal affairs. On Wednesday the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest of what it called “meddling” by the United States because of statements by American officials on Iran’s elections.

U.S. State Dept Asks Twitter to Delay Shutdown Due to Iran Protests

The U.S. State Department has admitted it contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election. Meanwhile the video website YouTube has said it has relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.

Obama Extends Some Benefits To Same Sex Partners of Federal Workers

In Washington, President Obama has signed a memorandum to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, but the president did not offer survivor benefits or comprehensive healthcare, drawing sharp criticism from within the gay community.

President Obama: “I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality. Many of our government’s hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason; the people that they love are of the same sex.”

Obama made the policy change by issuing a memorandum not an executive order. This means the policy change will expire when Obama leaves office. Several prominent gay rights activists have criticized the president in recent days for failing to live up to campaign promises. Last week the administration filed a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. On Wednesday, however, Obama said he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama has also been criticized for not pushing for an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal

Attorney General Eric Holder testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and refused to declare President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to be illegal. Holder was repeatedly questioned by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Sen. Russ Feingold: Now that you are the attorney general is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

Eric Holder: Well I think that the warrantless wiretapping program as it existed at that point was certainly unwise in that it was put together without the approval of Congress…

Sen. Feingold: What I asked you Mr. Attorney General was not whether it was unwise but whether you consider it to have been illegal…

Holder: “The policy was an unwise one and that the concerns I expressed then have really been remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program.

Sen. Feingold: But did you think it was illegal?

Holder: Well, I thought as a I said, it was inconsistent with the FISA statute and unwise as a matter of policy.

NSA Database Collects Millions Of Intercepted Emails

The New York Times has revealed that the National Security Agency is operating a secret surveillance database that contains millions of intercepted foreign and domestic e-mails. The NSA’s database – codenamed Pinwale – allows the NSA to search through millions of email messages including correspondence to and from Americans. The Times reports the NSA database even includes some intercepted personal correspondence of former President Bill Clinton.

Obama Proposes New Regulations Of Financial Industry

President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reshaping U.S. financial regulation on Wednesday, aiming to tighten oversight of large firms whose excessive risk-taking triggered the global economic crisis. The proposals have been described as the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial rules since the 1930s.

President Obama: “I am proposing that the Federal Reserve be granted new authority and accountability-for regulating bank holding companies and other large firms that pose a risk to the entire economy in the event of failure. We will also raise the standards to which these kinds of firms are held. If you can pose a great risk, that means you have a great responsibility. We will require these firms to meet stronger capital and liquidity requirements so that they are more resilient and less likely to fail.”

As part of his proposal, President Obama called for the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Obama also wants to give the Federal Reserve more power to monitor “systemic risk” to the economy posed by the largest financial firms. The Wall Street Journal reports, executive compensation and hedge funds would also face more scrutiny. Bank regulation would be streamlined somewhat. Financial firms would be required to hold more capital.

EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared a public health emergency in the town of Libby, Montana where hundreds of people have died from asbestos contamination. It is the first time such a declaration has been made by the EPA. For decades, W.R. Grace and Co. mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby. Last month executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of knowingly allowing Libby residents to be exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. The EPA said it will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from the mine.

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Nine in Pakistan

U.S. forces have carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan killing nine suspected militants. The strike occurred in South Waziristan, the region where the Pakistani military is preparing to launch a major offensive.

Suicide Bombing Kills Somalia’s National Security Minister

Meanwhile in Somalia, the nation’s security minister has been killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel injust north of the capital, Mogadishu. The blast killed at least nine other people. On Wednesday the police chief of Mogadishu was killed in a separate attack.

GOP Aide in Tennessee Distributes Racist Image of Obama

In Tennessee, Republican state Senator Diane Black is refusing to fire a staffer who sent a racist image of President Obama. The staffer, Sherri Goforth, sent out an e-mail with images of all the presidents of the United States. Barack Obama was depicted in the bottom right hand corner only as a pair of bright white eyes on a black background.

GOP Operative in SC Compares First Lady To A Gorilla

Meanwhile in South Carolina, a prominent Republican activist has apologized after making a joke on his Facebook page that an escaped gorilla from a local zoo was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama. Rusty DePass is the former Republican state elections director in South Carolina.

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Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

FBI Infiltrated Iowa Anti-War Group in Advance of RNC Protests

Republican National Convention (RNC) Protests

The legal fallout from the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention (RNC) last year has been intense. Eight activists from the Twin Cities have been charged as being a part of a criminal conspiracy, while at the same, extensive infiltration of protest groups by local and federal law enforcement has been documented. This attention didn’t just focus on activists in the Twin Cities as activists in Texas who were planning to participate in the protests were monitored for months beforehand by an undercover FBI informant.

Now news has come out of still more infiltration, this time of a protest group in Iowa City. According to the Des Moines Register, an FBI informant was used to spy on a group of anarchists from Iowa City. The local police department was not familiar with the FBI surveillance, but they have indicated that they were aware of an undercover officer being sent to the city by Ramsey County (where St. Paul is located) to spy on activists.

According to the newspaper, the FBI agent collected detailed information regarding Iowa City activists planning to attend the RNC:

The FBI documents provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. The documents also include individuals’ plans for the convention demonstrations.

Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

The FBI documents show the investigative reports were written in August 2008 by Special Agent Thomas Reinwart, who is assigned to Cedar Rapids, based on reports from a “confidential human source” in Iowa City.

Individual names of protesters were blacked out of the copy of the FBI documents obtained by the Register, but the dossiers included personal facts.

For example, one woman was described as white, 5 feet 10 inches, 140 pounds, with blond hair and glasses. The report said she lived in Cedar Rapids, and it provided her cell phone number. She was characterized as a member of a specific subgroup who had interests in medic training and as a legal observer.

“She drives a little, dark green four door hatchback,” the report said.

A white man in his 20s who had recently moved to Iowa from Mississippi was also profiled by the FBI informant. “He is planning on attending the RNC and participating with the ‘Queer Block’ and ‘Bash Back,’ which are groups affiliated with the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender movement. Several hundred people associated with these two groups plan on doing their own thing and blocking an unknown (intersection),” the document said.

According to law enforcement officials, it was a fear of possible “crime” at the RNC that motivated the spying. And just what was the crime? Non-violent civil disobedience. Activists from Iowa City planned to organize a non-violent street blockade to disrupt access to the convention in order to have their political grievances heard. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries and something that has a rich history in the United States. The Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the labor movement, and many other movements in United States’ have all used civil disobedience.

Headlines: Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches; In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches; In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Senate Report: Torture Planning Preceded Prisoners’ Capture, Legal Approval

An explosive Congressional report has revealed new details about the Bush administration’s torture program on foreign prisoners. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, military and intelligence officials began developing the torture program in December 2001–well before any high-level al-Qaeda suspects had been caught. Bush administration officials have long maintained the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were authorized only after standard questioning failed to yield intelligence. The report also shows the torture program was developed well before it received legal approval in the 2002 Justice Department memos de-classified last week. The report singles out top Bush administration officials for the torture of U.S. prisoners, saying they “solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques” and “redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality.”

Military Psychologist Proposed “Exploitation Facility”

The report also documents the role of the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in developing the torture program. A memo written by Jessen in 2002 proposes creating what he calls an “exploitation facility” where prisoners would be subjected to a number of prescribed abuses, including physical violence, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Some of the techniques were based on torture used on American captives during the Korean war. Jessen proposed making the facility off-limits to outside observers, including the Red Cross. Soon after the memo, the suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah was sent to a CIA prison where he was subjected to intense torture. Zubaydah’s attorneys have long contended the Justice Department memos were written in part to retroactively authorize the techniques used against him.

Drive to Invade Iraq Compromised Interrogations, Led to Abuses

Several army officials raised objections as the torture techniques were developed and taught. And in a development that traces back to the White House’s drive for invading Iraq, one Army major complained the interrogations were being compromised by an insistence on establishing “link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.”

Levin Calls for Probe of Bush Officials

In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Carl Levin said the new evidence provides a direct line from top Bush officials to abuses at prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Levin said: “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques…[They] bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.” Levin went on to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to establish a high-level commission to investigate high-level Bush officials.

In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

The report’s release came hours after President Obama reversed course on ruling out the prosecution of Bush administration officials who wrote the legal memos authorizing torture. The White House had previously said it opposes any legal action against both the officials who provided legal cover for torture and the CIA interrogators who carried it out. But on Tuesday, Obama said now he won’t preclude legal action against the memos’ authors.

President Obama: “For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the perimeters of various laws, and–and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”

UN Racism Conference Passes Declaration

In Geneva, delegates at the UN Conference on racism adopted a final declaration on Tuesday without the support of the United States. The U.S. and several other Western nations have boycotted the conference over concerns it would include criticism of the Israeli government. The conference president, Amos Wako, criticized the boycott.

Amos Wako: “What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process, it shows that boycotts do not assist, it shows that one can remain constructively engaged and reach a consensus.”

Bowing to U.S.-Israeli concerns, the declaration avoids any references to Zionism. Instead, it reaffirms a conference text from 2001 that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The text also urges signatories to fight all forms of racism, in particular naming anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

Reports: Ahmadinejad Deleted Holocaust Denial from Speech

The declaration came one day after nearly two dozen diplomats walked on a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he called Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime.” According to several reports, Ahmadinejad omitted prepared comments denying the Nazi Holocaust from his final speech. Instead, he appeared to acknowledge it, referring to the “abuse of the Holocaust.” Ahmadinejad has previously denied the Nazi Holocaust and questioned the number of Jewish victims.

Israeli FM: “America Accepts All Our Decisions”

Israel’s new foreign minister is claiming the Obama administration will only pursue peace initiatives with the Palestinians if Israel gives its approval. In his first extensive since taking office, Avigdor Lieberman said: “Believe me, America accepts all our decisions.” The Washington Post is reporting the Israeli government is now telling the U.S. it will condition any willingness to enter peace talks with Palestinians on U.S. policy towards Iran. The Israeli government has long advocated military action against Iran.

Poll: Most Palestinians, Israelis Support Two-State Solution

The developments come as a new poll shows a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis would support a two-state solution. According to the group One Voice, 74% of Palestinians and 78% of Israelis say they would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel. Palestinian leaders including Hamas have accepted the two-state solution. Successive Israeli governments have rejected returning Palestinian land and have instead expanded Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank while maintaining the stranglehold over the Gaza Strip.

Report: Prosecutors Mull Dropping AIPAC Spy Case

The Washington Post is reporting prosecutors are considering dropping charges against two former pro-Israeli government lobbyists accused of violating the Espionage Act. Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, formerly of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are accused of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified national defense information to journalists and the Israeli government. The review follows a series of court rulings that prosecutors say could hinder their prospects at winning a trial, including allowing the defense to use classified information and forcing the government to prove the accused knew they would be harming the United States. Prosecutors say the review has nothing to do with recent controversy surrounding Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. It was revealed this week Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby for reducing the espionage charges in return for AIPAC support in her bid to chair the House intelligence committee.

Bailed-out Firms Spend Millions on Lobbying

Newly-disclosed records show some of the top recipients of the federal bailout continue to spend millions on political lobbying. According to the Washington Post, the top bailed-out firms spent more than $10 million dollars in the first three months of this year, $22 million dollars over the last six months. The lobbying included efforts to block initiatives such as executive pay caps and new financial regulation.

IMF: Financial Crisis Losses Total $4.1T Worldwide

The International Monetary Fund is estimating banks and financial institutions have lost an estimated $4.1 trillion dollars during the financial crisis. Of the losses, $2.7 trillion originated in the United States. Testifying on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said banks’ vast amount of toxic assets is limiting their ability to lend and borrow.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “The cost of credit is still very high. Reports on bank lending show significant declines in lending for consumer loans and for commercial and industrial loans, although mortgage refinancing has picked up considerably. We may have to adapt and expand them over time, but they represent the foundation of any credible strategy to help ensure the financial system is working for, rather than against, economic recovery.”

Court Hears Arguments in Iraq War Suit

In New Jersey, a federal court heard arguments Tuesday in a case seeking to have the U.S. invasion of Iraq declared unconstitutional. An Iraq war veteran and two mothers of soldiers filed the case last May. They argue then-President George W. Bush violated the constitution by failing to formally declare war and attacking a country that didn’t threaten the United States.

Colorado House Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

In Colorado, the state House has passed a measure to abolish the death penalty. Tuesday’s measure passed by a single vote. The bill now goes to the Colorado state Senate.

Somali Pirate to Be Tried as Adult

The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month was charged Tuesday in a New York courtroom. The pirate, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi will be tried as an adult, even though his family claims he is only fifteen years old. He appeared to weep during his arraignment. Defense attorney Deirdre Von Dornum called Musi “young and terrified.”

Deirdre Von Dornum: “Judge Peck may have found for today that he is of the age of majority, but as you could tell he is extremely young, injured and terrified. We’re pleased that he will have the protection of the United States Constitution, and that the government chose to bring him to an open court and not to a secret prison or any other form of non-public proceeding.”

Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling to make it more difficult for police to conduct warrantless car searches. On Tuesday, justices ruled five to four police must seek a warrant to search a vehicle if the suspect has been removed from the vehicle and poses no threat to others.

On Earth Day, Reports Warns of Growing Numbers Endangered by Global Warming

And today is Earth Day. Millions of people around the globe are expected to take part in events honoring the protection of the environment. A new report from the Oxfam aid agency warns relief groups will be overwhelmed within the next six years by people affected by climate-related disasters. More than 375 million people are expected to be effected each year until 2015, up from the 250 million people today. Oxfam is calling for greater support for aid groups to offset the dangers. Oxfam says: “There is nothing inevitable about a future in which greater numbers of people die and are made destitute by natural hazards and conflict.”

Grand Rapids Surveillance Camera Map Featured on ACLU Site

Grand Rapids Surveillance Camera Map Featured on ACLU Site

An older MediaMouse.org project–a map of surveillance cameras in downtown Grand Rapids–has been featured on the homepage of YouAreBeingWatched.us. While we’re not big on self-promotion, it seemed worth mentioning as means of highlighting an older MediaMouse.org project as well as the larger issue of surveillance that motivated the project.

YouAreBeingWatched.us is a website launched by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to “spotlight the high costs of camera surveillance systems, both in terms of money and civil liberties.” The ACLU provides a useful summary of the issue:

“An increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems. But few are closely examining the costs and benefits of those investments, or creating mechanisms for measuring those costs and benefits over time. There is extensive academic literature on the subject — studies carried out over many years — and that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates.

The bottom line is: Are cameras worth the cost in terms of money and civil liberties? Cities and states are still wasting limited security budget dollars on camera surveillance systems. In the last five years, the US Department of Homeland Security had handed out about $300 million in grants for camera surveillance systems. These funds could have gone toward hiring more experienced police officers, improving equipment for first-responders so that they can be ready to help in cases of emergency or other such security needs.

And consider the civil liberty costs of video surveillance systems. Video surveillance technology will only grow more sophisticated. There will come a day when the cameras will be routinely linked with other technologies in attempt to instantly identify you and me via face recognition, RFIDs, or other technologies. Do we want a society where an innocent individual can’t walk down the street without being considered a potential criminal? Do we want a society where people are comfortable with constant surveillance?”

The site publishes recent news articles about video surveillance, background information, and state-level information.

An example of the state-level news highlighting is shown by the website’s linking to an article in The Muskegon Chronicle that highlights a new camera deployed in one of the city’s parks.

Democrats Vote to Give Telecommunications Companies Immunity for Illegal Domestic Surveillance

The Democratically controlled House of Representatives has engineered another “bipartisan compromise” with Republicans, this time on the issue of President Bush’s illegal warrantless domestic surveillance program.

Today, the House of Representatives–following a “bipartisan compromise” engineered by House Democrats–pass a new surveillance bill that legalizes President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program and protects corporations such as AT&T from lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying that the only “compromise” contained in the bill is “of our constitutional rights.” Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement saying:

“The bill was touted as a bipartisan ‘compromise’ on the issues of electronic surveillance and immunity. But in fact it requires dismissal of lawsuits against companies like AT&T that participated in the program as long as the companies received a piece of paper from the government indicating that the surveillance had been authorized by the president and was determined to be lawful.”

The vote comes less than a full day after Democrats–who control the House of Representatives–compromised on a controversial war funding bill. In both cases, the compromises resulted in the Bush administration achieving exactly what they wanted. This has been a characteristic of the Democratic majority in Congress since winning in 2006. It has repeatedly “compromised” on major issues from war funding to telecommunications immunity, resulting in the passage of legislation that undermines many of the positions that the party claims to take.

St. Paul Police Document Could Authorizing Spying on RNC Organizing

A new policy issued by the St. Paul Police Departments outlines a set of guidelines that may allow the police department to engage in surveillance of groups organizing to protest the Republican National Convention (RNC) that will be held in St. Paul from September 1 to September 4.

In January, the St. Paul Police Department in St. Paul, Minnesota issued a new policy that outlines circumstances under which the police can investigate groups planning to engage in protests under the first amendment. The document–titled “Policy and guidelines for investigations and information gathering operations involving First Amendment Activity “–outlines circumstances under which the police can monitor “the activities of groups involved in or planning demonstrations and counter demonstrations which may affect public safety; violate state, local or federal laws; or which may result in a public safety risk.” While the document contains a number of restrictions on how and when the police can monitor groups, it also gives them broad authority to do so.

The St. Paul Police Department has said that the new document is a routine revision of their procedures, but it is impossible to separate it from the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC). The RNC will take place in the Twin Cities from September 1 to September 4. Already, it has been the target of organizing and a variety of protests are planned for the event. In 2004 when the RNC was held in New York City, the New York Police Department (NYPD) engaged in extensive surveillance of groups planning to protest the RNC. The NYPD sent officers around the country and to Canada and Europe to spy on activists planning–and in some cases not planning–to attend the protests.

In an article published on Monday in the Star Tribune, a representative of the St. Paul Police Department said, “We are not following the New York model. We’ve been saying that from the beginning.” However, the document was criticized in the same article by lawyers for its lack of independent oversight and accountability and for appearing to be designed to allow spying on activist groups. Representatives with the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were quoted saying that they believe the threshold for determining what is “unlawful activity” and therefore what is subject to investigation is too low.

The guidelines states that “…the St Paul Police Department (“SPPD”) will not initiate or participation in the investigations into groups or individuals based solely upon their lawful exercise of First Amendment activity.” It also says that it will not initiate investigations based on a group’s political beliefs. However, its opening page makes its intentions clear:

“The SPPD shall conduct pro-active criminal investigations and information gathering operations with the intent to detect, deter, or prevent unlawful and criminal activity. In the event oral or written communication advocates unlawful activity, or indicates an apparent intent to engage in unlawful conduct, particularly acts of violence, an investigation under these guidelines Is warranted, unless it is readily apparent to a reasonable law enforcement officer that the individual or the organization lacks the means or ability to carry out such unlawful acts. Investigations shall be terminated when all logical leads have been exhausted and no legitimate law enforcement purpose justifies their continuance.”

Under the guidelines, the St. Paul Police Department is allowed to “participate in the identifying, tracking, and operating of informational systems” to identify and locate potential lawbreakers, is allowed to attend and record any public event, is allowed to do online research, and issue reports to the rest of the department. If the “information gathering” raises concerns, the police are allowed to investigate leads and conduct “preliminary inquiries” in which “all lawful investigative techniques” are allowed–including the use of undercover officers. If a “full investigation” is launched, the police have greater ability to use more “intrusive” forms of information gathering including undercover officers and informants.

While the guidelines do grant authority to use undercover officers, they are prohibited from taking a disruptive role in groups:

“Undercover officers and confidential informants are prohibited from engaging in any conduct in which the sole purpose is designed to disrupt the lawful exercise of First Amendment activity. The undercover officers and confidential informants are also forbidden from disrupting the lawful operations of an organization, from sowing seeds of distrust between members of an organization, or from instigating unlawful acts or engaging in unlawful or unauthorized investigative activities. Undercover officers shall not be come so involved in a group that they are involved in directing the operations of a group, either by accepting a formal position in the hierarchy or by informally setting the group’s policy and priorities.”

It is also worth noting that the guidelines make it clear that the St. Paul Police officers are not required to identify themselves or leave if requested. The document states:

“Undercover officers are not required to identify themselves or leave a gathering if it is requested that law enforcement officers leave or identify themselves. In addition, the presence of legal counsel at a meeting does not require and undercover officer to avoid or leave the meeting or gathering.”

Unfortunately, it is a common fallacy among activist groups that undercover police officers must leave if asked. This is not true and cannot substitute for practicing good security culture. Basically, that means being smart and not talking about anything illegal in open meetings, not engaging in direct action protests with people you do not know, and not bragging about what you have done in the past.

Overall, the St. Paul Police Department’s SIU Policy sets out guidelines that will allow it to spy on activist groups organizing for this summer’s protests against the Republican National Convention (RNC) and beyond. While there may be some elements in it that may technically restrict some of what the police can do, it is important that we remember there is a long history of police departments and other law enforcement agencies infiltrating and disrupting social movements. In many instances, this was done in violation of the law and there is no reason to believe that they will not do it again.

Finally, the guidelines do not apply to investigations that are being handled by a member of the St. Paul Police Department under the direction the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. In recent years, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces have been used to spy on environmental and antiwar activists across the country, including here in Michigan.

United States among Worst Surveillance Societies

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A new edition of the annual survey conducted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International on privacy and surveillance has found that the United States is among the worst countries when it comes to privacy protections and endemic forms of surveillance.

In explaining the United States’ ranking, the survey explains its rationale by stating that the United States has:

  • No right to privacy in constitution, though search and seizure protections exist in 4th Amendment; case law on government searches has considered new technology
  • No comprehensive privacy law, many sectoral laws; though tort of privacy
  • FTC continues to give inadequate attention to privacy issues, though issued self-regulating privacy guidelines on advertising in 2007
  • State-level data breach legislation has proven to be useful in identifying faults in security
  • REAL-ID and biometric identification programs continue to spread without adequate oversight, research, and funding structures
  • Extensive data-sharing programs across federal government and with private sector
  • Spreading use of CCTV
  • Congress approved presidential program of spying on foreign communications over U.S. networks, e.g. Gmail, Hotmail, etc.; and now considering immunity for telephone companies, while government claims secrecy, thus barring any legal action
  • No data retention law as yet, but equally no data protection law
  • World leading in border surveillance, mandating trans-border data flows
  • Weak protections of financial and medical privacy; plans spread for ‘rings of steel’ around cities to monitor movements of individuals
  • Democratic safeguards tend to be strong but new Congress and political dynamics show that immigration and terrorism continue to leave politicians scared and without principle
  • Lack of action on data breach legislation on the federal level while REAL-ID is still compelled upon states has shown that states can make informed decisions
  • Recent news regarding FBI biometric database raises particular concerns as this could lead to the largest database of biometrics around the world that is not protected by strong privacy law

The United States was tied for third with Thailand and the Philippines and ranking only slightly better than the United Kingdom, Singapore, Russia, China, and Malaysia.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Protested at GVSU Appearence

On Wednesday, August 15 about 25 protestors gathered outside the Eberhard Center at Grand Valley State University’s downtown Grand Rapids campus to send a message to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he should resign from his position. People came with numerous signs, which read “Fire Gonzales,” “End Government Spying,” and “Alberto, your cell in Nuremberg is ready.”

Police presence was visible, with officers on foot and in cars. A police dog was used to check vehicles that were near the entrance before Gonzales arrived in a motorcade. When protestors attempted to stand near the entrance to the building, campus security told them that they needed to be near the road as this was “private property.” When asked how that could be, since this is a public university, the security people simply said, “I don’t want to argue with you. This is a public university, but it’s private property.”

Gonzales was in town to speak at a conference luncheon. The conference was put on by the US Attorney’s office and the School of Criminal Justice at GVSU. As conference attendees were walking into the building they were encouraged by protestors to turn their backs to Gonzales during his talk or to tell him to resign.

Afterwards, protest organizers encouraged people to sign the online petition to impeach Gonzales. Other actions that were suggested were to contact the School of Criminal Justice (crawleyw@gvsu.edu) at GVSU who agreed to host Gonzales, the Mayor of Grand Rapids (gheartwe@grcity.us), and the Grand Rapids’ Police Chief (harry.dolan@grcity.us) to find out how someone who agrees with spying on US citizens and disregarding the Geneva Convention’s position on torture could be allowed to come to this community.

Protest Planned Against Attorney General Gonzales in Grand Rapids

On Wednesday, a protest is scheduled to confront US Attorney Alberto Gonzales who is speaking in Grand Rapids. Protestors are targeting Gonzales to call for his impeachment due to perjury and his role in the firing of 8 US Attorneys, his support for the NSA’s spying program, and his support for the use of torture in the “War on Terror.”

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On Wednesday, August 15 there is a protest scheduled to confront US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who is speaking at a luncheon in the Eberhard Center of the GVSU downtown campus during a “Criminal Agencies Seminar and Awards Luncheon.” Protestors plan to meet at the walking bridge just west of the Eberhard Center at 11:15am to greet people coming from the seminar at the main downtown campus.

The protestors plan to confront Gonzales and communicate to the conference attendees three main issues that organizers say are reason to have the Attorney General fired. First, Gonzales should be impeached because of his role in the firing of 8 US Attorneys across the country and the fact that he has perjured himself in recent Congressional hearings on Gonzales’s role. Law professor Marjorie Cohen recently wrote “In light of material inconsistencies in Alberto Gonzales’s testimony before Congress, a criminal investigation is warranted. Gonzales, who is suspected of committing perjury, has a conflict of interest. The public interest requires that the highest prosecutor in the land be brought to justice.” The national group Democracy for America has called for the impeachment of Gonzales and have a video online that includes part of these Congressional Hearings.

The other issues that the protest will be confronting are government spying and torture. In May of 2006, the US government was exposed for its domestic spying campaign through the National Security Agency (NSA). The ACLU has an ongoing legal campaign to overturn the NSA spy program as being unconstitutional a program that the top law enforcement official, Gonzales, has defended. Lastly, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a memo he sent to the Bush White House in January of 2002 made the claims that the principles of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War do not apply to captured members of the Taliban or Al Quaeda and that the use of torture was legitimate.