Saturday, February 16, 2008

Congressional Progressives Demand Classified Access to Domestic Spying Program

WASHINGTON, DC - February 15 - The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congresswomen Barbara Lee (CA-9) and Lynn Woolsey (CA-6), today demanded that President Bush provide an opportunity for all Members of Congress to have the same access to classified documents regarding his Administrations domestic spying program. In a letter sent today, the Co-Chairs called on the President to provide House Members with classified access to documents pertaining to the program, access which to this point has been denied. The letter comes as the debate in the House over an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act continues to heat up, and follows a letter signed by 29 House and Senate Members that the Progressives sent to the President last week telling him that they will oppose any legislation that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies who participated in the Administration’s warrantless program. Lee and Woolsey issued the following statements:

“It is imperative that the Bush administration give Members of Congress access to these documents before we take any further votes on this issue,” said Congresswoman Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “After keeping us in the dark about the true extent of this program, it is time for the Bush administration to come clean and level with lawmakers who are concerned about its impact on civil liberties.”

“It’s far past time that President Bush realizes that sometimes he can’t bluster and scare his way into getting what he wants,” Woolsey said. “As a co-equal branch of government this Congress has a responsibility to carefully weigh any decision regarding updating our intelligence laws, and the Congress simply cannot do that without access to the full details of what we’re voting on. The President’s ‘promise’ of this program’s legality is worthless – we are not a rubber stamp. Therefore, we want all Members of Congress to have access to the information regarding this program, and the role that telecom firms played in it.”

Text of Letter

President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
February 14, 2008

Mr. President;

Your Administration recently granted select House Members access to documents related to the scope and prior conduct of telecommunications companies involved in the expanded warrantless domestic surveillance program. As Co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), we are writing to request that every interested House Member be provided with an opportunity to review, in compliance with standards for reviewing classified material, these documents.

Since we are at a critical legislative juncture in voting to provide blanket immunity to dozens of telecommunications companies for their complicity in this secretive and substantially expanded surveillance program, we are now requesting that every Member be provided with immediate access to these documents. Providing blanket retroactive legal immunity to corporations that may have willfully violated fundamental privacy rights of millions of Americans sets a very dangerous precedent.

Additionally, your public acknowledgement of the existence of these warrantless surveillance programs demonstrates that this program is not a covert operation, and the legislative branch's access to documents about these companies' activities should no longer be restricted. As a co-equal branch, Congress must have an opportunity to learn the full extent of these companies' actions before making this decision.

This is simply a fundamental matter of protecting the constitutionally mandated civil liberties of every American and we hope that we can expect your full cooperation in this endeavor. We are committed to protecting the privacy of innocent Americans while providing the necessary tools to safeguard our country.

We look forward to your prompt compliance with our request.


Barbara Lee Lynn Woolsey

Member of Congress

Friday, February 15, 2008

Saudi Arabia: Halt Woman’s Execution for ‘Witchcraft’

Fawza Falih’s Case Reveals Deep Flaws in Saudi Justice System

NEW YORK - February 14 - King Abdullah should halt the execution of Fawza Falih and void her conviction for “witchcraft,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the Saudi king.

The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law.

“The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Fawza Falih’s case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.”

The judges relied on Fawza Falih’s coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched” them to convict her in April 2006. She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint. She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings.

The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or reliable or investigated her allegations of torture. They never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have “bewitched.” They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances, ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.

The judges did not sit as a panel of three, as required for cases involving the death penalty. They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from attending any session. Earlier, her interrogators blocked her access to a lawyer and the judges, and denied her the right to professional legal representation, thus depriving her of the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against her. She claims that some of the witnesses were unknown to her and that others had made statements against her only as a result of beatings.

Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, and “witchcraft” is not a defined crime. The Law of Criminal Procedure of 2002 grants defendants the right to be tried in person, to have a lawyer present during interrogation and trial, and to cross-examine any prosecution witnesses. The law obliges law enforcement officers to treat detainees humanely.

An appeals court ruled in September 2006 that Fawza Falih could not be sentenced to death for “witchcraft” as a crime against God because she had retracted her confession. The lower court judges then sentenced her to death on a “discretionary” basis, for the benefit of “public interest” and to “protect the creed, souls and property of this country.”

“The judges’ behavior in Fawza Falih’s trial shows they were interested in anything but a quest for the truth,” Stork said. “They completely disregarded legal guarantees that would have demonstrated how ill-founded this whole case was.”

On November 2, Saudi Arabia executed Mustafa Ibrahim for sorcery in Riyadh. Ibrahim, an Egyptian working as a pharmacist in the northern town of `Ar’ar, was found guilty of having tried “through sorcery” to separate a married couple, according to a Ministry of Interior statement.

The National Lawyers Guild Condemns Senate Grant of Immunity to Telecommunications Companies

NEW YORK - February 14 - Responding to fear-mongering by the Bush administration, the Senate voted on February 12 to give retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that have turned over our telephone and Internet communications to the government. These companies have violated several laws, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Title III, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, as well as the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution.

The Bush administration has been illegally engaging in warrantless surveillance since early 2001, through its "Terrorist Surveillance Program." Over 40 lawsuits against the telecommunications companies challenging the legality of the program are pending.

On the eve of Congress's Labor Day recess last year, the Bush administration had rammed that the "Protect America Act" through a Congress still fearful of appearing soft on terror. It was a 6-month fix to the 1978 FISA, which didn't anticipate that foreign intelligence communications would one day run through Internet providers in the United States. But the temporary law went further than simply fixing that glitch in FISA; it granted immunity to telecommunications companies that provided consumer telephone and computer data to the government.

The day before the Senate took up this issue, Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the memory of September 11, 2001 twelve times in his address to the Heritage Foundation, and urged Congress to make the Act permanent. In the face of lawsuits against the telecom companies, Attorney General Michael Mukasey described the need for the companies to defend against litigation as "an enormous burden." Indeed, defending these lawsuits has likely cut in to their enormous profits.

Although President George W. Bush claims that making the Act permanent was critical to keeping us safe, he threatens to veto the bill unless it includes the immunity provision. Apparently protecting corporate profits trumps national security.

The House of Representatives passed a bill without immunity for the telecoms. The two bills will have to be harmonized. The National Lawyers Guild urges Congress to adopt the House version that omits immunity. Litigation against the telecommunications companies is the only remaining avenue of accountability for the administration's lawbreaking.

Friday, February 01, 2008

ACLU in Court Tuesday for Extraordinary Rendition Case Against Boeing Subsidiary

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - February 1 - The American Civil Liberties Union will argue in federal court next week for the continuation of its case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. for the company’s role in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The ACLU is opposing the government’s attempt to throw out the case by misusing the “state secrets” privilege in an effort to avoid legal scrutiny of the unlawful and shameful program.

Tuesday’s hearing is part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of the rendition program who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques and torture. The lawsuit charges that Jeppesen knowingly aided the program by providing flight planning and logistical support services for aircraft and crews used by the CIA to transport the victims.

After the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. government intervened to seek its dismissal, contending that further litigation of the case would expose state secrets and be harmful to national security. However, the information needed to pursue the lawsuit, including details about the extraordinary rendition program itself, is already in the public domain.

CCR Says Suspected Use of Torture Undermines Credibility of 9/11 Report

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - January 31 - The Center for Constitutional Rights is outraged by new information that reveals that the much of the information contained in the 9/11 Commissions Final Report regarding the planning and execution of the terror attacks on New York and Washington was supported by information gained from torture, including water boarding.

The analysis from NBC News shows that more than one quarter of all footnotes in the 9/11 Commission’s Report refers to controversial interrogation techniques, including information in the Report’s most critical chapters, those on planning and executing the attacks. Remarkably, Commission staffers and Executive Director Philip Zelikow admitted that though they were skeptical of the intelligence reports, they did not make any inquiries regarding cross-examination techniques.

CCR President Michael Ratner expressed shock at the revelations stating, “If the Commission suspected there was torture, they should have realized that as a matter of law, evidence derived from torture is not reliable, in part because of the possibility of false confession…at the very least, they should have added caveats to all those references.”

“The Commission’s heavy reliance on tainted sources reinforces the notion that we as a nation have not yet come to terms with the reality that the U.S. engaged in torture,” he added. “Until we do so, we undermine our credibility in the eyes of the world as a nation of hypocrites.”

CCR is currently seeking to preserve evidence of the torture of their client Majid Khan, a former CIA ghost detainee now held at Guantanamo. While held at a CIA black site, Majid was subject to hours of torture, which only stopped when he agreed to sign a statement that he wasn’t allowed to read.

“The effect of our government’s reliance on secrecy and torture not only shames the U.S. in the eyes of the world, but sacrifices our freedom and security here at home,” said Vincent Warren, the Executive Director of CCR.