Friday, September 07, 2007

A vast conspiracy prosecution and 129a's?

The WaPo reports:

"A federal judge struck down controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act in a ruling that declared them unconstitutional yesterday, ordering the FBI to stop its wide use of a warrantless tactic for obtaining e-mail and telephone data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York said the FBI's use of secret 'national security letters' to demand such data violates the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers, because the FBI can impose indefinite gag orders on the companies and the courts have little opportunity to review the letters."

The ACLU describes National Security Letters (NSLs) thus:

"The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to demand personal records like Web site visits and e-mail addresses without prior court approval. Anyone who receives an NSL is forbidden, or 'gagged' from telling anyone about the record demand."

Sounds all red, white and blue all over, to me. What could possibly go wrong with this type of unchecked power? It's not like this government would abuse that sort of power, right?

According to a statement by Senator Patrick Leahy on the recent testimony of DoJ IG Glenn Fine:

"The Inspector General’s report found that, of the more than 143,000 National Security Letter requests the FBI issued from 2003 through 2005, FBI field divisions self-reported only 26 possible violations of law and policy. The Inspector General found almost as many violations in his independent review of only 77 case files from that period. None of the errors the Inspector General found had been self-reported by the FBI. The FBI massively failed to find or to report its own mistakes and abuses connected with NSLs, and documentation was incomplete in 60 percent of the files the Inspector General reviewed."

The IG told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

"Our review found widespread and serious misuse of the FBI’s national security letter authorities. In many instances, the FBI’s misuse of national security letters violated NSL statutes, Attorney General Guidelines, or the FBI’s own internal policies. We also found that the FBI did not provide adequate guidance, adequate controls, or adequate training on the use of these sensitive authorities. In many respects, the FBI’s oversight of the use of NSL authorities expanded by the Patriot Act was inconsistent and insufficient."

What I'm interested in knowing is how many terrorists there really are in the U.S.? I mean, if the FBI is going around looking into the phone, e-mail and internet records of 143,000 people, the problem must be huge. Of course, the real issue is, with what evidence has the FBI decided they can use these NSLs? Are the individuals they targeted that dangerous?

A vast ethereal conspiracy:

Now that the government has been able to successfully hold a US citizen in solitary confinment at a US military prison for five years, deny him habeas corpus, torture and drug him, then prosecute and convict him on the the basis of a finger print on an al-Qaeda job application; who needs evidence, right?

Writing on the new terror model trial the government used to convict Jose Pedilla, Adam Liptak in the NYT quotes Peter S. Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University, who says the conspiracy charge against Padilla is, "highly amorphous, and it basically allows someone to be found guilty for something that is one step away from a thought crime."

And a great new twist is: Preventive detention.

"Before allowing Mr. Padilla to be tried in the federal courts, the administration justified holding him as an enemy combatant in part by saying he would be dangerous if let go. Criminal prosecutions, by contrast, are almost always focused on conduct already committed."

All you have to do nowadays is think about committing a crime and you could be snatched. And in the Germany, the German Federal Police are taking things a bit further. Writing can now be a crime if you happen to use words or phrases that terrorists use.

In Germany there is a case concerning two academics who the police arrested and imprisoned at the end of this past July. Under § 129a StGB (German Penal Code, section 7 on Crimes against Public Order) the German authorities arrested Dr. Andrej Holm for "membership in a terrorist association." The "association" in this case being the Militant Gruppe, a group which apparently has a problem with gentrification and imperialism and just happened to be arrested in Brandenburg for burning four military trucks.

Indymedia UK reports:

"Police have assumed a link based merely on observations that there has been a contact between him and one of the Brandenburg suspects. Further, the only two meetings between them are supposed to have taken place 'conspiratorially'. Police do not know anything about what the meetings in February and April 2007 were about. Yet, they have concluded that the "conspiratorial behavior between H and L can only be explained that L is also part of the terrorist organization MG. . . One of the 'conspiratorial things' apparently was that Andrej had forgotten his mobile phone at home."

The Germans have gotten the idea that Holm is up to something by data-ming his writings and matching them to the MG

"Andrej H., a sociologist whose work focused on gentrification, tenants' rights and social cuts, is also supposed to have published an academic article in 1998, in which he used phrases and words that can be found in MG texts. 'The frequency of the correspondence is conspicuous and cannot be explained by thematic correspondences,' they concluded. 'As a political scientist,' they added, he is 'intellectually capable of writing the technically difficult texts that MG uses'. What's more, he 'has access to libraries which he can use inconspicuously to make the needed investigations for the MG.'"

According to Equipo Nizkor, Andrej H. was released on Aug 22 from solitary confinement but still faces charges.

Now, I don't know whether MG is a terrorist organization or not (I personally find those eco-criminal anarchist types very ponderous), but my main concern is that stuff people write can be date-mined and used as evidence of crimes and people even go to jail for it.

God knows what in the very near future may be considered by the Germans or the DoJ as conspiracy speech. Calling the Terrorist Surveillance Program Domestic Spying, for instance? Or will some future retroactive law make having written "Bush Sucks" a crime?

Think about it bloggers, before it's illegal.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The new product year begins by selling war, pestilence and famine.

W. said yesterday in the heavily fortified city of Sydney Australia that things are going A-OK in Iraq. Heck, he says, the Iraqi parliament has passed more legislation than the US Congress! [AdelaideNow] (Lucky for them they don't have a president who threatens to veto everything that lands on his desk.) W. was again defiant in the face of reality, telling the press and his good buddy Aussie PM John Howard that, "The security situation in Iraq is changing." Changing into what he didn't mention, but be rest assured, "Reconciliation is taking place."

For his part John Howard said, "Our commitment to Iraq remains. This is not the time for proposals of a scaling down of Australian forces." Easy for him to say, he's only got about 550 troops in Iraq. Let's see how he feels about sending 10 or 20 thousand more.

Meanwhile, David Walker has come out with another GAO report saying the Iraqi government has only met 4 of the 18 benchmarks Congress mandated. That's up from 2 out of the 18 after the White House complained. [Maybe, Walker was convinced to relent, slightly, by Cheney who might have offered Walker an all expenses paid trip to Camp Cropper for a little ER & R (Enhanced Rest and Recreation)?]

It seems that there was a fear something like this might happen a while back. If you'll recall, the WaPo reported on Aug. 30 that a draft version of the GAO report was leaked by an official "who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version -- as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month's National Security Estimate on Iraq."

Everybody Loves Raymond:

Part of the draft report says, "While Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced."

I don't which agencies they could be, because AP reports that, "Lt. General Raymond Odierno said the number of attacks in August fell to their lowest level in more than a year, although he gave no figures. Odierno insisted that overall violence was declining -- a sign that the buildup ordered by President Bush was working, he said."

It's not much of a surprise Odierno wasn't able to provide actual proof of what he claims about the new low, low levels of violence. When he talks about "attacks" he could mean anything, but probably he's talking about attacks on Americans, which is great, but far as Iraqi civilian casualties go . . . The NYT reported on Sep 2:

"U.S and Iraqi government officials are extremely reluctant to provide regular, comprehensive figures for civilian deaths, making it difficult to compile accurate data. But figures provided by an Interior Ministry official who asked to remain anonymous indicated that 2,318 civilians died violently in the country in August, compared with 1,980 in July."

There is some good news, though; civilian deaths in Baghdad went from 896 in July to 656 in August. A murder rate of 656 a month in a city of about 6.5 million is actually pretty good, right? Of course, Raymond Odierno is also the guy (while commanding the infamous 4th ID) who that said, after the capture of Saddam, "The former regime elements we have been combating have been brought to their knees." The insurgency he said is a "fractured, sporadic threat, with the leadership destabilized, finances interdicted, and no hope of the Baathists' return to power." And reconstruction was going great, too: "We see constant improvement. And so it is getting better. . . [W]e are making significant progress."

Where have I heard that before?

That was back in July when he said he'd need "at least until November" to figure out if the Surge was working. AP reported back then that Odierno "said there has been 'significant success' in the last four weeks, that the increased military operations have denied Al-Qaeda safe havens in Baghdad; Iraqi security forces are growing in strength and ability. [WaPo today: "Iraq's Interior Ministry is 'dysfunctional,' filled with sectarianism and corruption, according to an independent assessment of the Iraqi security forces to be published tomorrow. The report said that Iraq's national police force, controlled by that ministry, is 'operationally ineffective' and should be disbanded and reorganized.]

Rounding up the bad guys, letting God sort them out later:

It might be mentioned here that Odierno was also the guy who filled up Abu Ghraib prison with his overly aggressive roundups of Iraqi civilians. In his book Fiasco, Thomas Ricks quotes on intelligence officer who worked with Odierno's 4th ID saying, "The 4th ID was bad. These guys are looking for a fight. I saw so many instances of abuse of civilians, intimidating civilians, our jaws dropped."

An Army Psy-Ops officer said, "The 4th ID fueled the insurgency." He said insurgents frequently manipulated Odierno's troops into firing on civilians. "Guys would come up from Fallujah, set up next to a farm house, set off a mortar, and leave. And the 4th ID would respond with counterbattery fire. The 4th ID's CG fostered that attitude. They were cowboys."

Now Odierno is second in command of all troops in Iraq. While Petraeus was kicking pallets of AK-47s out of C-130s in the Sunni Triangle for guys who "wanted to fight for their country" Odierno was creating the insurgency by raiding and detaining entire villages and sending tens of thousands of mostly innocent Iraqis down to Abu Ghraib (a k a "Jihad University).

According to Ricks, Brig General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Iraq in 2004:

"Questioned the 4th ID's indiscriminate approach, she was told by its intelligence officer that Odierno didn't care, according to a subsequent Army report.’The division commander did not concur with the release of detainees for fear that a bad one may by released along with the good ones,' Maj. Gen. George Fay wrote."

But, I'm sure things are different now, right? Odierno has learned his lesson and Gen. Petraeus is keeping him on a tight leash. Um . . . Not so much. Thom Shanker reported in the NYT on Aug 25:

"The number of detainees held by the American-led military coalition in Iraq has swelled 50 percent under the troop increase ordered by President Bush, with the inmate population growing from 16,000 in February to 24,500 today, according to American military officers in Iraq."

And what about that all that good reconciliation taking place that W. was talking about? Well . . .

"Nearly 85 percent of the detainees in custody are Sunni Arabs, the minority faction in Iraq that ruled the country under the government of Saddam Hussein, with other detainees being Shiite Muslims, the officers say."

It's kind of funny that the US military has 24,500 Iraqis in custody when they have no legal authority to detain even one. It turns out that after we gave up the whole "occupation" thing in June of '04, the Iraqi government became "sovereign" and only their security forces could put people behind bars. Yet, here we are, Gen. Odierno is back to his old tricks again.

I'm sure, though, this time around all those being held are guilty. NYT: "About 800 juveniles are held in American internment facilities."

It seems the insurgents use them for lookouts and to plant roadside bombs. But, it's not like it used to be when Odierno was concerned about letting out 90% of the innocent to prevent one bad guy getting out. I'm sure the processing of detainees is much smoother and those swept up accidentally are released fairly quickly. No?

"Overall, the average length of detention is about a year. The [Task Force 134] statistics show that 3,334 detainees have been released thus far in 2007."

And once they do get out, there's very little possibility the trusted non-sectarian Shiite security forces would re-arrest those 80% of Sunnis and torture them or just shoot them and dump them on the streets of Baghdad.

Perish the thought. We're making good progress.

The conventional thinking in Washington these days is that W. saying 'things are great' isn't going to fly, so we get Petraeus to go up to Congress and make the pitch for more war. But when you've got his former subordinates under investigation for taking bribes, selling weapons to the insurgents and him having lost 190,000 AK-47s on his watch and you take into account his #2 basically was the insurgency's top recruiter, why would anyone listen to him either.?

The war will go on.

AP reports:

"President Bush's senior advisers on Iraq have recommended he stand by the current war strategy, and he is unlikely to order more than a symbolic cut in troops before the end of the year, administration officials said yesterday."

So much for the mandate of November 2006.

After waiting all this time for the General and the Ambassador (the G & A) to get back to "report," it turns out their recommendations are right in line with what W. has wanted all along. It's as if this outcome was planned all along, even before W.'s "surprise" visit to Iraq to meet with the G & A.

Now that all this suspense it over, it's on to Congress where the G & A will try to get his wavering GOP enablers to buy what W. is selling. They're really going to have to work at suspending their sense of disbelief to shallow the line that Petraeus and Crocker are independent straight shooters simply giving their best professional appraisal of the Surge. [Perhaps, both Petraeus and Crocker ought to have a little chat with Colin Powell before they put their reputations on the line for this president]

Every really independent report about what's going on Iraq would tend to lead most sane folks to believe that propping up Iraq's corrupt, sectarian government wasn't worth another ounce of American blood. And most sane people would also believe that even this current batch of craven congressional GOP toadies wouldn't be dumb enough to continue to risk their political careers by following a lame duck president over the cliff, but they would also be wrong.

Everything about this war is totally insane, from bungling beginning to bloody endless stalemate. Some how, W.'s handlers continue to be able to sucker or frighten just enough of the electorate and a few gullible members of his own Party to block any attempt to put an end to this grotesque war. Future generations going to look back on this era and scratch their heads trying to figure out how the American people sat by and allowed a few moneyed ideologues railroad them into such a pointless and disastrous war.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The great Iraq shell game.

Oh no, not another "surprise" visit to Iraq! Yes, another surprise visit to Iraq. Yesterday W. made a 7 hour pit-stop at Al-Asad Airbase in the middle of nowhere Anbar province while on his way to Australia. [AP]

Now, some might think that this is all just a cynical PR maneuver intended to undercut the Democrats in Congress calling for a troop withdrawal. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Dana Perino says she "wholeheartedly" disagrees with that notion; in fact, the purpose of this very important presidential visit is "An opportunity for the president to meet with the commander on the ground and his ambassador on the ground while they are in fact on the ground together."

According to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrel, this is the last big get together, where everyone is on the ground, "before the president makes a decision on the way forward." You see, he hasn't made up his mind yet; he's waiting for what Petraeus and Crocker are going to say about the progress of the surge. W. says, "I urge members of both parties in Congress to listen to what they have to say. Congress shouldn't jump to conclusions until the general and the ambassador report."

Yes, after four years no one should be jumping to any hasty conclusions about what's going on in Iraq. Of course, we already know all this business about waiting for the general and the ambassador to report is a big load of crap. The fix is already in: As the LA Times reported on Aug. 15:

"Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government."

The big headline in all the papers this morning is W. saying there might be troop reductions. W. says, "Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we're now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

Right, but read the small print, they're not coming home; they're going on an all expence paid trip to Baghdad or Basra.

The same LA Times article reports:

"According to the officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus is expected to propose the partial pullback in his September status report to Congress. . . But it does not necessarily follow that Petraeus would call for reducing the overall number of troops in the country. Instead, he could move them to another hot spot, or use them to create a reserve force to counter any rise in violence."

[A hot spot like Basra for example? The Brits will be totally out of Iraq by the end of this year and the Daily Telegraph reported on 2/9: "It emerged yesterday that the Pentagon was planning to deploy extra forces to Basra to protect Iraq's crucial oil fields amid growing fears in Washington that Britain is preparing to withdraw its forces from southern Iraq." ]

Some members of W.'s party in Congress might be fooled by this slight of hand but I don't think the troops themselves are. I didn't hear the whole speech W. made to his captive audience of Marines while at al-Asad, but this little clip from NPR yesterday is sort of revealing.

W. says the decision to bring the troops, "Will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground — not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media. In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq it will be from a position of strength and success — not from a position of fear and failure."

At that point . . . there is complete silence. You can tell W. is waiting for the applause and then you hear one person [probably an NCO] say, "Hoo ah" and then there is a burst from the room of "hoo ah" and one person claps twice.

It wasn't exactly the most enthusiastic response to W.'s defiant stand against those "Washington politicians" who we and they all hate so much.

By the way, just a thought: I wonder if anyone of those Marines sitting there listening to W. -- while contemplating the prospect of spending another 12 or so months in Iraq -- made the connection between the situation they're in and the fact that those "nervous" Washington politicians -- Democrats not Republicans -- are simply reacting to their constituents demands that the troops be brought home and this war be ended. That's what we call democracy.
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