The Polite Conference Rooms Where Liberties Are Saved and Lost

by Chris Hedges

I spent four hours in a third-floor conference room at 86 Chambers St. in Manhattan on Friday as I underwent a government deposition. Benjamin H. Torrance, an assistant U.S. attorney, carried out the questioning as part of the government’s effort to decide whether it will challenge my standing as a plaintiff in the lawsuit I have brought with others against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill.

The NDAA implodes our most cherished constitutional protections. It permits the military to function on U.S. soil as a civilian law enforcement agency. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus for citizens. The law can be used to detain people deemed threats to national security, including dissidents whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, and hold them until what is termed “the end of the hostilities.” Even the name itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian concept that endless war has to be waged within “the homeland” against internal enemies as well as foreign enemies.

Judge Katherine B. Forrest, in a session starting at 9 a.m. Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, will determine if I have standing and if the case can go forward. The attorneys handling my case, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, will ask, if I am granted standing, for a temporary injunction against the Homeland Battlefield Bill. An injunction would, in effect, nullify the law and set into motion a fierce duel between two very unequal adversaries—on the one hand, the U.S. government and, on the other, myself, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, the Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir and three other activists and journalists. All have joined me as plaintiffs and begun to mobilize resistance to the law through groups such as Stop NDAA.

The deposition was, as these things go, conducted civilly. Afran and Mayer, the attorneys bringing the suit on my behalf, were present. I was asked detailed questions by Torrance about my interpretation of Section 1021 and Section 1022 of the NDAA. I was asked about my relationships and contacts with groups on the U.S. State Department terrorism list. I was asked about my specific conflicts with the U.S. government when I was a foreign correspondent, a period in which I reported from El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Middle East, the Balkans and other places. And I was asked how the NDAA law had impeded my work.

It is in conference rooms like this one, where attorneys speak in the arcane and formal language of legal statutes, that we lose or save our civil liberties. The 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, the employment of the Espionage Act by the Obama White House against six suspected whistle-blowers and leakers, and the Homeland Battlefield Bill have crippled the work of investigative reporters in every major newsroom in the country. Government sources that once provided information to counter official narratives and lies have largely severed contact with the press. They are acutely aware that there is no longer any legal protection for those who dissent or who expose the crimes of state. The NDAA threw in a new and dangerous component that permits the government not only to silence journalists but imprison them and deny them due process because they “substantially supported” terrorist groups or “associated forces.”

Those of us who reach out to groups opposed to the U.S. in order to explain them to the American public will not be differentiated from terrorists under this law. I know how vicious the government can be when it feels challenged by the press. I covered the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua from 1983 to 1988. Press members who reported on the massacres and atrocities committed by the Salvadoran military, as well as atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed Contra forces in Nicaragua, were repeatedly denounced by senior officials in the Reagan administration as fellow travelers and supporters of El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) rebels or the leftist Sandinista government in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Reagan White House, in one example, set up an internal program to distort information and intimidate and attack those of us in the region who wrote articles that countered the official narrative. The program was called “public diplomacy.” Walter Raymond Jr., a veteran CIA propagandist, ran it. The goal of the program was to manage “perceptions” about the wars in Central America among the public. That management included aggressive efforts to destroy the careers of reporters who were not compliant by branding them as communists or communist sympathizers. If the power to lock us up indefinitely without legal representation had been in the hands of Elliott Abrams or Oliver North or Raymond, he surely would have used it.

Little has changed. On returning not long after 9/11 from a speaking engagement in Italy I was refused entry into the United States by customs officials at the Newark, N.J., airport. I was escorted to a room filled with foreign nationals. I was told to wait. A supervisor came into the room an hour later. He leaned over the shoulder of the official seated at a computer in front of me. He said to this official: “He is on a watch. Tell him he can go.” When I asked for further information I was told no one was authorized to speak to me. I was handed my passport and told to leave the airport.

Glenn Greenwald, the columnist and constitutional lawyer, has done the most detailed analysis of the NDAA bill. He has pointed out that the crucial phrases are “substantially supported” and “associated forces.” These two phrases, he writes, allow the government to expand the definition of terrorism to include groups that were not involved in the 9/11 attacks and may not have existed when those attacks took place.

It is worth reading Sections 1021 and 1022 of the bill. Section 1021 of the NDAA “includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.” Subsection B defines covered persons like this: “(b) Covered Persons—A covered person under this section is any person as follows: (1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks. (2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.” Section 1022, Subsection C, goes on to declare that covered persons are subject to: “(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” And Section 1022, Subsection A, Item 4, allows the president to waive the requirement of legal evidence in order to condemn a person as an enemy of the state if that is believed to be in the “national security interests of the United States.”

The law can be used to detain individuals who are not members of terrorist organizations but have provided, in the words of the bill, substantial support even to “associated forces.” But what constitutes substantial? What constitutes support? What are these “associated forces”? What is defined under this law as an act of terror? What are the specific activities of those purportedly “engaged in hostilities against the United States”? None of this is answered. And this is why, especially as acts of civil disobedience proliferate, the NDAA law is so terrifying. It can be used by the military to seize and detain citizens and deny legal recourse to anyone who defies the corporate state.

Torrance’s questions to me about incidents that occurred during my reporting were typified by this back and forth, which I recorded:

Torrance: In paragraph eight of your declaration you refer to the type of journalism we have just been discussing, which conveyed opinions, programs and ideas as being brought within the scope of Section 1021’s provision defining a covered people as one who has substantially supported or directly supported the acts and activities of such individuals or organizations and allies of associated forces. Why do you believe journalistic activity could be brought within that statute?

Hedges: Because anytime a journalist writes and reports in a way that challenges the official government narrative they come under fierce attack.

Torrance: What kind of attack do they come under?

Hedges: It is a range. First of all, the propaganda attempts to discredit the reporting. It would be an attempt to discredit the individual reporter. It would be a refusal to intercede when allied governments physically detain and expel the reporter because of reporting that both that allied government and the United States did not want. And any foreign correspondent that is any good through their whole career has endured all of this.

Torrance: Remind me, the phrase you used that you believed would trigger that was “coverage disfavorable to the United States”?

Hedges: I didn’t say that.

Torrance: Remind me of the phrase.

Hedges: I said it was coverage that challenged the official narrative.

Torrance: Have you ever been detained by the United States government?

Hedges: Yes.

Torrance: When and where?

Hedges: The First Gulf War.

Torrance: What were the circumstances of that?

Hedges: I was reporting outside of the pool system.

Torrance: How did that come about that you were detained?

Hedges: I was discovered by military police without an escort.

Torrance: And they took you into custody?

Hedges: Yes.

Torrance: For how long?

Hedges: Not a long time. They seized my press credentials and they called Dhahran, which is where the sort of central operations were, and I was told that within a specified time—and I don’t remember what that time was—I had to report to the authorities in Dhahran.

Torrance: Where is Dhahran?

Hedges: Saudi Arabia.

Torrance: And that was a U.S. military headquarters of some sort?

Hedges: Well, it was the press operations run by the U.S. Army.

Torrance: And what was the asserted basis for detaining you?

Hedges: That I had been reporting without an escort.

Torrance: And was that a violation of some law or regulation that you know of?

Afran: Note, object to form. Laws and regulations are two different things.

Hedges: Not in my view. …

Torrance: Did the people who detained you specify any law or regulation that in their view you violated?

Hedges: Let me preface that by saying that as a foreign correspondent with a valid journalistic visa, which I had, in a country like Saudi Arabia, the United States does not have the authority to detain me or tell me what I can report on. They attempted to do that, but neither I [nor] The New York Times [my employer at the time] recognized their authority.

Torrance: When you obtained that journalistic visa did you agree to any conditions on what you would do or where you would be permitted to go?

Hedges: From the Saudis?

Torrance: The visa was issued by the Saudi government?

Hedges: Of course, I need a visa from the Saudi government to get into Saudi.

Torrance: Did you agree to any such conditions?

Hedges: No. Not with the Saudis.

Torrance: Were there any other journalists of which you were aware who [were] reporting outside of the pool system?

Hedges: Yes.

Torrance: Were they also detained, to your knowledge?

Hedges: Yes.

The politeness of the exchanges, the small courtesies extended when we needed a break, the idle asides that took place during the brief recesses, masked the deadly seriousness of the proceeding. If there is no rolling back of the NDAA law we cease to be a constitutional democracy.

Totalitarian systems always begin by rewriting the law. They make legal what was once illegal. Crimes become patriotic acts. The defense of freedom and truth becomes a crime. Foreign and domestic subjugation merges into the same brutal mechanism. Citizens are colonized. And it is always done in the name of national security. We obey the new laws as we obeyed the old laws, as if there was no difference. And we spend our energy and our lives appealing to a dead system.

Franz Kafka understood the totalitarian misuse of law, the ability by the state to make law serve injustice and yet be held up as the impartial arbiter of good and evil. In his stories “The Trial” and “The Castle” Kafka presents pathetic supplicants before the law who are passed from one doorkeeper, administrator or clerk to the next in an endless and futile quest for justice. In the parable “Before the Law” the supplicant dies before even being permitted to enter the halls of justice. In Kafka’s dystopian vision, the law is the mechanism by which injustice and tyranny are perpetuated. A bureaucratic legal system uses the language of justice to defend injustice. The cowed populations in tyrannies become for Kafka so broken, desperate and passive that they are finally complicit in their own enslavement. The central character in “The Trial,” known as Josef K, offers little resistance at the end of the story when two men arrive to oversee his execution. Josef K. leads them to a quarry where he is expected to kill himself. He cannot. The men do it for him. His last words are: “Like a dog!”

Copyright © 2012 Truthdig, L.L.C.
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_polite_conference_rooms_where_li...

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

NDAA Lawsuit a Struggle to Save the US Constitution

What Makes Our NDAA Lawsuit a Struggle to Save the US Constitution
Time after time, Obama's lawyers defending the NDAA's section 1021 affirm our worst fears about its threat to our liberty

by Tangerine Bolen

I am one of the lead plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit against the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the president the power to hold any US citizen anywhere for as long as he wants, without charge or trial.

In a May hearing, Judge Katherine Forrest issued an injunction against it; this week, in a final hearing in New York City, US government lawyers asserted even more extreme powers – the right to disregard entirely the judge and the law. On Thursday 9 August, Obama's lawyers filed an appeal to the injunction – a profoundly important development that, as of this writing, has been scarcely reported.

In the earlier March hearing, US government lawyers had confirmed that, yes, the NDAA does give the president the power to lock up people like journalist Chris Hedges and peaceful activists like myself and other plaintiffs. Government attorneys stated on record that even war correspondents could be locked up indefinitely under the NDAA.

Judge Forrest had ruled for a temporary injunction against an unconstitutional provision in this law, after government attorneys refused to provide assurances to the court that plaintiffs and others would not be indefinitely detained for engaging in first amendment activities. At that time, twice the government has refused to define what it means to be an "associated force", and it claimed the right to refrain from offering any clear definition of this term, or clear boundaries of power under this law.

This past week's hearing was even more terrifying. Government attorneys again, in this hearing, presented no evidence to support their position and brought forth no witnesses. Most incredibly, Obama's attorneys refused to assure the court, when questioned, that the NDAA's section 1021 – the provision that permits reporters and others who have not committed crimes to be detained without trial – has not been applied by the US government anywhere in the world after Judge Forrest's injunction. In other words, they were telling a US federal judge that they could not, or would not, state whether Obama's government had complied with the legal injunction that she had laid down before them.

To this, Judge Forrest responded that if the provision had indeed been applied, the United States government would be in contempt of court.

I have mixed feelings about suing my government, and in particular, my president, over the National Defense Authorization Act. I voted for Obama.

But the US public often ignores how, when it comes to the "war on terror", the US government as a whole has been deceitful, reckless, even murderous. We lost nearly 3,000 people on 9/11. Then we allowed the Bush administration to lie and force us into war with a country that had nothing to do with that terrible day. Presidents Bush and Obama, and the US Congress, appear more interested in enacting misguided "war on terror" policies that distract citizens from investigating the truth about what we've done, and what we've become, since 9/11.

I, like many in this fight, am now afraid of my government. We have good reason to be. Due to the NDAA, Chris Hedges, Kai Wargalla, the other plaintiffs and I are squarely in the crosshairs of a "war on terror" that has been an excuse to undermine liberties, trample the US constitution, destroy mechanisms of accountability and transparency, and cause irreparable harm to millions. Several of my co-plaintiffs know well the harassment and harm they have incurred from having dared openly to defy the US government: court testimony has included government subpoenas of private bank records of Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir; Wargalla's account of having been listed as a "terrorist group"; and Hedges' concern that he would be included as a "belligerent" in the NDAA's definition of the term – because he interviews members of outlawed groups as a reporter – a concern that the US attorneys refused on the record to allay.

Other advocates have had email accounts repeatedly hacked, and often find their electronic communications corrupted in transmission (some emails vanish altogether). This is an increasing form of pressure that supporters of state surveillance and intervention in the internet often fail to consider.

I've been surprised to find that most people, when I mention that I am suing my president, Leon Panetta, and six members of Congress (four Democrats and four Republicans), thank me – even before I explain what I'm suing them over! And when I do explain the fact that I and my seven co-plaintiffs are suing over a law that suspends due process, threatens first amendment rights and takes away the basic right of every citizen on this planet not to be indefinitely detained without charge or trial, their exuberance shifts, and a deeper gratitude shines through newly somber demeanors. But this fight has taken a personal toll on many of us, including myself.

My government, meanwhile, seems to have lost the ability to discern the truth about the US constitution any more; I and many others have not. We are fighting for due process and for the first amendment – for a country we still believe in and for a government still legally bound by its constitution.

If that makes us their "enemies", then so be it. As long as they cannot call us "belligerents", lock us up and throw away the key – a power that, incredibly, this past week US government lawyers still asserted is their right. Against such abuses, we will keep fighting.

© 2012 Tangerine Bolen
http://revolutiontruth.org

Tangerine Bolen is executive director of Revolution Truth, a citizen-driven first amendment campaign inspired by WikiLeaks

Criminalizing Dissent

by Chris Hedges

I was on the 15th floor of the Southern U.S. District Court in New York in the courtroom of Judge Katherine Forrest last Tuesday. It was the final hearing in the lawsuit I brought in January against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. I filed the suit, along with lawyers Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). We were late joined by six co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg.

This section of the NDAA, signed into law by Obama on Dec. 31, 2011, obliterates some of our most important constitutional protections. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. Those taken into custody by the military, which becomes under the NDAA a domestic law enforcement agency, can be denied due process and habeas corpus and held indefinitely in military facilities. Any activist or dissident, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can be threatened under this law with indefinite incarceration in military prisons, including our offshore penal colonies. The very name of the law itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian credo of endless war waged against enemies within “the homeland” as well as those abroad.

“The essential thrust of the NDAA is to create a system of justice that violates the separation of powers,” Mayer told the court. “[The Obama administration has] taken detention out of the judicial branch and put it under the executive branch.”

In May, Judge Forrest issued a temporary injunction invalidating Section 1021 as a violation of the First and Fifth amendments. It was a courageous decision. Forrest will decide within a couple of weeks whether she will make the injunction permanent.

In last week’s proceeding, the judge, who appeared from her sharp questioning of government attorneys likely to nullify the section, cited the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a precedent she did not want to follow. Forrest read to the courtroom a dissenting opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in Korematsu v. United States, a ruling that authorized the detention during the war of some 110,00 Japanese-Americans in government “relocation camps."

"[E]ven if they were permissible military procedures, I deny that it follows that they are constitutional,” Jackson wrote in his 1944 dissent. “If, as the Court holds, it does follow, then we may as well say that any military order will be constitutional, and have done with it.”

Barack Obama’s administration has appealed Judge Forrest’s temporary injunction and would certainly appeal a permanent injunction. It is a stunning admission by this president that he will do nothing to protect our constitutional rights. The administration’s added failure to restore habeas corpus, its use of the Espionage Act six times to silence government whistle-blowers, its support of the FISA Amendment Act—which permits warrantless wiretapping, monitoring and eavesdropping on U.S. citizens—and its ordering of the assassination of U.S. citizens under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, is a signal that for all his rhetoric, Obama, like his Republican rivals, is determined to remove every impediment to the unchecked power of the security and surveillance state. I and the six other plaintiffs, who include reporters, professors and activists, will most likely have to continue this fight in an appellate court and perhaps the Supreme Court.

The language of the bill is terrifyingly vague. It defines a “covered person”—one subject to detention—as “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” The bill, however, does not define the terms “substantially supported,” “directly supported” or “associated forces.” In defiance of more than 200 earlier laws of domestic policing, this act holds that any member of a group deemed by the state to be a terrorist organization, whether it is a Palestinian charity or a Black Bloc anarchist unit, can be seized and held by the military. Mayer stressed this point in the court Wednesday when he cited the sedition convictions of peace activists during World War I who distributed leaflets calling to end the war by halting the manufacturing of munitions. Mayer quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissenting 1919 opinion. We need to “be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe,” the justice wrote.

The Justice Department’s definition of a potential terrorism suspect under the Patriot Act is already extremely broad. It includes anyone with missing fingers, someone who has weatherproof ammunition and guns, and anyone who has hoarded more than seven days of food. This would make a few of my relatives in rural Maine and their friends, if the government so decided, prime terrorism suspects.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Torrance argued in court that the government already has the authority to strip citizens of their constitutional rights. He cited the execution of Nazi saboteur Richard Quirin during World War II, saying the case was “completely within the Constitution.” He then drew a connection between that case and the AUMF, which the Obama White House argues permits the government to detain and assassinate U.S. citizens they deem to be terrorists. Torrance told the court that judicial interpretation of the AUMF made it identical to the NDAA, which led the judge to ask him why it was necessary for the government to defend the NDAA if that was indeed the case. Torrance, who fumbled for answers before the judge’s questioning, added that the United States does not differentiate under which law it holds military detainees. Judge Forrest, looking incredulous, said that if this was actually true the government could be found in contempt of court for violating orders prohibiting any detention under the NDAA.

Forrest quoted to the court Alexander Hamilton, who argued that judges must place “the power of the people” over legislative will.

“Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power,” Hamilton, writing under the pseudonym Publius, said in Federalist No. 78. “It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.”

Contrast this crucial debate in a federal court with the empty campaign rhetoric and chatter that saturate the airwaves. The cant of our political theater, the ridiculous obsessions over vice presidential picks or celebrity gossip that dominate the news industry, effectively masks the march toward corporate totalitarianism. The corporate state has convinced the masses, in essence, to clamor for their own enslavement. There is, in reality, no daylight between Mitt Romney and Obama about the inner workings of the corporate state. They each support this section within the NDAA and the widespread extinguishing of civil liberties. They each will continue to funnel hundreds of billions of wasted dollars to defense contractors, intelligence agencies and the military. They each intend to let Wall Street loot the U.S. Treasury with impunity. Neither will lift a finger to help the long-term unemployed and underemployed, those losing their homes to foreclosures or bank repossessions, those filing for bankruptcy because of medical bills or college students burdened by crippling debt. Listen to the anguished cries of partisans on either side of the election divide and you would think this was a battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. You would think voting in the rigged political theater of the corporate state actually makes a difference. The charade of junk politics is there not to offer a choice but to divert the crowd while our corporate masters move relentlessly forward, unimpeded by either party, to turn all dissent into a crime.

© 2012 TruthDig.com
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/criminalizing_dissent_20120813/

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

NDAA: The Final Battle

by Chris Hedges

Over the past year I and other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg have pressed a lawsuit in the federal courts to nullify Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This egregious section, which permits the government to use the military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, could have been easily fixed by Congress. The Senate and House had the opportunity this month to include in the 2013 version of the NDAA an unequivocal statement that all U.S. citizens would be exempt from 1021(b)(2), leaving the section to apply only to foreigners. But restoring due process for citizens was something the Republicans and the Democrats, along with the White House, refused to do. The fate of some of our most basic and important rights—ones enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution—will be decided in the next few months in the courts. If the courts fail us, a gulag state will be cemented into place.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, pushed through the Senate an amendment to the 2013 version of the NDAA. The amendment, although deeply flawed, at least made a symbolic attempt to restore the right to due process and trial by jury. A House-Senate conference committee led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., however, removed the amendment from the bill last week.

“I was saddened and disappointed that we could not take a step forward to ensure at the very least American citizens and legal residents could not be held in detention without charge or trial,” Feinstein said in a statement issued by her office. “To me that was a no-brainer.”

The House approved the $633 billion NDAA for 2013 in a 315-107 vote late Thursday night. It will now go before the Senate. Several opponents of the NDAA in the House, including Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., cited Congress’ refusal to guarantee due process and trial by jury to all citizens as his reason for voting against the bill. He wrote in a statement after the vote that “American citizens may fear being arrested and indefinitely detained by the military without knowing what they have done wrong.”

The Feinstein-Lee amendment was woefully adequate. It was probably proposed mainly for its public relations value, but nonetheless it resisted the concerted assault on our rights and sought to calm nervous voters objecting to the destruction of the rule of law. The amendment failed to emphatically state that citizens could never be placed in military custody. Rather, it said citizens could not be placed in indefinite military custody without “trial.” But this could have been a trial by military tribunals. Citizens, under the amendment, could have been barred from receiving due process in a civil court. Still, it was better than nothing. And now we have nothing.

"Congressional moves concerning the NDAA make it clear that Congress as a whole has no stomach for the protection of civil liberties,” said attorney Bruce Afran, who along with attorney Carl Mayer has brought the lawsuit against President Obama in which we are attempting to block Section 1021(b)(2).

The only hero so far in this story is U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District Court of New York. Forrest in September accepted all of our challenges to the law. She issued a permanent injunction invalidating Section 1021(b)(2). Government lawyers asked Forrest for a “stay pending appeal”—meaning the law would go back into effect until the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling in the case. She refused. The government then went directly to the Court of Appeals and asked it for a temporary stay while promising not to detain the plaintiffs or other U.S. citizens under the provision. The Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments in January, granted the government’s request for a temporary stay. The law went back into effect. If the Court of Appeals upholds Forrest’s ruling, the case will most likely be before the Supreme Court within weeks.

“President Obama should never have appealed this watershed civil rights ruling,” Mayer said. “But now that he has, the fight may well go all the way to the Supreme Court. At stake is whether America will slide more toward authoritarianism or whether the judicial branch of government will stem the decade-long erosion of our civil liberties. Since 9/11 Americans have been systematically stripped of their freedoms: Their phone calls are monitored under [George W.] Bush and Obama’s warrantless wiretapping program, they are videotaped relentlessly in public places, there are drones over American soil and the police control protesters and dissenters with paramilitary gear and tactics. As long as Obama and the leadership of both parties want the military to police our streets, we will fight. This is unacceptable, un-American and unconstitutional.”

We knew the government would appeal, but we did not expect it to act so aggressively. This means, we suspect, that the provision is already being used, most likely to hold people with U.S. and Pakistani dual citizenship or U.S. and Afghan dual citizenship in military detention sites such as Bagram. If the injunction were allowed to stand during the appeal and U.S. citizens were being held by the military without due process, the government would be in contempt of court.

Judge Forrest’s 112-page opinion is a stark explication and condemnation of the frightening erosion of the separation of powers. In her opinion she referred to the Supreme Court ruling Korematsu v. United States, which declared constitutional the government’s internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans without due process during World War II. The 2013 NDAA, like the old versions of the act, allows similar indefinite detentions—of Muslim Americans, dissidents and other citizens.

Section 1021(b)(2) defines a “covered person”—one subject to detention—as “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

The section, however, does not define the terms “substantially supported,” “directly supported” or “associated forces.” The vagueness of the language means that the plaintiffs, including those who as journalists have contact with individuals or groups deemed by the State Department to be part of terrorist organizations, could along with others find themselves seized and detained under the provision.

The corporate state knows that the steady deterioration of the economy and the increasingly savage effects of climate change will create widespread social instability. It knows that rage will mount as the elites squander diminishing resources while the poor, as well as the working and middle classes, are driven into destitution. It wants to have the legal measures to keep us cowed, afraid and under control. It does not, I suspect, trust the police to maintain order. And this is why, contravening two centuries of domestic law, it has seized for itself the authority to place the military on city streets and citizens in military detention centers, where they cannot find redress in the courts. The shredding of our liberties is being done in the name of national security and the fight against terrorism. But the NDAA is not about protecting us. It is about protecting the state from us. That is why no one in the executive or legislative branch is going to restore our rights. The new version of the NDAA, like the old ones, provides our masters with the legal shackles to make our resistance impossible. And that is their intention.

© 2012 TruthDig.com
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_final_battle_20121223/

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Senate Vote on the FISA Amend's Act, Warrantless Domestic Spying

Keeping Big Brother busy, as Congress can be just as evil a threat to our liberties as the executive branch by their sheer inaction.

Why We Should All Care About Today's Senate Vote on the FISA Amendments Act, the Warrantless Domestic Spying Bill
by Trevor Timm

Today is an incredibly important vote for the future of your digital privacy, but some in Congress are hoping you won’t find out.

Finally, after weeks of delay, the Senate will start debate on the dangerous FISA Amendments Act at 10 am Eastern and vote on its re-authorization by the end of the day. The FISA Amendments Act is the broad domestic spying bill passed in 2008 in the wake of the warrantless wiretapping scandal. It expires at the end of the year and some in Congress wanted to re-authorize it without a minute of debate(https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/12/still-no-word-debate-fisa-amendmen...).

The good news is — thanks for your phone calls, emails, and tweets (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/12/still-no-word-debate-fisa-amendmen...) — Congress will now be forced to debate it, which means, we can affect its outcome. In case you forget just how dangerous the FISA Amendments Act is to your privacy, here’s how we described it last week:

The FISA Amendments Act continues to be controversial; key portions of it were challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. In brief, the law allows the government to get secret FISA court orders—orders that do not require probable cause like regular warrants—for any emails or phone calls going to and from overseas. The communications only have to deal with "foreign intelligence information," a broad term that can mean virtually anything. And one secret FISA order can be issued against groups or categories of people—potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans at once.

Any Senator who wants to stay true to the Constitution should vote no on its re-authorization, but in the alternative, there are four common sense amendments up for debate tomorrow that would go a long-way in curbing the law’s worst abuses.

The Wyden Oversight and Transparency Amendments

Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the most ardent defenders of civil liberties in the Senate, has been asking the NSA for months for information on how the FISA Amendments Act has impacted Americans.

The NSA has so far refused, yet, as the New York Times reported in 2009 (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/us/16nsa.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all), we know the NSA was still intercepting domestic communications in a “significant and systematic” way. We also know the secret FISA court ruled (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/congress-must-act-after-us-governm...), on at least one occasion, that the government had violated the Fourth Amendment when conducting surveillance under the FAA. Yet the NSA has rather unbelievably claimed releasing the number of Americans whose privacy has been violated would violate those same Americans’ privacy.

Ron Wyden’s amendment would force the NSA to come clean and give a general estimate of how many Americans have been affected by this unconstitutional bill, and finally give us information Americans deserve.

In addition, another Wyden amendment would clarify that the acquisition of American communications is prohibited without a warrant. Sen. Wyden has accused the government of conducting “backdoor searches,” whereby the government collects communications of foreign individuals talking to Americans, but later goes back into the government’s database of intercepted communications and reviews the Americans' comunications. Sen. Wyden hopes this clarification to the law will help guard against further intrusive spying on American communications.

The Rand Paul Fourth Amendment Amendment

Republican Senator Rand Paul has commendably been one of the few voices unequivocally denouncing the FISA Amendments Act as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. To that end, Sen. Paul will be introducing “the Fourth Amendment Protection Act” which will re-iterate that all US communications, whether sought by US intelligence agencies like the NSA or any government agency, are protected against unwarranted searches and seizures—even if they are held by third party email providers like Google. You can read Sen. Paul's amendment here.
http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/congress/item/13992-senate-to-consi...

The Merkley FISA Court Amendment

Both in 2010 and 2011, Obama administration officials promised to work to declassify (https://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2012/05/fisa_null.html) secret FISA court opinions that contained “important rulings of law.” These opinions would shed light on whether and how Americans’ communications have been illegally spied on. Since then, the administration has refused to declassify (https://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2012/05/fisa_null.html) a single opinion, even though the administration admitted in July that the FISA court ruled that collection done under the FAA had violated the Fourth Amendment rights of an unknown number of Americans on at least one occasion (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/congress-must-act-after-us-governm...).

Starting with the precept that “secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance,” Sen. Jeff Merkley’s amendment would force the government to release any FISA court opinions that contain significant interpretations of the FISA Amendments Act so the American public can know how it may or may not be used against them.

The Leahy Sunset Amendment

About the only good part in the original FISA Amendments Act was the provision that stated it would expire after four years so Congress could fully debate its use and abuse before reauthorizing, if reauthorization was even necessary. Unfortunately, Congress has been resisting the debate, and the new bill would extend the FAA for five more years. That means the law would not sunset again until President Obama is out of office. Senator Leahy’s amendment would shorten the law’s length to three years. While any extension of a law that results in unconstitional spying is unacceptable, the shorter the re-authorization, the better.

Please use Free Press' call-in tool (http://act.freepress.net/call/fisa_call/) to talk to your Senator's office on the phone or use EFF's action center to email your Senators (https://action.eff.org/o/9042/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=8982). Tell them to vote for these privacy-friendly amendments and to vote no on warrantless domestic spying.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/12/why-we-should-all-care-about-senat...

Trevor Timm is an Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He specializes in free speech issues and government transparency.

GOP and Feinstein Fulfill Obama's Warrantless Spying Demand

GOP and Feinstein Join to Fulfill Obama's Demand for Renewed Warrantless Eavesdropping

The California Democrat's disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney while advancing Obama's agenda
by Glenn Greenwald

To this day, many people identify mid-2008 as the time they realized what type of politician Barack Obama actually is. Six months before, when seeking the Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Obama unambiguously vowed that he would filibuster "any bill" that retroactively immunized the telecom industry for having participated in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.

But in July 2008, once he had secured the nomination, a bill came before the Senate that did exactly that - the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 - and Obama not only failed to filibuster as promised, but far worse, he voted against the filibuster brought by other Senators, and then voted in favor of enacting the bill itself. That blatant, unblinking violation of his own clear promise - actively supporting a bill he had sworn months earlier he would block from a vote - caused a serious rift even in the middle of an election year between Obama and his own supporters.

Critically, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 did much more than shield lawbreaking telecoms from all forms of legal accountability. Jointly written by Dick Cheney and then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, it also legalized vast new, sweeping and almost certainly unconstitutional forms of warrantless government eavesdropping.

In doing so, the new 2008 law gutted the 30-year-old FISA statute that had been enacted to prevent the decades of severe spying abuses discovered by the mid-1970s Church Committee: by simply barring the government from eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from a court. Worst of all, the 2008 law legalized most of what Democrats had spent years pretending was such a scandal: the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program secretly implemented by George Bush after the 9/11 attack. In other words, the warrantless eavesdropping "scandal" that led to a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times reporters who revealed it ended not with investigations or prosecutions for those who illegally spied on Americans, but with the Congressional GOP joining with key Democrats (including Obama) to legalize most of what Bush and Cheney had done. Ever since, the Obama DOJ has invoked secrecy and standing doctrines to prevent any courts from ruling on whether the warrantless eavesdropping powers granted by the 2008 law violate the Constitution.

The 2008 FISA law provided that it would expire in four years unless renewed. Yesterday, the Senate debated its renewal. Several Senators - Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon along with Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul - each attempted to attach amendments to the law simply to provide some modest amounts of transparency and oversight to ensure that the government's warrantless eavesdropping powers were constrained and checked from abuse.

Just consider how modest these amendments were. Along with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Wyden has spent two years warning Americans that the government's eavesdropping powers are being interpreted (by secret court decisions and the Executive Branch) far more broadly than they would ever suspect, and that, as a result, these eavesdropping powers are being applied far more invasively and extensively than is commonly understood.

As a result, Wyden yesterday had two amendments: one that would simply require the NSA to give a general estimate of how many Americans are having their communications intercepted under this law (information the NSA has steadfastly refused to provide), and another which would state that the NSA is barred from eavesdropping on Americans on US soil without a warrant. Merkley's amendment would compel the public release of secret judicial rulings from the FISA court which purport to interpret the scope of the eavesdropping law on the ground that "secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance"; the Obama administration has refused to release a single such opinion even though the court, "on at least one occasion", found that the government was violating the Fourth Amendment in how it was using the law to eavesdrop on Americans.

But the Obama White House opposed all amendments, demanding a "clean" renewal of the law without any oversight or transparency reforms. Earlier this month, the GOP-led House complied by passing a reform-free version of the law's renewal, and sent the bill Obama wanted to the Senate, where it was debated yesterday afternoon.

The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, took the lead in attacking Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul with the most foul Cheneyite accusations, and demanded renewal of the FISA law without any reforms. And then predictably, in virtually identical 37-54 votes, Feinstein and her conservative-Democratic comrades joined with virtually the entire GOP caucus (except for three Senators: Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller) to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law (while a few Democratic Senators have displayed genuine, sustained commitment to these issues, most Democrats who voted against FISA renewal yesterday did so symbolically and half-heartedly, knowing and not caring that they would lose as evidenced by the lack of an attempted filibuster).

In other words, Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That's the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU's legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: "I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off."

But what's most remarkable here is not so much what happened but how it happened. When Obama voted in 2008 to massively increase the government's warrantless eavesdropping powers, I so vividly recall his supporters insisting that he was only doing this because he wanted to win the election, and then would get into power and fix these abuses by reversing them. Yes, there were actually large numbers of people who believed this. And they were encouraged to believe this by Obama himself, who, in explaining his 2008 vote, said things like this:

"I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn't have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush's abuse of executive power. . . .

I do so [vote for the FISA bill] with the firm intention - once I'm sworn in as president - to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future."

Needless to say, none of that ever happened. Now, the warrantless eavesdropping bill that Obama insisted was plagued by numerous imperfections is one that he is demanding be renewed without a single change. Last week, Marcy Wheeler documented the huge gap between (a) what Obama vowed he would do when he voted for this law in 2008 versus (b) what he has actually done in power (they're opposites).

Indeed, when it came time last year to vote on renewal of the Patriot Act - remember how Democrats used to pretend during the Bush years to find the Patriot Act so alarming? - the Obama administration also demanded its renewal without a single reform. When a handful of Senators led by Rand Paul nonetheless proposed modest amendments to eliminate some of the documented abuses of the Patriot Act, Democratic majority leader Harry Reid did his best Dick Cheney impression by accusing these disobedient lawmakers of risking a Terrorist attack by delaying renewal:

"When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot against our country undetected. The senator from Kentucky is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them.

"We all remember the tragic Fort Hood shootings less than two years ago. Radicalized American terrorists bought guns and used them to kill 13 civilians [by "civilians", Reid means: members of the US military]. It is hard to imagine why the senator would want to hold up the Patriot Act for a misguided amendment that would make American less safe."

In other words: if you even try to debate the Patriot Act or add any amendments to it, then you are helping the Terrorists: classic Dick Cheney. (Democratic Sen. Udall defended Paul from Reid's disgusting attack: "This is not a Patriot Act. Patriots stand up for the Constitution. Patriots stand up for freedom and liberty that's embodied in the Constitution. And I think true patriots, when they're public servants, public servants stand up and do what's right, even if it's unpopular").

Yesterday, I watched as Dianne Feinstein went well beyond Harry Reid's disgusting Cheneyite display. Feinstein is one of the Senate's richest plutocrats, whose husband, Richard Blum, has coincidentally been quite enriched by military and other government contracts during her Senate career. During this time, Feinstein has acted as the most faithful servant in the Senate of the National Security State's unchecked, authoritarian power.

Yesterday, Feinstein stood up on the Senate floor and began by heaping praise on her GOP comrade, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, for leading his caucus to join her in renewing the FISA act without any reforms. She then unleashed a vile attack on her Democratic colleagues - Wyden, Merkley, and Udall, along with Paul - in which she repeatedly accused them of trying to make the nation vulnerable to a Terrorist attack.

Feinstein insisted that one could support their amendments only if "you believe that no one is going to attack us". She warned that their amendments would cause "another 9/11". She rambled about Najibullah Zazi and his attempt to detonate a bomb on the New York City subway: as though a warrant requirement, let alone disclosure requirements for the eavesdropping program, would have prevented his detection. Having learned so well from Rudy Giuliani (and Harry Reid), she basically just screamed "Terrorist!" and "9/11" over and over until her time ran out, and then proudly sat down as though she had mounted rational arguments against the transparency and oversight amendments advocated by Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul.

Even more notably, Feinstein repeatedly argued that requiring even basic disclosure about the eavesdropping program - such as telling Americans how many of them are targeted by it - would, as she put it, "destroy the program". But if "the program" is being conducted properly and lawfully, why would that kind of transparency kill the program? As the ACLU's Richardson noted: "That Sen. Feinstein says public oversight will lead to the end of the program says a lot about the info that's being hidden." In response to her warnings that basic oversight and transparency would destroy the program, Mother Jones' Adam Serwer similarly asked: "Why, if it's all on the up and up?"

All of this was accomplished with the core Bush/Cheney tactic used over and over: they purposely waited until days before the law is set to expire to vote on its renewal, then told anyone who wants reforms that there is no time to consider them, and that anyone who attempted debate would cause the law to expire and risk a Terrorist attack. Over and over yesterday, Feinstein stressed that only "four days remained" before the law expires and that any attempts even to debate the law, let alone amend it, would leave the nation vulnerable.

It's hard to put into words just how extreme was Feinstein's day-long fear-mongering tirade. "I've never seen a Congressional member argue so strongly against Executive Branch oversight as Sen. Feinstein did today re the FISA law," said Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. Referring to Feinstein's alternating denials and justifications for warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer observed: "This FISA debate reminds of the torture debate circa 2004: We don't torture! And anyway, we have to torture, we don't have any choice."

Jaffer added that Feinstein's strident denials that secret warrantless eavesdropping poses any dangers "almost makes you nostalgic for Ashcroft's 'phantoms of lost liberty' speech" - referring to the infamous 2001 decree from Bush's Attorney General:

"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends."

That is exactly the foul message which Dianne Feinstein, doing the bidding of the Obama White House, spewed at her liberal Senate colleagues (and a tiny handful of Republicans) for the crime of wanting to bring some marginal transparency and oversight to the warrantless eavesdropping powers with which Obama vested himself when voting in 2008 for that FISA law. As it turns out, Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin had it exactly right in mid-2008 when explaining - in the face of lots of progressive confusion and even anger - why Obama decided to support a FISA bill that vested the executive with massive unchecked eavesdroppoing power: namely, Obama "plans to be the executive", so "from Obama's perspective, what's not to like?"

Just four or five years ago, objections to warrantless eavesdropping were a prime grievance of Democrats against Bush. The controversies that arose from it were protracted, intense, and often ugly. Progressives loved to depict themselves as stalwartly opposing right-wing radicalism in defense of Our Values and the Constitution.

Fast forward to 2012 and all of that, literally, has changed. Now it's a Democratic President demanding reform-free renewal of his warrantless eavesdropping powers. He joins with the Republican Party to codify them. A beloved Democratic Senator from a solidly blue state leads the fear-mongering campaign and Terrorist-enabling slurs against anyone who opposes it. And it now all happens with virtually no media attention or controversy because the two parties collaborate so harmoniously to make it happen. And thus does a core guarantee of the founding - the search warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment - blissfully disappear into nothingness.

Here we find yet again a defining attribute of the Obama legacy: the transformation of what was until recently a symbol of right-wing radicalism - warrantless eavesdropping - into meekly accepted bipartisan consensus. But it's not just the policies that are so transformed but the mentality and rhetoric that accompanies them: anyone who stands in the way of the US Government's demands for unaccountable, secret power is helping the Terrorists. "The administration has decided the program should be classified", decreed Feinstein, and that is that.

In 2005, the Bush White House invoked the "very bad guy" defense to assure us that we need not worry about the administration's secret warrantless eavesdropping program; as a Bush White House spokesman put it:

"This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches."

In 1968, Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell similarly told the public in the face of rising concerns over government eavesdropping powers that "any citizen of this United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever." That is the noble tradition which the Obama White House, Dianne Feinstein and their GOP partners are continuing now.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/28/fisa-feinstein-obama...

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Post new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer