Tag Archives: FISA

Snowden, Thoreau, Burke, and Indispendsable Freedom from Uncontrolled Search & Seizure

Open Letter to the President from Lon Snowden and his Attorney

This is a great letter and should be read by all Americans! (made available by and reblogged from Christine at: http://unifiedserenity.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/open-letter-to-the-president-from-lon-snowden-and-his-attorney/)

Dear Mr. President:

You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

Thoreau’s moral philosophy found expression during the Nuremburg trials in which “following orders” was rejected as a defense. Indeed, military law requires disobedience to clearly illegal orders.

A dark chapter in America’s World War II history would not have been written if the then United States Attorney General had resigned rather than participate in racist concentration camps imprisoning 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident aliens.

Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow laws provoked the end of slavery and the modern civil rights revolution.

We submit that Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures of dragnet surveillance of Americans under § 215 of the Patriot Act, § 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments, or otherwise were sanctioned by Thoreau’s time-honored moral philosophy and justifications for civil disobedience. Since 2005, Mr. Snowden had been employed by the intelligence community. He found himself complicit in secret, indiscriminate spying on millions of innocent citizens contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the First and Fourth Amendments and the transparency indispensable to self-government. Members of Congress entrusted with oversight remained silent or Delphic. Mr. Snowden confronted a choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded with a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Espionage Act.

From the commencement of your administration, your secrecy of the National Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance programs had frustrated a national conversation over their legality, necessity, or morality. That secrecy (combined with congressional nonfeasance) provoked Edward’s disclosures, which sparked a national conversation which you have belatedly and cynically embraced. Legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate to curtail or terminate the NSA’s programs, and the American people are being educated to the public policy choices at hand. A commanding majority now voice concerns over the dragnet surveillance of Americans that Edward exposed and you concealed. It seems mystifying to us that you are prosecuting Edward for accomplishing what you have said urgently needed to be done!

The right to be left alone from government snooping–the most cherished right among civilized people—is the cornerstone of liberty. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson served as Chief Prosecutor at Nuremburg. He came to learn of the dynamics of the Third Reich that crushed a free society, and which have lessons for the United States today.

Writing in Brinegar v. United States, Justice Jackson elaborated:

The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to know that the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police.

We thus find your administration’s zeal to punish Mr. Snowden’s discharge of civic duty to protect democratic processes and to safeguard liberty to be unconscionable and indefensible.

We are also appalled at your administration’s scorn for due process, the rule of law, fairness, and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward.

On June 27, 2013, Mr. Fein wrote a letter to the Attorney General stating that Edward’s father was substantially convinced that he would return to the United States to confront the charges that have been lodged against him if three cornerstones of due process were guaranteed. The letter was not an ultimatum, but an invitation to discuss fair trial imperatives. The Attorney General has sneered at the overture with studied silence.

We thus suspect your administration wishes to avoid a trial because of constitutional doubts about application of the Espionage Act in these circumstances, and obligations to disclose to the public potentially embarrassing classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Your decision to force down a civilian airliner carrying Bolivian President Eva Morales in hopes of kidnapping Edward also does not inspire confidence that you are committed to providing him a fair trial.  Neither does your refusal to remind the American people and prominent Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate like House Speaker John Boehner, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,and Senator Dianne Feinstein that Edward enjoys a presumption of innocence. He should not be convicted before trial. Yet Speaker Boehner has denounced Edward as a “traitor.”

Ms. Pelosi has pontificated that Edward “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents.” Ms. Bachmann has pronounced that, “This was not the act of a patriot; this was an act of a traitor.” And Ms. Feinstein has decreed that Edward was guilty of “treason,” which is defined in Article III of the Constitution as “levying war” against the United States, “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

You have let those quadruple affronts to due process pass unrebuked, while you have disparaged Edward as a “hacker” to cast aspersion on his motivations and talents. Have you forgotten the Supreme Court’s gospel in Berger v. United States that the interests of the government “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done?”

We also find reprehensible your administration’s Espionage Act prosecution of Edward for disclosures indistinguishable from those which routinely find their way into the public domain via your high level appointees for partisan political advantage. Classified details of your predator drone protocols, for instance, were shared with the New York Times with impunity to bolster your national security credentials. Justice Jackson observed in Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York: “The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally.”

In light of the circumstances amplified above, we urge you to order the Attorney General to move to dismiss the outstanding criminal complaint against Edward, and to support legislation to remedy the NSA surveillance abuses he revealed. Such presidential directives would mark your finest constitutional and moral hour.

Sincerely,
Bruce Fein
Counsel for Lon Snowden
Lon Snowden

Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc.
722 12th Street, N.W., 4th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: 703-963-4968
bruce@thelichfieldgroup.com

HAS OBAMA GIVEN THE GREEN LIGHT FOR ARMED REVOLUTION IN THE USA?

What are we waiting for?  There was a book I read in high school called “REICHTAG FIRE: ASHES OF DEMOCRACY” about Adolph Hitler’s staged communist attack on the German Parliament as grounds for shutting down the democratically elected Parliament which, ironically enough, had brought him to power.  Obama, the first “allegedly black”, President seems determined to do so much more damage to this Country’s constitutional heritage than even George W. Bush did—but Obama might get by with it because conservatives demand that the “allegedly most liberal”—President not go soft on the Al Qaida operatives, and Obama’s supports will see him as liberal (apparently) no matter how much like Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse Tung he becomes…  Here is Glenn Greenwald’s latest from Salon.com (Read it and Weep—especially all you IDIOTS who voted for OBAMA!):

Facts and myths about Obama’s preventive detention proposal

 

[Updated below - Update II (Interview with ACLU) - Update III - Update IV - Update V ]

In the wake of Obama’s speech yesterday, there are vast numbers of new converts who now support indefinite “preventive detention.”  It thus seems constructive to have as dispassionate and fact-based discussion as possible of the implications of “preventive detention” and Obama’s related detention proposals (military commissions).  I’ll have a podcast discussion on this topic a little bit later today with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, which I’ll add below, but until then, here are some facts and other points worth noting:

 

(1) What does “preventive detention” allow?  

It’s important to be clear about what “preventive detention” authorizes.  It does not merely allow the U.S. Government to imprison people alleged to have committed Terrorist acts yet who are unable to be convicted in a civilian court proceeding.  That class is merely a subset, perhaps a small subset, of who the Government can detain.  Far more significant, “preventive detention” allows indefiniteimprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally “dangerous” by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they “expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden” or “otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans”).  That’s what “preventive” means:  imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be “combatants.”  

Once known, the details of the proposal could — and likely will — make this even more extreme by extending the “preventive detention” power beyond a handful of Guantanamo detainees to anyone, anywhere in the world, alleged to be a “combatant.”  After all, once you accept the rationale on which this proposal is based — namely, that the U.S. Government must, in order to keep us safe, preventively detain “dangerous” people even when they can’t prove they violated any laws — there’s no coherent reason whatsoever to limit that power to people already at Guantanamo, as opposed to indefinitely imprisoning with no trials all allegedly “dangerous” combatants, whether located in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Western countries and even the U.S.


(2) 
 Are defenders of Obama’s proposals being consistent?

During the Bush years, it was common for Democrats to try to convince conservatives to oppose Bush’s executive power expansions by asking them:  “Do you really want these powers to be exercised by Hillary Clinton or some liberal President?”

Following that logic, for any Democrat/progressive/liberal/Obama supporter who wants to defend Obama’s proposal of “preventive detention,” shouldn’t you first ask yourself three simple questions:  

(a) what would I have said if George Bush and Dick Cheney advocated a law vesting them with the power to preventively imprison people indefinitely and with no charges?;

(b) when Bush and Cheney did preventively imprison large numbers of people, was I in favor of that or did I oppose it, and when right-wing groups such as Heritage Foundation were alone in urging a preventive detention law in 2004, did I support them?; and

(c) even if I’m comfortable with Obama having this new power because I trust him not to abuse it, am I comfortable with future Presidents — including Republicans — having the power of indefinite “preventive detention”?

 

(3)  Questions for defenders of Obama’s proposal:

There are many claims being made by defenders of Obama’s proposals which seem quite contradictory and/or without any apparent basis, and I’ve been searching for a defender of those proposals to address these questions:

Bush supporters have long claimed — and many Obama supporters are now insisting as well — that there are hard-core terrorists who cannot be convicted in our civilian courts.  For anyone making that claim, what is the basis for believing that?  In the Bush era, the Government has repeatedlybeen able to convict alleged Al Qaeda and Taliban members in civilian courts, including several (Ali al-Marri, Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh) who were tortured and others (Zacharais Moussaoui, Padilla) where evidence against them was obtained by extreme coercion.  What convinced you to believe that genuine terrorists can’t be convicted in our justice system?

For those asserting that there are dangerous people who have not yet been given any trial and who Obama can’t possibly release, how do you know they are “dangerous” if they haven’t been tried?  Is the Government’s accusation enough for you to assume it’s true?

Above all:  for those justifying Obama’s use of military commissions by arguing that some terrorists can’t be convicted in civilian courts because the evidence against them is “tainted” because it was obtained by Bush’s torture, Obama himself claimed just yesterday that his military commissions also won’t allow such evidence (“We will no longer permit the use of evidence — as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods”).  How does our civilian court’s refusal to consider evidence obtained by torture demonstrate the need for Obama’s military commissions if, as Obama himself claims, Obama’s military commissionsalso won’t consider evidence obtained by torture?

Finally, don’t virtually all progressives and Democrats argue that torture produces unreliable evidence?  If it’s really true (as Obama defenders claim) that the evidence we have against these detainees was obtained by torture and is therefore inadmissible in real courts, do you really think suchunreliable evidence – evidence we obtained by torture — should be the basis for concluding that someone is so “dangerous” that they belong in prison indefinitely with no trial?  If you don’t trust evidence obtained by torture, why do you trust it to justify holding someone forever, with no trial, as “dangerous”?

 

(4)  Do other countries have indefinite preventive detention?

Obama yesterday suggested that other countries have turned to “preventive detention” and that his proposal therefore isn’t radical (“other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we”).  Is that true?

In June of last year, there was a tumultuous political debate in Britain that sheds ample light on this question.  In the era of IRA bombings, the British Parliament passed a law allowing the Government to preventively detain terrorist suspects for 14 days – and then either have to charge them or release them.  In 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair — citing the London subway attacks and the need to “intervene early before a terrorist cell has the opportunity to achieve its goals” — wanted to increase the preventive detention period to 90 days, but MPs from his own party and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly opposed this, and ultimately increased it only to 28 days

In June of last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought an expansion of this preventive detention authority to 42 days — a mere two weeks more.  Reacting to that extremely modest increase, amajor political rebellion erupted, with large numbers of Brown’s own Labour Party joining with Tories to vehemently oppose it as a major threat to liberty.  Ultimately, Brown’s 42-day scheme barely passed the House of Commons.  As former Prime Minister John Major put it in opposing the expansion to 42 days:

It is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.

By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that areindefinite – meaning without any end, potentially permanent.  There’s no time limit on the “preventive detention.”  Compare that power to the proposal that caused such a political storm in Britain and what these other governments are empowered to do.  The suggestion that indefinitepreventive detention without charges is some sort of common or traditional scheme is clearly false.

 

(5)   Is this comparable to traditional POW detentions?

When Bush supporters used to justify Bush/Cheney detention policies by arguing that it’s normal for “Prisoners of War” to be held without trials, that argument was deeply misleading.  And it’s no less misleading when made now by Obama supporters.  That comparison is patently inappropriate for two reasons:  (a) the circumstances of the apprehension, and (b) the fact that, by all accounts, this “war” will not be over for decades, if ever, which means — unlike for traditional POWs, who are released once the war is over — these prisoners are going to be in a cage not for a few years, but for decades, if not life.

Traditional “POWs” are ones picked up during an actual military battle, on a real battlefield, wearing a uniform, while engaged in fighting.  The potential for error and abuse in deciding who was a “combatant” was thus minimal.  By contrast, many of the people we accuse in the “war on terror” of being “combatants” aren’t anywhere near a “battlefield,” aren’t part of any army, aren’t wearing any uniforms, etc.  Instead, many of them are picked up from their homes, at work, off the streets.  In most cases, then, we thus have little more than the say-so of the U.S. Government that they are guilty, which is why actual judicial proceedings before imprisoning them is so much more vital than in the standard POW situation.  

Anyone who doubts that should just look at how many Guantanamo detainees were accused of being “the worst of the worst” yet ended up being released because they did absolutely nothing wrong.  Can anyone point to any traditional POW situation where so many people were falsely accused and where the risk of false accusations was so high?  For obvious reasons, this is not and has never been a traditional POW detention scheme.  

During the Bush era, that was a standard argument among Democrats, so why should that change now?  Here is what Anne-Marie Slaughter — now Obama’s Director of Policy Planning for the State Department — said about Bush’s “POW” comparison on Fox News in, November 21, 2001:

Military commissions have been around since the Revolutionary War. But they’ve always been used to try spies that we find behind enemy lines. It’s normally a situation, you’re on the battlefield, you find an enemy spy behind your lines. You can’t ship them to national court, so you provide a kind of rough battlefield justice in a commission. You give them the best process you can, and then you execute the sentence on the spot, which generally means executing the defendant.

That’s not this situation. It’s not remotely like it.

As for duration, the U.S. government has repeatedly said that this “war” is so different from standard wars because it will last for decades, if not generations. Obama himself yesterday said that “unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can’t count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end” and that we’ll still be fighting this “war” “a year from now, five years from now, and – in all probability — 10 years from now.”  No rational person can compare POW detentions of a finite and usually short (2-5 years) duration to decades or life in a cage.  That’s why, yesterday, Law Professor Diane Marie Amann, in The New York Timessaid this:

[Obama] signaled a plan by which [Guantanamo detainees] — and perhaps other detainees yet to be arrested? — could remain in custody forever without charge.There is no precedent in the American legal tradition for this kind of preventive detention. That is not quite right: precedents do exist, among them the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Japanese internment of the 1940s, but they are widely seen as low points in America’s history under the Constitution.

There are many things that can be said about indefinitely imprisoning people with no charges who were not captured on any battlefield, but the claim that this is some sort of standard or well-established practice in American history is patently false.

 

(6)  Is it “due process” when the Government can guarantee it always wins?

If you really think about the argument Obama made yesterday — when he described the five categories of detainees and the procedures to which each will be subjected — it becomes manifest just how profound a violation of Western conceptions of justice this is.  What Obama is saying is this:  we’ll give real trials only to those detainees we know in advance we will convict.  For those we don’t think we can convict in a real court, we’ll get convictions in the military commissions I’m creating.  For those we can’t convict even in my military commissions, we’ll just imprison them anyway with no charges (“preventively detain” them). 

Giving trials to people only when you know for sure, in advance, that you’ll get convictions is not due process.  Those are called “show trials.”  In a healthy system of justice, the Government giveseveryone it wants to imprison a trial and then imprisons only those whom it can convict.  The process is constant (trials), and the outcome varies (convictions or acquittals). 

Obama is saying the opposite:  in his scheme, it is the outcome that is constant (everyone ends up imprisoned), while the process varies and is determined by the Government (trials for some; military commissions for others; indefinite detention for the rest).  The Government picks and chooses which process you get in order to ensure that it always wins.  A more warped “system of justice” is hard to imagine.

 

(7)  Can we “be safe” by locking up all the Terrorists with no charges?

Obama stressed yesterday that the “preventive detention” system should be created only through an act of Congress with “a process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.” That’s certainly better than what Bush did:  namely, preventively detain people with no oversight and no Congressional authorization — in violation of the law.  But as we learned with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Protect America Act of 2007, the mere fact that Congress approves of a radical policy may mean that it is no longer lawless but it doesn’t make it justified.  As Professor Amann put it:  “no amount of procedures can justify deprivations that, because of their very nature violate the Constitution’s core guarantee of liberty.”  Dan Froomkin saidthat no matter how many procedures are created, that’s “a dangerously extreme policy proposal.”

Regarding Obama’s “process” justification — and regarding Obama’s primary argument that we need to preventively detain allegedly dangerous people in order to keep us safe – Digby said it best:

We are still in a “war” against a method of violence, which means there is no possible end and which means that the government can capture and imprison anyone they determine to be “the enemy” forever.  The only thing that will change is where the prisoners are held and few little procedural tweaks to make it less capricious. (It’s nice that some sort of official committee will meet once in a while to decide if the war is over or if the prisoner is finally too old to still be a “danger to Americans.”)

There seems to be some misunderstanding about Guantanamo. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads is that it is nothing more than a symbol, which can be dealt with simply by closing the prison. That’s just not true. Guantanamo is a symbol, true, but it’s a symbol of a lawless, unconstitutional detention and interrogation system. Changing the venue doesn’t solve the problem.

I know it’s a mess, but the fact is that this isn’t really that difficult, except in the usual beltway kabuki political sense. There are literally tens of thousands of potential terrorists all over the world who could theoretically harm America. We cannot protect ourselves from that possibility by keeping the handful we have in custody locked up forever, whether in Guantanamo or some Super Max prison in the US. It’s patently absurd to obsess over these guys like it makes us even the slightest bit safer to have them under indefinite lock and key so they “can’t kill Americans.”

The mere fact that we are doing this makes us less safe because the complete lack of faith we show in our constitution and our justice systems is what fuels the idea that this country is weak and easily terrified. There is no such thing as a terrorist suspect who is too dangerous to be set free. They are a dime a dozen, they are all over the world and for every one we lock up there will be three to take his place. There is not some finite number of terrorists we can kill or capture and then the “war” will be over and the babies will always be safe. This whole concept is nonsensical.

As I said yesterday, there were some positive aspects to Obama’s speech.  His resolve to close Guantanamo in the face of all the fear-mongering, like his release of the OLC memos, is commendable.  But the fact that a Democratic President who ran on a platform of restoring America’s standing and returning to our core principles is now advocating the creation of a new system of indefinite preventive detention — something that is now sure to become a standard view of Democratic politicians and hordes of Obama supporters — is by far the most consequential event yet in the formation of Obama’s civil liberties policies.

 

UPDATE: Here’s what White House Counsel Greg Craig told The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer in February:

“It’s possible but hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law,” Craig said.  “Our presumption is that there is no need to create a whole new system. Our system is very capable.”

“The first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law” is how Obama’s own White House Counsel described him.  Technically speaking, that is a form of change, but probably not the type that many Obama voters expected.

 

UPDATE II: Ben Wizner of the ACLU’s National Security Project is the lead lawyer in the Jeppesencase, which resulted in the recent rejection by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Bush/Obama state secrets argument, and also co-wrote (along with the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer) a superb article inSalon in December making the case against preventive detention.  I spoke with him this morning for roughly 20 minutes regarding the detention policies proposed by Obama in yesterday’s speech.  It can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below.  A transcript will be posted shortly.

 

UPDATE III: Rachel Maddow was superb last night — truly superb — on the topic of Obama’s preventive detention proposal:

 

UPDATE IV:  The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson compares Obama’s detention proposal to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II (as did Professor Amann, quoted above).  Hilzoy, of The Washington Monthlywrites:  “If we don’t have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we don’t have enough evidence to hold them. Period” and “the power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power.”  Salon‘s Joan Walsh quotesthe Center for Constitutional Rights’ Vincent Warren as saying:  “They’re creating, essentially, an American Gulag.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch says of Obama’s proposal:  “What he’s proposing is against one of this country’s core principles” and “this is why people need to keep the pressure on Obama — even those inclined to view his presidency favorably.”

 

UPDATE V:  The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder — who is as close to the Obama White House as any journalist around – makes an important point about Obama that I really wish more of his supporters would appreciate:

[Obama] was blunt [in his meeting with civil libertiarians]; the [military commissions] are a fait accompli, so the civil libertarians can either help Congress and the White House figure out the best way to protect the rights of the accused within the framework of that decision, or they can remain on the outside, as agitators. That’s not meant to be pejorative; whereas the White House does not give a scintilla of attention to its right-wing critics, it does read, and will read, everythingGlenn Greenwald writesObama, according to an administration official, finds this outside pressure healthy and useful.

Ambinder doesn’t mean me personally or exclusively; he means people who are criticizing Obama not in order to harm him politically, but in order to pressure him to do better.  It’s not just the right, but the duty, of citizens to pressure and criticize political leaders when they adopt policies that one finds objectionable or destructive.  Criticism of this sort is a vital check on political leaders — a key way to impose accountability — and Obama himself has said as much many times before. 

It has nothing to do with personalities or allegiances.  It doesn’t matter if one “likes” or “trusts” Obama or thinks he’s a good or bad person.  That’s all irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is whether one thinks that the actions he’s undertaking are helpful or harmful.  If they’re harmful, one should criticize them.  Where, as here, they’re very harmful and dangerous, one should criticize them loudly.  Obama himself, according to Ambinder, “finds this outside pressure healthy and useful.”  And it is.  It’s not only healthy and useful but absolutely vital.

– Glenn Greenwald

Letter to the ABA I posted Four Years Ago. I have devoted my life to the study and understanding of complex society and complex political and legal structures. I believe that the light of the Constitution was one of the greatest formulations for justice in the history of the world, but it seems foreign to the American Judiciary and American Judges, both Federal and State. This is now my life’s crusade: to restore the honor and integrity of the American Judicial Process.

Subject: * * * A Former Lawclerk Who No Longer Trusts Judges * * *
From:
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 18:25:44 -0700
To: “www.jail4judges.org”

 

J.A.I.L. News Journal
______________________________________________________
Los Angeles, California                                            April 11, 2005

______________________________________________________
 
 A Former Lawclerk Who
 No Longer Trusts Judges
by Charles E. Lincoln, charles.e.lincoln@worldnet.att.net
 
Mr. Robert P. Grey, Jr.

 

President of the American Bar Association

 

Dear Mr. Grey:

        I have served as a lawclerk for two of the finest District and Circuit judges, both liberal and conservative, in the entire Federal Judiciary.  I studied law under half a dozen other current federal judges at the University of Chicago Law School, where I received my J.D. in 1992. 

        A balanced and even-handed appreciation, acquired only after hours if not days of hard work and exhaustive consideration, of the legal and factual issues in every case was always the cornerstone of law and judicial decisionmaking as I learned it, both from great conservatives like Michael W. McConnell and liberals like Diane Wood at Law School, or Stephen Reinhardt and Kenneth L. Ryskamp in whose chambers I worked on the opposite ends of both the political spectrum and the geographic boundaries of this country.

        I do not believe that the judicial ideals I learned working for these men, the judges whom I served, or at law school, are reflected or embodied in the larger body of current American (state or federal) judiciaries AT ALL.   Judges have learned to use their power in manners which I can only describe as consistently

 

oppressivearbitrary, and capricious, and violative of the Constitution. 

        Civil rights actions, and every other procedure by which the people might challenge their government or the wealthy, have been struck down and redefined and limited almost out of existence.  Rather than using the Courts to protect the poor, Judges maximize the advantage of the rich, strike down the rights of the pro se or indigent parties.  The quality of mercy is most definitely strained in this country, and everyone knows it.

        It can be said that few if any “modern” judges keep the balance nice and even.  That is my experience, the experience of those around me, and in fact I know of only a few widely scattered exceptions all of whom I can count with one hand.  The most common characterization of judges behind their backs, even among seasoned lawyers, is not as scholars or workaholics but as “eight hundred pound gorillas.”  The judges with whom I studied and worked were only scholars and workaholics, but the simians have come to the bench in greatest numbers and at all levels.

        And for this reason, the even well-balanced scales, that ancient ideal and symbol of the judiciary seems to be everywhere dead. 

        I am sending you two recent essays I have “published” on-line, but I would like to add that, based on my experience, I have devoted my entire strength, my entire educational background, and what remains of  my own judge-shattered career to fighting judicial immunity, restricting judicial discretion to that which the law allows, and in general to reimpose the lofty rights enshrined in the Constitution of the United States on a judiciary which seems to have all but forgotten that all men are created equal.

        In short, I think you are wrong—the American judiciary as a whole has not earned our respect.  There is a certain parallel—albeit not exact—between what I have written below and what Texas’ Junior Senator said on the Senate Floor the other day—the American judicial system has degenerated to the point that no one can trust it, and it must be reformed—or else the constitution itself will crumble and dissolve in a cesspool of the people’s disappointed tears and bloodied lives. 

        The judiciary and its judges are the least visible and most poorly understood branch and actors of the government, but it can no longer be said that they have just powers derived from the consent of the governed.

        Charles E. Lincoln, Lago Vista, Texas.

************************************************************

http://victimsoflaw.net/ABAonjudges3.htm#__Judges_Deserve_Our_Respect,_Not_Our_Sc

Response to “Judges Deserve Our Respect, Not Our Scorn”

In Response to: “Judges Deserve Our Respect, Not Our Scorn”

– By: Charles E. Lincoln


Citizen’s Response to the ABA Statement

Dear Mr. Grey:

  ©2005

        I have written elsewhere on this website (A Comparison of “An Act for the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo”with existing law under 28 U.S.C. §1343 and 42 U.S.C. §1983), that from at least one perspective it is Congress who cast the ultimate vote of no confidence in the judiciary when it re-enacted pre-existing laws to guarantee that Terri Schiavo’s case could be reviewed in the Federal Courts.  If Congress had believed that the U.S. Courts were consistently (or even “ever, recently”) willing to follow and apply the laws already enacted by Congress and entered on the books, such as 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, it is hard to understand why Congress would have needed or bothered to enact a special bill for Terry Schiavo that did not expand on the rights already conferred by that statute. 

        It was once my privilege to work for a man whom I consider to be one of the finest U.S. District Judges in the state of Florida, actually in all the United States, the Honorable Kenneth L. Ryskamp of Palm Beach, a man of utterly unimpeachable integrity, intelligence, and honor. One of Judge Ryskamp’s mottos was “if judges don’t follow the law, then who will?”

        Now, however, it seems that one can rely on both State and Federal Judges for little else other than their complete willingness to disregard the law, to twist it to purposes inverse from original framer’s or legislative intent (if the law involved is constitutional or statutory) or unrecognizably out of the original context and factual framework (if the law involved is based on judicial precedent).

        I have recently worked very hard to clarify and limit the proper understandings of two doctrines, Rooker-Feldman and Younger v. Harris which support or even advocate a national judicial policy of “jurisdictional helplessness” which has been used to defeat federal civil rights litigation.  Cf., Susan Bandes, “Evaluating Rooker-Feldman’s Jurisdictional Status,  74 Notre Dame Law Review, 1186 n. 58 (1998-1999)(Symposium: Rooker-Feldman Doctrine: worth only the powder to blow it up?).

        The simple but unspoken truth is that the judicial over-extension and over-application of both Rooker-Feldman and Younger v. Harris, far beyond what those extremely sound precedents originally stood for in the context of the facts and circumstances of the cases they decided, are part and parcel of a nationwide movement over the past two decades to cut-back on the civil rights progress which the Courts had made against arbitrarily and capriciously oppressive, discriminatory, and biased local customs, policies, and practices during the 1950s-1970s.  

        It is politically impossible for the anti-civil rights crowd to repeal such monumental pieces of civil rights legislation as 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, but it has so far not been at all politically impossible to whittle away civil rights piece-by-piece judicial rewriting of these laws to the point where they no longer effectively enforce or preclude ANYTHING.  

        So, when the terribly sympathetic case of Terri Schiavo made it to the top of the news, Congress had no choice but to recognize the reality that activist anti-civil rights judges, many in the name of “opposing judicial activism”, had so curtailed the civil rights laws of these United States, so obliterated the enforcement of the law as an expression of the “consent of the governed”—acting through their democratically elected representatives in Congress, that Terri Schiavo’s ONLY access to the Federal Courts to clarify the extent of her SUBSTANTIVE due process rights was for Congress to RE-ENACT the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 (now 42 U.S.C. Section 1983) specifically in her name and for her benefit only. 

        It is patently obvious (as I described in my article) that Congress specifically intended to eliminate the barriers set up by both the judge-made Rooker-Feldman and Younger v. Harris jurisdictional and “abstention” doctrines, in enacting the Schiavo bill—-while Congress shied away from expanding Terri’s (or anyone else’s) substantive due process rights to life, liberty, or property.

        Thus, Congress showed, for all the world to see, that Congress knows what the U.S. Courts have done to the U.S. Civil Rights law, and Congress, albeit to no result or end, wanted to give Terri Schiavo, or her parents, a one-time access to the U.S. Judiciary, acknowledging thereby what everyone knows: namely that, historically, the US Courts were the “last best hope” for those whose life, liberty, and property was threatened or endangered.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Lincoln

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Charles E. Lincoln  lives in Lago Vista, Texas.  After his B.A. at Tulane in New Orleans (1980), he received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1990 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1992.  He clerked for U.S. District Court Kenneth L. Ryskamp in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1992-1993 and before that was a judicial extern for U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Los Angeles, in 1988-9

 

 

http://victimsoflaw.net/SchiavoPrecedent2.htm

A Comparison of “An Act for the Relief of the Parents of

Theresa Marie Schiavo”with existing law under

28 U.S.C. §1343 and 42 U.S.C. §1983

 – By: Charles E. Lincoln – 4/5/05

 

Substantive And Procedural Due Process:

A Comparison of 
“An Act for the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo”
with existing law under 28 U.S.C. §1343 and 42 U.S.C. §1983 
 ©2005

By: Charles E. Lincoln

INTRODUCTION

Much of the discussion in the media over the past week concerns the impact of Congress’ private bill regarding Terri Schiavo on Federal-State relations. Congress had a choice between granting Terri special procedural due process rights (which is what they did) and granting her substantive due process rights (which they expressly chose NOT to do—it says so in the statute). See Terri Schiavo bill.

Procedural due process (federal review of state cases) is what the Federal Courts (without express Supreme Court sanction or approval) have been curtailing through my favorite paired boogeymen “Rooker-Feldman” jurisdiction (Rooker v. Fidelity Trust) and Younger v. Harris abstention—against people with causes like Charlie’s which do raise well-established substantive rights (e.g. Freedom of Speech, the right to the care and education of one’s own children).

The whole problem with Schiavo is that there ARE no well-defined substantive due process rights that apply to an unconscious person’s right to live (or be kept alive) anywhere in the bill of rights, the Fourteenth Amendment, or any of the Supreme Court’s cases. It’s a recent problem of technological origin and the courts haven’t caught up.

Both the Florida and 11th Circuit courts agreed only that there is no precedent in John Ashcroft’s (now very old) “Cruzan” or any of the relevant cases that establish or identify any affirmative rights which have been violated in Terri’s case.

Meanwhile, Congress wanted to give the impression of doing something while in fact doing nothing, so Congress granted Schiavo’s parents an extra procedural “bite at the apple”—by re-enacting statutes that already existed but which the Courts have essentially defined out of existence.

So the next question is: What does it mean that Congress knows that the existing Civil Rights statutes enacted by Congress are not being implemented or enforced by the Courts, and that it takes a special bill to get full, already statutorily authorized review of even a high profile case where no known substantive rights can be identified? Does it mean that Congress tacitly approves the lower Court treatment of Civil Rights’ statutes? Or does it mean that Congress was disturbed by the notion that the Courts are not even giving procedural due process a chance, and that Congressional displeasure with the status quo of civil rights jurisprudence is reflected in the enactment of the special bill in the Schiavo case?

If the latter is true, how can litigants use the case to support a roll-back in the draconian anti-civil rights “shotgun blast” mis-application of “Rooker-Feldman” and “Younger v. Harris?”

 

THE STATE OF THE LAW BEFORE THE SCHIAVO BILL

Either Congress has completely forgotten the civil rights laws already on the books (and chose to re-enact statutes with uncanny similarities to those already in existence), or else Congress recognizes that the Federal Courts have all but stopped enforcing the civil rights laws as a matter of “anti-civil rights judicial activism” under the rubrics of Rooker-Feldman or Younger v. Harris and accordingly enacted a “one time private exemption” to provide another procedural “bite at the apple” for a politically popular cause.

There is simply no getting around the fact that the Schiavo bill merely restates the basic enabling acts for civil rights litigation under the Constitution, and adds nothing to those laws. Too many people are blaming the state and federal court judges for doing nothing. But the truth is that Terri Schiavo and her parents have spent more time in and received more judicial attention from both state and federal courts than 99.99% of all death row inmates. If there had been, as so many supporters of Terri Schiavo and her parents maintain, any misconduct or conduct in excess of or in variance from the Florida or Federal Constitutions on the part of Florida Circuit Judge Greer, 42 U.S.C. §1983 as amended in 1996 already provided both a federal forum an express remedy IDENTICAL if not stronger than the Schiavo “private bill.”

There has been no denial of PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS in the Schiavo case—as Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit would undoubtedly say, “Terri Schiavo and her parents have received ‘oodles of process’” (cf.  Szabo v. Digby, 1987). The problem for Terri and her parents is a massive default of either judicially or congressionally determined SUBSTANTIVE DUE PROCESS rights on the side of keeping Terri Schiavo alive—and on this point both the Federal and State Courts have quite simply concurred from the Middle District of Florida in Tampa through the 11th Circuit en banc.

One way to think of this is that the generally anti-Plaintiff, anti-civil litigation Republican Congress granted a one-time exemption to Terri Schiavo’s parents to file a frivolous lawsuit (lacking in any possible allegation of violation of any express substantively guaranteed rights) without granting to either Terri or her parents one single substantive right which would make that lawsuit less frivolous. In short, Congress’ posturing was nothing but a cruel and meaningless hoax.

Section 1 of the Schiavo bill (signed into law on March 21, 2005) invested the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida with

“jurisdiction to hear, determine, and render judgment on a suit or claim by or on behalf of Theresa Marie Shiavo for the alleged violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution or laws of the United States…..”.

Title 28 U.S.C. §1343(a)(3)-(4) already provided that:

“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person:  to redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States; to recover damages or to secure equitable or other relief under any Act of Congress providing for the protection of civil rights, including the right to vote.”

Except and unless Congress forgot about the existence of 28 U.S.C. §1343(a)(3)-(4), what did Congress add by enacting Section 1 of the Schiavo bill? Could it be that Congress knew that the courts were systematically refusing to exercise its pre-existing jurisdiction to hear civil rights cases authorized by 28 U.S.C. §1343(a)? So, was Congress making a one-time exception to Rooker-Feldman and Younger v. Harris abstention doctrines, or has the judicial refusal to enforce the civil rights laws simply become so ingrained and routine that Congress completely forgot about the express language of pre-existing statutes?

Section 2 of the Schiavo bill makes it clear that only the parents of Terri Schiavo have standing under this bill and specifically authorizes suit against “identical parties” to the state court litigation, which normally would present a problem under Rooker-Feldman (if the state court cases were final), and Section 2 also specifically exempts Schiavo litigants from any requirement of exhaustion of state court remedies and liberates the federal court from any requirement to give res judicata or any other issue preclusive effect to any previous state court decisions and specifically provides that “The District Court shall entertain and determine the suit without any delay or abstention in favor of State Court proceedings….” 

Obviously, Congress was aware of both judge-made Younger v. Harris and Rooker-Feldman constraints on civil rights litigation in enacting the Schiavo bill, but was  unaware of Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 108, 124-5, 110 S.Ct. 975, 982-3, 108 L.Ed.2d 100 (1990) and the courts’ statements in the Zinermon opinion that exhaustion of state court remedies is not required to institute suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, (it should be noted, however that, the ACLU cited Zinermon on the definition of due process in its amicus brief in Schiavo to the U.S. Supreme Court).

Section 3 of the Schiavo bill provides that:

“After a determination on the merits of a suit brought under this Act, the District Court shall issue such declaratory and injunctive relief as may be necessary to protect the rights of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution and laws of the United States…..”

Again, one must wonder how this differs from the pre-existing language of 42 U.S.C. §1983, “Civil Action for Deprivation of rights” and whether Congress has forgotten the status of existing US law:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable….

As always, 42 U.S.C. §1983 must be read together with its companion “Proceedings in vindication of civil rights” 42 U.S.C. §1988(b):

In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision….of this title…..the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, such officer shall not be held liable for any costs, including attorney’s fees, unless such action was clearly in excess of such officer’s jurisdiction.

It is reasonable to infer that in enacting the Schiavo bill, Congress may have intended an act of meaningless legal, purely symbolic, import.  It is equally plausible that Congress completely understood that the substantive due process question of whether Terri Schiavo had any affirmative right to stay alive against the will of her husband and legal guardian was simply a political potato “much too hot to handle” but that the buck could be passed to the Courts by re-authorizing “procedural due process” by giving another “notice opportunity” for Federal review of state court litigation despite the Federal courts recent history of “anti-review” procedural jurisprudence.

If Congress had chosen to reaffirm the civil rights enabling statutes which are “on the books” by making affirmative reference to 28 U.S.C. §1343(a) and 42 U.S.C. §1983, Congress could have reinvigorated civil rights litigation in federal courts against the stain of Rooker-Feldman and Younger v. Harris abstention and refusal jurisprudence. Alternatively, Congress could have taken the more meaningful step (from the standpoint of Terri Schiavo and her parents, anyhow) of enacting an affirmative substantive right to nourishment to persons who are unconscious and have never executed a living will, “DNR”, or “no extreme measures” directive.   Congress rejected these latter, “substantive due process” alternatives, however, in sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 of the Schiavo Act.

So the question remains—what does it mean that Congress enacted a “special bill” for Terri Schiavo which gave her parents another “procedural bite at the apple” but no substantive due process rights to life or liberty and expressly did not change the general law regarding substantive rights, assisted suicides, or patient self-determination?

It may mean that Congress was tacitly admitting that the Federal Courts have gone so far in their 1980s-1990s “anti-civil rights activism” of abjuring the originally intended mandate of the civil rights acts under Rooker-Feldman and Younger v. Harris that there is, in effect, no viable outlet under existing law to obtain Federal Courts’ review over state-court actions, except to re-enact the very laws which are already on the books.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Charles E. Lincoln  lives in Lago Vista, Texas.  After his B.A. at Tulane in New Orleans (1980), he received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1990 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1992.  He clerked for U.S. District Court Kenneth L. Ryskamp in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1992-1993 and before that was a judicial extern for U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Los Angeles, in 1988-9.”


 

On behalf of National J.A.I.L., we express our deepest gratitude to Charles Lincoln for sending J.A.I.L. a copy of this provocative and meaningful testimony which carries with it the utmost degree of respect and credibility. May this lead to an awakening of the People to end this scourge of judicial corruption, by passing J.A.I.L. throughout this country as soon as possible. This is indeed an Evil that is no longer sufferable.  -Barbie


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PROSECUTIONS (OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION) THAT SHOULD ALREADY HAVE HAPPENED: OBAMA HAS ABANDONNED CIVIL LIBERTIES BUT MCCAIN WAS ALWAYS AGAINST THEM….

 http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/07/23/new_churchcomm/print.html


Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power

Salon has uncovered new evidence of post-9/11 spying on Americans. Obtained documents point to a potential investigation of the White House that could rival Watergate.

 

By Tim Shorrock

Jul. 23, 2008 | The last several years have brought a parade of dark revelations about the George W. Bush administration, from the manipulation of intelligence to torture to extrajudicial spying inside the United States. But there are growing indications that these known abuses of power may only be the tip of the iceberg. Now, in the twilight of the Bush presidency, a movement is stirring in Washington for a sweeping new inquiry into White House malfeasance that would be modeled after the famous Church Committee congressional investigation of the 1970s.
While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.

Salon has also uncovered further indications of far-reaching and possibly illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency inside the United States under President Bush. That includes the alleged use of a top-secret, sophisticated database system for monitoring people considered to be a threat to national security. It also includes signs of the NSA’s working closely with other U.S. government agencies to track financial transactions domestically as well as globally.

The proposal for a Church Committee-style investigation emerged from talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress, according to sources involved. (Pelosi’s and Conyers’ offices both declined to comment.) Looking forward to 2009, when both Congress and the White House may well be controlled by Democrats, the idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror to undermine the Constitution and U.S. and international laws. The goal would be to implement government reforms aimed at preventing future abuses — and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials.

“If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal and has been involved in several high-profile congressional investigations.

“You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.”

The parameters for an investigation were outlined in a seven-page memo, written after the former member of the Church Committee met for discussions with the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Common Cause and other watchdog groups. Key issues to investigate, those involved say, would include the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities; the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of extraordinary rendition and torture against terrorist suspects; and the U.S. government’s extensive use of military assets — including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies and U2 surveillance planes — for a vast spying apparatus that could be used against the American people.

Specifically, the ACLU and other groups want to know how the NSA’s use of databases and data mining may have meshed with other domestic intelligence activities, such as the U.S. government’s extensive use of no-fly lists and the Treasury Department’s list of “specially designated global terrorists” to identify potential suspects. As of mid-July, says Steinhardt, the no-fly list includes more than 1 million records corresponding to more than 400,000 names. If those people really represent terrorist threats, he says, “our cities would be ablaze.” A deeper investigation into intelligence abuses should focus on how these lists feed on each other, Steinhardt says, as well as the government’s “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect.”

“It’s not just the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” agrees Gregory T. Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology, referring to the Bush administration’s misleading name for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We need a broad investigation on the way all the moving parts fit together. It seems like we’re always looking at little chunks and missing the big picture.”

A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration’s alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores — without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

According to several former U.S. government officials with extensive knowledge of intelligence operations, Main Core in its current incarnation apparently contains a vast amount of personal data on Americans, including NSA intercepts of bank and credit card transactions and the results of surveillance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. One former intelligence official described Main Core as “an emergency internal security database system” designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law. Its name, he says, is derived from the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”

Some of the former U.S. officials interviewed, although they have no direct knowledge of the issue, said they believe that Main Core may have been used by the NSA to determine who to spy on in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Moreover, the NSA’s use of the database, they say, may have triggered the now-famous March 2004 confrontation between the White House and the Justice Department that nearly led Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director William Mueller and other top Justice officials to resign en masse.

The Justice Department officials who objected to the legal basis for the surveillance program — former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey and Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel — testified before Congress last year about the 2004 showdown with the White House. Although they refused to discuss the highly classified details behind their concerns, the New York Times later reported that they were objecting to a program that “involved computer searches through massive electronic databases” containing “records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans.”

According to William Hamilton, a former NSA intelligence officer who left the agency in the 1970s, that description sounded a lot like Main Core, which he first heard about in detail in 1992. Hamilton, who is the president of Inslaw Inc., a computer services firm with many clients in government and the private sector, says there are strong indications that the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance operations use Main Core.

Hamilton’s company Inslaw is widely respected in the law enforcement community for creating a program called the Prosecutors’ Management Information System, or PROMIS. It keeps track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all stored data components of a case, from the name of the initial investigators to the telephone numbers of key suspects. PROMIS, also widely used in the insurance industry, can also sort through other databases fast, with results showing up almost instantly. “It operates just like Google,” Hamilton told me in an interview in his Washington office in May.

Since the late 1980s, Inslaw has been involved in a legal dispute over its claim that Justice Department officials in the Reagan administration appropriated the PROMIS software. Hamilton claims that Reagan officials gave PROMIS to the NSA and the CIA, which then adapted the software — and its outstanding ability to search other databases — to manage intelligence operations and track financial transactions. Over the years, Hamilton has employed prominent lawyers to pursue the case, including Elliot Richardson, the former attorney general and secretary of defense who died in 1999, and C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. The dispute has never been settled. But based on the long-running case, Hamilton says he believes U.S. intelligence uses PROMIS as the primary software for searching the Main Core database.

Hamilton was first told about the connection between PROMIS and Main Core in the spring of 1992 by a U.S. intelligence official, and again in 1995 by a former NSA official. In July 2001, Hamilton says, he discussed his case with retired Adm. Dan Murphy, a former military advisor to Elliot Richardson who later served under President George H.W. Bush as deputy director of the CIA. Murphy, who died shortly after his meeting with Hamilton, did not specifically mention Main Core. But he informed Hamilton that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involved something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem,” Hamilton told me. He added, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” Hamilton also provided copies of letters that Richardson and Gray sent to U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department on Inslaw’s behalf alleging that the NSA and the CIA had appropriated PROMIS for intelligence use.

Hamilton says James B. Comey’s congressional testimony in May 2007, in which he described a hospitalized John Ashcroft’s dramatic standoff with senior Bush officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card, was another illuminating moment. “It was then that we [at Inslaw] started hearing again about the Main Core derivative of PROMIS for spying on Americans,” he told me.

Through a former senior Justice Department official with more than 25 years of government experience, Salon has learned of a high-level former national security official who reportedly has firsthand knowledge of the U.S. government’s use of Main Core. The official worked as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the Bush White House. He would not agree to an interview. But according to the former Justice Department official, the former intelligence analyst told her that while stationed at the White House after the 9/11 attacks, one day he accidentally walked into a restricted room and came across a computer system that was logged on to what he recognized to be the Main Core database. When she mentioned the specific name of the top-secret system during their conversation, she recalled, “he turned white as a sheet.”

An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”

The alleged use of Main Core by the Bush administration for surveillance, if confirmed to be true, would indicate a much deeper level of secretive government intrusion into Americans’ lives than has been previously known. With respect to civil liberties, says the ACLU’s Steinhardt, it would be “pretty frightening stuff.”

The Inslaw case also points to what may be an extensive role played by the NSA in financial spying inside the United States. According to reports over the years in the U.S. and foreign press, Inslaw’s PROMIS software was embedded surreptitiously in systems sold to foreign and global banks as a way to give the NSA secret “backdoor” access to the electronic flow of money around the world.

In May, I interviewed Norman Bailey, a private financial consultant with years of government intelligence experience dating from the George W. Bush administration back to the Reagan administration. According to Bailey — who from 2006 to 2007 headed a special unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on financial intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela — the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s.

From 1982 to 1984, Bailey ran a top-secret program for President Reagan’s National Security Council, called “Follow the Money,” that used NSA signals intelligence to track loans from Western banks to the Soviet Union and its allies. PROMIS, he told me, was “the principal software element” used by the NSA and the Treasury Department then in their electronic surveillance programs tracking financial flows to the Soviet bloc, organized crime and terrorist groups. His admission is the first public acknowledgement by a former U.S. intelligence official that the NSA used the PROMIS software.

According to Bailey, the Reagan program marked a significant shift in resources from human spying to electronic surveillance, as a way to track money flows to suspected criminals and American enemies. “That was the beginning of the whole process,” he said.

After 9/11, this capability was instantly seen within the U.S. government as a critical tool in the war on terror — and apparently was deployed by the Bush administration inside the United States, in cases involving alleged terrorist supporters. One such case was that of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Oregon, which was accused of having terrorist ties after the NSA, at the request of the Treasury Department, eavesdropped on the phone calls of Al-Haramain officials and their American lawyers. The charges against Al-Haramain were based primarily on secret evidence that the Bush administration refused to disclose in legal proceedings; Al-Haramain’s lawyers argued in a lawsuit that was a violation of the defendants’ due process rights.

According to Bailey, the NSA also likely would have used its technological capabilities to track the charity’s financial activity. “The vast majority of financial movements of any significance take place electronically, so intercepts have become an extremely important element” in intelligence, he explained. “If the government suspects that a particular Muslim charitable organization is engaged in collecting funds to funnel to terrorists, the NSA would be asked to follow the money going into and out of the bank accounts of that charity.” (The now-defunct Al-Haramain Foundation, although affiliated with a Saudi Arabian-based global charity, was founded and based in Ashland, Ore.)

The use of a powerful database and extensive watch lists, Bailey said, would make the NSA’s job much easier. “The biggest problems with intercepts, quite frankly, is that the volumes of data, daily or even by the hour, are gigantic,” he said. “Unless you have a very precise idea of what it is you’re looking for, the NSA people or their counterparts [overseas] will just throw up their hands and say ‘forget it.’” Regarding domestic surveillance, Bailey said there’s a “whole gray area where the initiation of the transaction was in the United States and the final destination was outside, or vice versa. That’s something for the lawyers to figure out.”

Bailey’s information on the evolution of the Reagan intelligence program appears to corroborate and clarify an article published in March in the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the NSA was conducting domestic surveillance using “an ad-hoc collection of so-called ‘black programs’ whose existence is undisclosed.” Some of these programs began “years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach.” Among them, the article said, are a joint NSA-Treasury database on financial transactions that dates back “about 15 years” to 1993. That’s not quite right, Bailey clarified: “It started in the early ’80s, at least 10 years before.”

Main Core may be the contemporary incarnation of a government watch list system that was part of a highly classified “Continuity of Government” program created by the Reagan administration to keep the U.S. government functioning in the event of a nuclear attack. Under a 1982 presidential directive, the outbreak of war could trigger the proclamation of martial law nationwide, giving the military the authority to use its domestic database to round up citizens and residents considered to be threats to national security. The emergency measures for domestic security were to be carried out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army.

In the late 1980s, reports about a domestic database linked to FEMA and the Continuity of Government program began to appear in the press. For example, in 1986 the Austin American-Statesman uncovered evidence of a large database that authorities were proposing to use to intern Latino dissidents and refugees during a national emergency that might follow a potential U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. During the Iran-Contra congressional hearings in 1987, questions to Reagan aide Oliver North about the database were ruled out of order by the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, because of the “highly sensitive and classified” nature of FEMA’s domestic security operations.

In September 2001, according to “The Rise of the Vulcans,” a 2004 book on Bush’s war cabinet by James Mann, a contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”

It is noteworthy that two key players on Bush’s national security team, Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, have been involved in the Continuity of Government program since its inception. Along with Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s first secretary of defense, both men took part in simulated drills for the program during the 1980s and early 1990s. Addington’s role was disclosed in “The Dark Side,” a book published this month about the Bush administration’s war on terror by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer. In the book, Mayer calls Addington “the father of the [NSA] eavesdropping program,” and reports that he was the key figure involved in the 2004 dispute between the White House and the Justice Department over the legality of the program. That would seem to make him a prime witness for a broader investigation.

Getting a full picture on Bush’s intelligence programs, however, will almost certainly require any sweeping new investigation to have a scope that would inoculate it against charges of partisanship. During one recent discussion on Capitol Hill, according to a participant, a senior aide to Speaker Pelosi was asked for Pelosi’s views on a proposal to expand the investigation to past administrations, including those of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. “The question was, how far back in time would we have to go to make this credible?” the participant in the meeting recalled.

That question was answered in the seven-page memo. “The rise of the ‘surveillance state’ driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this Administration,” the author wrote. Even though he acknowledged in interviews with Salon that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents, he recommended in the memo that any new investigation follow the precedent of the Church Committee and investigate the origins of Bush’s programs, going as far back as the Reagan administration.

The proposal has emerged in a political climate reminiscent of the Watergate era. The Church Committee was formed in 1975 in the wake of media reports about illegal spying against American antiwar activists and civil rights leaders, CIA assassination squads, and other dubious activities under Nixon and his predecessors. Chaired by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, the committee interviewed more than 800 officials and held 21 public hearings. As a result of its work, Congress in 1978 passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required warrants and court supervision for domestic wiretaps, and created intelligence oversight committees in the House and Senate.

So far, no lawmaker has openly endorsed a proposal for a new Church Committee-style investigation. A spokesman for Pelosi declined to say whether Pelosi herself would be in favor of a broader probe into U.S. intelligence. On the Senate side, the most logical supporters for a broader probe would be Democratic senators such as Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who led the failed fight against the recent Bush-backed changes to FISA. (Both Feingold and Leahy’s offices declined to comment on a broader intelligence inquiry.)

The Democrats’ reticence on such action ultimately may be rooted in congressional complicity with the Bush administration’s intelligence policies. Many of the war on terror programs, including the NSA’s warrantless surveillance and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” were cleared with key congressional Democrats, including Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Rockefeller, and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman, among others.

The discussions about a broad investigation were jump-started among civil liberties advocates this spring, when it became clear that the Democrats didn’t have the votes to oppose the Bush-backed bill updating FISA. The new legislation could prevent the full story of the NSA surveillance programs from ever being uncovered; it included retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that may have violated FISA by collaborating with the NSA on warrantless wiretapping. Opponents of Bush’s policies were further angered when Democratic leaders stripped from their competing FISA bill a provision that would have established a national commission to investigate post-9/11 surveillance programs.

The next president obviously would play a key role in any decision to investigate intelligence abuses. Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate, is running as a champion of Bush’s national security policies and would be unlikely to embrace an investigation that would, foremost, embarrass his own party. (Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s spokesman on national security, declined to comment.)

Some see a brighter prospect in Barack Obama, should he be elected. The plus with Obama, says the former Church Committee staffer, is that as a proponent of open government, he could order the executive branch to be more cooperative with Congress, rolling back the obsessive secrecy and stonewalling of the Bush White House. That could open the door to greater congressional scrutiny and oversight of the intelligence community, since the legislative branch lacked any real teeth under Bush. (Obama’s spokesman on national security, Ben Rhodes, did not reply to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.)

But even that may be a lofty hope. “It may be the last thing a new president would want to do,” said a participant in the ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, he said, “some people see the Church Committee ideas as a substitute for prosecutions that should already have happened.”

 

 

 

– By Tim Shorrock

 

 

Barack Obama has betrayed everyone, left and right and center, black and white and brown, by voting for the FISA “compromise” that repeals the Fourth Amendmentment. Everyone should denounce him—he is unfit to be President, at least as unfit as McCain, from the standpoint of the Constitution.

Joan Walsh

Thursday July 10, 2008 06:49 EDT

Betrayed by Obama

What an interesting week: I came back from vacation to find the two presumptive presidential nominees running away from their bases. Suddenly John McCain is evading, not embracing, the media, limiting access and getting testy with the very people whose formerly friendly coverage made him a popular “maverick.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama is complaining that his “friends on the left” just don’t understand him — he’s not moving to the center, he is “no doubt” a progressive, just one who now supports the scandalous FISA “compromise” and Antonin Scalia’s views on gun rights and the death penalty, no longer plans to accept public campaign funding, and wants to make sure women aren’t feigning mental distress to get a “partial-birth” abortion (the right’s despicable term of choice; the correct phrase is either late-term or third-trimester abortion).

I actually have some sympathy for Obama. He was never the great progressive savior that his fans either thought he was, or peddled to their readers. While Arianna Huffington and Markos Moulitsas and Tom Hayden were hyping him as the progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, Obama was getting away with backing a healthcare bill less progressive than Clinton’s, adopting GOP talking points on the Social Security “crisis” and double-talking on NAFTA. So why shouldn’t he think his “friends on the left” will put up with his abandoning other progressive causes?

I’ve admired Obama, but I never confused him with a genuine progressive leader. Today I don’t admire him at all. His collapse on FISA is unforgivable. The only thing Obama has going for him this week is that McCain is matching him misstep for misstep. While we’re railing about Obama’s craven vote on FISA — rightfully; Glenn Greenwald is a hero for his work on this topic — McCain was outdoing Dick Cheney with neocon crazy talk, warning that Iran’s test of nine old missiles we already knew they had increases the chances of a “second Holocaust.” Every time I wonder whether I can ultimately vote for Obama in November, given all of his political cave-ins, McCain does something new to make sure I have to.

But Obama needs to watch himself. Telling voters they have no place else to go, before he officially has the nomination, is not a winning strategy. That’s what his people told Clinton voters. That’s what they’re saying about opponents of the FISA sellout. That’s the line on those concerned about his “partial-birth” abortion remarks. It’s arrogant — up against the backdrop of Obama’s big plans for an Invesco Field acceptance speech in Denver and a Brandenberg Gate extravaganza in Berlin, I’m starting to worry about grandiosity — and it could backfire.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, voted against the FISA bill, but I think “what ifs” are unproductive. Matthew Yglesias’ self-justifying fiction that, if she was the nominee, she’d have done what Obama did, is silly. But none of us can really know she’d have done the right thing in Obama’s shoes. Since I believe Clinton’s craven vote to authorize the Iraq war in 2002 cost her the Democratic nomination, I do find myself wondering whether she learned her lesson about caving in to GOP threats. It’s funny how so many defeated Democrats — Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and now Clinton — seem to become more progressive after they learn that pandering can’t protect them from the attacks of the GOP and its friends in the media. Let’s hope Obama doesn’t have to learn that lesson the same way.

Of course, the only thing more offensive than Obama’s yes vote on FISA was McCain’s decision to skip the vote entirely — and then trash Obama for “flip-flopping” on FISA. Unfortunately, Obama did flip-flop on FISA, but McCain didn’t bother to show up. So far, this has been a really dispiriting campaign. Part of the problem, I think, is that the two finalists are guys beloved by the media, who’ve had a fairly free ride to here. With their rivals out of the way, they’re getting more scrutiny, and it’s not all adoring. Having won impressive underdog victories, neither campaign seems ready for prime time. I know one thing, I’d really like to vote for the guy who said this:

“This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court.”

Too bad Obama doesn’t believe that anymore.

 

– Joan Walsh