Sunday, November 25, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury Says U. S. Has Lost High Moral Ground

Reuters Reported Today that:

LONDON (Reuters) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the world's Anglicans, has launched an attack on the United States, saying it has lost the high moral ground since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Williams, a longtime critic of the war in Iraq, said in uncharacteristically blunt language: "We have only one hegemonic power at the moment. It is not accumulating territory, it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That's not working."

Asked in an interview with the Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel, if he thought the United States had lost the high moral ground since the 9/11 attacks, he replied "Yes."

Drawing comparisons between British imperialism and the 21st Century United States, Williams said: "It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering and normalizing it.

"Rigthly or wrongly, that is what the British Empire did -- in India for example."

"It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together again -- Iraq for example."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

ACLU Responds to Federal Court Ruling in "State Secrets" Lawsuit About Warrantless

SAN FRANCISCO - November 16 - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled today that a charity that sued President Bush for engaging in unconstitutional surveillance can pursue its case in court. The Bush administration had asked the appellate court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the very subject matter of the litigation – the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program – was a state secret. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, noting that the government had publicly acknowledged the surveillance program and that senior officials had discussed the program in press conferences and statements. The court did, however, find that an inadvertently disclosed document indicating that the charity had been the target of surveillance was properly protected by the state secrets privilege, and returned the case back to the district court to determine whether the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act preempts the state secrets privilege in this context.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project and counsel to the plaintiffs in ACLU v. NSA, in which a request for review is pending before the Supreme Court:

"As the court properly recognized, the government should not be permitted to shut down litigation simply by asserting that a case implicates state secrets. In the al-Haramain case and many others, it's clear that the executive branch is using the state secrets privilege not to protect legitimate national security information but to shield the government and its agents from accountability for systemic violations of the Constitution. A state secrets privilege that operates in this way serves neither national security nor the country's broader interest in the rule of law."

The following can be attributed to Ann Brick, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California and counsel in two U.S. District Court cases in the Northern District of California involving state secrets claims by the government: Riordan v. Verizon Communications, Inc., which challenges Verizon's turnover of customer call records to the NSA, and Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., which challenges the practice of "extraordinary rendition":

"The Bush administration's ever-increasing use of the state secrets privilege to thwart holding it accountable for its illegal conduct remains deeply troubling. We see it in the al-Harmain case, where the administration has baldly admitted that it acted in utter disregard of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and we see it in the administration’s use of the privilege to avoid judicial scrutiny of violations of basic human rights on questions of torture and rendition. The courts have an important role to play in all of these cases and it is very significant that the Ninth Circuit sent the al-Haramain case back to the district court for a determination of whether FISA trumps the common law state secrets privilege."

CCR Files Amicus Brief in First Guantánamo Case Before European Court of Human Rights

WASHINGTON - November 15 -Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed an amicus brief in the first Guantánamo case before the European Court of Human Rights.

Boumediene and others v. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the first case on behalf of Guantánamo prisoners before an international tribunal, where international human rights law applies and is enforceable. It is also the first case to address the issue of what responsibility other countries that assisted the U.S. in transferring men to Guantánamo have for the violations that occur at the prison camp.

One of the issues of responsibility the court will rule on is whether Bosnia has an obligation to do more diplomatically to try to get its citizens and residents out of Guantánamo, given that it helped put them there in the first place when it delivered the six men to U.S. authorities immediately after they had been cleared of any wrongdoing by a Bosnian court.

"If the European Court rules favorably, it will essentially be telling Bosnia that it has an obligation to get these men out of Guantánamo and to step up and recognize its responsibility to do more than it has been doing," said CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. "The ruling could potentially affect efforts to have other countries help with the safe resettlement of former detainees as well."

Many countries are guilty of unlawfully assisting the U.S. in its "war on terror" by illegally handing people over to U.S. authorities, letting the U.S. use their territory or airspace to conduct renditions to torture or as sites for secret CIA prisons, and possibly committing other violations of national and international law. This is the first case that addresses the responsibility of a country for redressing these violations.

Among international human rights tribunals, the European Court of Human Rights is one of the strongest and most respected, and its decisions are enforceable.

CCR attorneys stated that a court order for Bosnia to do more to get its men out of Guantánamo is exactly the kind of step that is necessary to safely empty the prison and be able to finally close it down.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and – just this month – sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA "ghost detainee." CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating the largest ever coalition of pro-bono lawyers in order to defend the men at Guantánamo, ensuring that nearly all have been represented. CCR will be representing the detainees with co-counsel in the Supreme Court on December 5.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Iran: End harassment of Women’s Rights Defenders

Human Rights Groups Protest Imminent Imprisonment of Delaram Ali

WASHINGTON - November 12 - Seven leading international human rights organizations today demanded that the Iranian authorities immediately set aside the prison sentence against a women’s rights defender, and drop charges against others facing trial because of their peaceful activities demanding equal rights for women in Iran.

Amnesty International (AI), Equality Now (EN), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Front Line (FL), Human Rights First (HRF), Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) were reacting to news that 24 year old social worker and women’s rights defender Delaram Ali faces imminent imprisonment. In July 2007, she was sentenced to 34 months in prison and to a 10 lash flogging on charges of "participation in an illegal gathering," "propaganda against the system" and "disrupting public order and peace." These charges were brought against her after she participated in a peaceful demonstration in Tehran’s Haft Tir Square on 12 June 2006 calling for an end to discriminatory legislation against women. She was beaten by police during her arrest and had her left hand broken. At her trial, her defence lawyer was not allowed to speak and address the court in her defence.

Delaram Ali received a phone call from the authorities on 4 November 2007 in which she was told that her appeal against conviction and sentence had been completed and that she should report to the court by 10 November for the sentence to be carried out. She was warned that, if she failed to do so, she would face arrest. She was told that her prison sentence had been reduced to 30 months’ imprisonment and the flogging sentence had been commuted, but as yet, neither she nor her lawyers have received any other notification – under the law, she should be issued with the court’s written verdict.

Several other women’s rights defenders have been sentenced to prison terms in connection with the June 2006 demonstration but all are currently free awaiting the outcome of appeals. If Delaram Ali is imprisoned, she will be the first to have her sentence implemented.

The authorities have also been harassing members of the Campaign for Equality, launched shortly after the 12 June 2006 demonstration, which aims to collect a million signatures of Iranians to a petition demanding an end to legislation, which discriminates against women. More than a dozen people have been arrested while collecting signatures. Most recently, Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi, active members of the Campaign in Kordestan province, were detained on 9 October and 4 November and are currently held without charge or trial in Sanandaj, apparently by local officials from the Ministry of Intelligence.

Amnesty International, Equality Now, FIDH, Front Line, Human Rights First, Women Living Under Muslim Laws and OMCT would regard the imprisonment of Delaram Ali, solely for her peaceful actions as a defender of women’s rights, as a gross violation of her rights to freedom of expression and association. Her summons appears to be part of a deliberate campaign by the Iranian authorities to intimidate human rights activists and wider civil society in Iran, where an unprecedented crack down on peaceful dissent is underway.

In addition, the above-mentioned organisations expressed concern at the degree to which Iranian security forces who ill-treat detainees during arrest are able to act with impunity.Delaram Ali lodged a complaint against her ill-treatment during arrest, along with the others who were beaten, but in October 2007, despite the existence of photographs of the demonstration showing ill-treatment, and the medical evidence presented, the case against the police officers who had been present at the demonstration was dismissed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bill Would Streamline Whistleblower Protections

WASHINGTON, DC - November 2 -The Government Accountability Project (GAP) applauds Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and a group of 13 co-sponsors, for introducing the “Private Sector Whistleblower Protection Streamlining Act of 2007” yesterday, November 1. The legislation, H.R. 4047, would for the first time establish a uniform, coherent system of legal protections for all private sector, state and municipal employees who are retaliated against for disclosing threats to public safety or violations of federal law.

“This is a ‘Good Housekeeping,’ good government measure more than 30 years overdue,” said GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “Whistleblowers are the life blood for the government to enforce consumer protection laws. But the legal system is hopelessly dysfunctional. For too long, whistleblower law at the non-federal government and corporate levels has been a crazy quilt of contradictory, hit or – usually – miss protections tucked into specific public health and safety laws.”

The list of 13 original co-sponsors includes Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL), Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Rep. Don Payne (D-NJ), Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), and Rep. John Tierney (D-MA).

The legislation uniformly adopts “best practices” whistleblower protection models Congress already has passed, or has been considering, on an issue-by-issue basis since last November’s election. To illustrate, in August President Bush signed into law enhanced whistleblower protections for ground transportation employees in the rail, bus, trucking, and public transit industries. The Senate Commerce Committee this week advanced similar protections for employees who blow the whistle on violations of product safety standards. The Senate approved modern, “best practices” whistleblower protections for employees of defense contractors as part of its FY2007 defense bill.

H.R. 4047 applies the modern “best practices” throughout the private sector and for non-federal government employees for enforcement of consumer protection laws in areas including health and health care, environmental protection, food and drug safety, transportation safety, building and construction-related requirements, energy, homeland, and community security, and financial transactions or reporting requirements, including banking, insurance, and securities laws.

“It will benefit labor, management and the public to streamline the 32 disparate federal whistleblower statutes, while filling arbitrary coverage gaps,” GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles explained. “Currently almost everyone is flying blind about whistleblower rights. Nobody knows what the rules are without a legal specialist.”

To illustrate, an employee at a meat packing plant has whistleblower rights when challenging the release of fecal-contaminated water flowing into a river. But the same employee has no rights when disclosing the shipment of fecal-contaminated meat and poultry to a supermarket’s butcher case. A truck driver is protected for challenging bad tires, but not illegal cargo in his haul. An employee of a pharmaceutical company has protection for disclosing false statements in financial reports to shareholders. But there is no protection for challenging false statements to the government or the public about potentially lethal drug safety hazards.

FCC Pressed to Stop Comcast’s Internet Blocking

Free Press, Public Knowledge, MAP file official complaint against cable giant for Net Neutrality violations

WASHINGTON, DC - November 1 - Responding to Comcast’s blocking of Internet traffic, members of the Coalition and Internet scholars at the nation’s top law schools today filed a petition and complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. The filings call for urgent action to stop violations of consumers’ right to access the software and content of their choice.

In the “most drastic example yet of data discrimination,” the Associated Press recently exposed that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company and second-largest Internet service provider, is actively interfering with its users’ ability to access legal content. The company is cutting off legal peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and Gnutella, as well as business applications such as Lotus Notes. Comcast has claimed its actions were “reasonable network management.”

“Comcast’s defense is bogus,” said Ben Scott policy director of Free Press. “The FCC needs to take immediate action to put an end to this harmful practice. Comcast’s blatant and deceptive BitTorrent blocking is exactly the type of problem advocates warned would occur without Net Neutrality laws. Our message to both the FCC and Congress is simple: We told you so, now do something about it.”

The “Petition for Declaratory Ruling” presses the FCC to establish that blocking peer-to-peer communications like BitTorrent violates the agency’s “Internet Policy Statement” — four principles issued in 2005 that are supposed to guarantee consumers competition among providers and access to all content, applications and services.

“Last year, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and opponents of Net Neutrality told Congress that the FCC has all the authority it needs to prevent exactly this sort of customer abuse by a major provider,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president of Media Access Project. “Now we come to the acid test. Will the FCC, which vowed to protect our freedom to run the applications of our choice, stand up for citizens in the face of Comcast?”

The FCC issued its policy after dismantling longstanding “open access” requirements that had protected Net Neutrality since the birth of the Internet. Millions of concerned citizens and hundreds of organizations from across the political spectrum have urged Congress and the FCC to reinstate and enforce Net Neutrality laws to prevent discrimination by cable and phone companies, which dominate nearly 95 percent of the broadband market.

“The Commission has a choice,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. “It can either protect consumers from the abuses of telephone and cable companies, or it can walk away and let the telephone and cable companies chip away at the free and open Internet little by little until they can control consumer use of the network as they please. We will see how serious the Commission is about preserving the neutral, non-discriminatory Internet that encourages innovation without permission.”

The petition was filed by Free Press, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Barbara von Shewick of Stanford Law School and the Stanford Center for Internet & Society.

Free Press and Public Knowledge also filed a complaint against Comcast, asking the FCC to stop Comcast from interfering with Internet traffic and rule that the cable giant’s actions directly violate the agency’s Internet Policy Statement. The groups proposed fines to deter future violations by Comcast and other Internet service providers.

“Nobody gave Comcast the right to be an Internet gatekeeper,” says Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and co-author of the complaint. “And there is nothing reasonable about telling users which Internet services they can and can’t use.”