S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Conflating torture, detention, warrantless surveillance and civil liberties:

What do torture, detention, warrantless surveillance and civil liberties have in common? The answer is the Constitution. The Bill of Rights has come under attack by the Bush administration almost from its inception. Today's post presents a perspective that combines my interest in this news subject and my writing on it over the years. For whatever reason it is a subject of endless fascination with me.

Guantanamo Bay -- The Constitutional problems associated with the place have not gone away, though these days we do not hear a whole lot about Gitmo. This story did come up recently, however. According to The Washington Post,

A federal appeals court Monday blocked the release of 17 Chinese Muslims into the United States from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until it can hear further legal arguments in the case. . . The government has been trying to find new homes for the Uighurs for years. It no longer considers them enemy combatants and provided no evidence in court that they posed a security risk. The men cannot be returned to their homeland because they face the prospect of being tortured and killed. China considers the men terrorists.

The sad story of torture - a news retrospective: These two stories, that go back a ways, show how long and difficult this struggle with the forces of darkness has been going on.

  • Human rights advocates have long suspected a link between interrogations in the "war on terror" and a secretive military survival school that trains elite U.S. troops to resist torture. Jane Mayer explored the evidence of a connection between the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape school at Fort Bragg, N. C., and real-world interrogators in a July 2005 piece for the New Yorker, from unbossed Aug. 5, 2006.

  • A federal appeals court today upheld of a new law that strips federal courts of the authority to review the cases of foreign prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, in the New York Times, (2/20/07).

National Security Agency Warrantless Wiretapping -- It is time to catch up again with current happenings on the subject of the U.S. government's program for spying on Americans. An amazing story that was covered widely comes from Wired-Threat Level, who reported on (on 10/10/08): "Operation Highlander: the NSA's Wiretapping of Americans Abroad" To quote:

A top secret NSA wiretapping facility in Georgia accused of spying on Americans illegally was hastily staffed with inexperienced reservists in the months following September 11, where they worked under conflicting orders and with little supervision, according to three former workers at the spy complex.

"Nobody knew exactly what the heck we were doing," said a former translator for the project, code named Highlander, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We were figuring out the rules as we were going along."

Former Army Reserve linguist Adrienne Kinne, who worked at the facility at Fort Gordon, won new attention this week for her year-old claim that she and her group intercepted and transcribed satellite phone calls of American civilians in the Middle East for the National Security Agency. Senate intelligence committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) opened a probe into the alleged abuses after ABC News reported on them Thursday.

This is a new twist on a very old story: It makes me want to exclaim, "Duhh!" and "No kidding?!" I am not holding my breath for any change with this one. The headline reads, Data-Mining for Terrorists Not 'Feasible,' DHS-Funded Study Finds." To quote Wired-Threat Level (10/7/08):

The government should not be building predictive data-mining programs systems that attempt to figure out who among millions is a terrorist, a privacy and terrorism commission funded by Homeland Security reported Tuesday. The commission found that the technology would not work and the inevitable mistakes would be un-American.

The committee, created by the National Research Council in 2005, also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of technology designed to decide from afar whether a person had terrorist intents, saying false positives could quickly lead to privacy invasions.

"Automated identification of terrorists through data mining (or any other known methodology) is neither feasible as an objective nor desirable as a goal of technology development efforts," the report found. "Even in well-managed programs, such tools are likely to return significant rates of false positives, especially if the tools are highly automated."

The 376-page report -- entitled "Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists" -- comes as a rebuke to the Bush administration's attempts to use high-tech surveillance and data-sifting tools to prevent another terrorist attack inside the United States.

The sad story of NSA domestic spying program - a news retrospective:
In mid-January 2006, the ACLU and other sued the government to halt the illegal NSA wiretapping program. Feb. 2, 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing about the possible rebirth of this formerly banned program. An ABA-sponsored Harris poll released on Feb. 10 revealed that most Americans were uneasy about Bush's spying program, 77% saying they "have reservations." The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the matter on Feb. 28, 2006. There's more:

  • House group to oversee NSA eavesdropping. Eleven lawmakers set to be briefed on domestic spying program. From CNN Washington Bureau, Wednesday, March 29, 2006. The House Intelligence Committee has set up a special group to conduct oversight of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, a spokesman for the panel's chairman said Wednesday.

  • Wired reports (3/25/06): The National Security Agency could have legally monitored ordinarily confidential communications between doctors and patients or attorneys and their clients, the Justice Department said Friday of its controversial warrantless surveillance program.

  • The Bush administration is threatening to sue if Maine regulators decide to investigate whether Verizon Communications illegally turned over customer information to the National Security Agency, according to Walking Around on Aug 4, 2006.

  • President Bush stepped in after top officials threatened to resign over the N.S.A.’s domestic spying program, according to testimony, from The New York Times of May 16, 2007.

References to older posts on the subjects at South by Southwest:

The U.S. Constitution could serve us well when it comes to torture. How could the administration not know at a deep level that that is not something we do? The Supreme Court has ruled over and over that detainees are not without rights, despite the administrations persistence in denying even the most basic rights. Warrantless surveillance is not legal, no matter what law Congress passed to sanction it. These civil liberties have the Constitution in common. The litigation is not over. It will go on as long as civil libertarians have voices to howl.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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