Archive | November 2011

Infinite Detention, Military Police and the Denial of Resident Rights

A couple of days ago, I receive a few emails regarding provisions in the newest Senate Defense Authorization Bill which would allow military to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals anywhere over the globe. Senate Bill 1867 mostly regards boring defense budget appropriations and general administrative issues. However, sections 1031 and 1032 directly address detainee issues. I have attached the text at the end of this post.

At issue is the proposed exemption of US citizens and permanent residents from arbitrary military arrest and detainment. Senators Levin and McCain along with others on the Senate Defense Sub-Committee has proposed removing the exemptions, allowing the military to detain anyone it likes, anywhere it likes.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I did not catch this nuance at first and referred only to the original text of the document. I had to insert said foot into said mouth when I got past the poor representation of the issue which was rich on sensationalism and poor on details. For that, I stand up and willingly state that I WAS FUCKING WRONG and now have to come out against this travesty of American Justice.

Fortunately, the Obama administration has vowed to veto the Appropriations Bill if the exemptions for US Citizens and Permanent Residents is not included, according to Democratic Senator Udall of Colorado, who is fighting to keep the exemptions. This alone will likely facilitate the inclusion of exemptions that will protect at least legal US residents.

However, the fact that this measure has gotten this far in the legislative process should be troubling for everyone, particularly if one has any memory of the awful Bush years (though this memory seems to be fading as fast as the battery in my laptop). We’ve sown a path of an increasing disregard for human rights, free speech, free expression and political dissent in this country.

The Obama admin should be applauded for threatening to veto the bill in its current state, but the Obama admin itself has been lax on issues of political liberty and human rights. We still have Guantanamo, still the admin pursues a policy of assassination of enemies abroad (though truthfully, I doubt anyone misses Awlacki or Bin Laden), and the admin is notably silent on issues of violent suppression of political dissent in the recent OWS protests.

Equally troubling, though less discussed, is the exemption covering only US citizens and permanent residents. This potentially could leave the door wide open for miltary arrests and arbitrary detention of undocumented immigrants, for example, or persons the political establishment does not care for, who happen to be here on temporary work visas or holiday. However unsurprising, the measure could even make the Supreme Court’s docket (though I’m no expert on Constitutional law), as a clear affront to Constitutional protections of due process for all in the United States, citizen, legal resident or no.

To those I have mislead, please accept my apology. Below is the text of the controversial sections as they were before the removal of the exemptions:

Update: I’ve been informed that this is the new version of the text that does not include the exemption mentioned above.

Subtitle D–Detainee Matters


(a) In General- Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
(b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
(c) Disposition Under Law of War- The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following:
(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(2) Trial under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (title XVIII of Public Law 111-84)).
(3) Transfer for trial by an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction.
(4) Transfer to the custody or control of the person’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.
(d) Construction- Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(e) Requirement for Briefings of Congress- The Secretary of Defense shall regularly brief Congress regarding the application of the authority described in this section, including the organizations, entities, and individuals considered to be `covered persons’ for purposes of subsection (b)(2).

(a) Custody Pending Disposition Under Law of War-
(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (4), the Armed Forces of the United States shall hold a person described in paragraph (2) who is captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) in military custody pending disposition under the law of war.
(2) COVERED PERSONS- The requirement in paragraph (1) shall apply to any person whose detention is authorized under section 1031 who is determined–
(A) to be a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda; and
(B) to have participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.
(3) DISPOSITION UNDER LAW OF WAR- For purposes of this subsection, the disposition of a person under the law of war has the meaning given in section 1031(c), except that no transfer otherwise described in paragraph (4) of that section shall be made unless consistent with the requirements of section 1033.
(4) WAIVER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY- The Secretary of Defense may, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the Secretary submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.
(b) Applicability to United States Citizens and Lawful Resident Aliens-
(1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS- The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.
(2) LAWFUL RESIDENT ALIENS- The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to a lawful resident alien of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.
(c) Implementation Procedures-
(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall issue, and submit to Congress, procedures for implementing this section.
(2) ELEMENTS- The procedures for implementing this section shall include, but not be limited to, procedures as follows:
(A) Procedures designating the persons authorized to make determinations under subsection (a)(2) and the process by which such determinations are to be made.
(B) Procedures providing that the requirement for military custody under subsection (a)(1) does not require the interruption of ongoing surveillance or intelligence gathering with regard to persons not already in the custody or control of the United States.
(C) Procedures providing that a determination under subsection (a)(2) is not required to be implemented until after the conclusion of an interrogation session which is ongoing at the time the determination is made and does not require the interruption of any such ongoing session.
(D) Procedures providing that the requirement for military custody under subsection (a)(1) does not apply when intelligence, law enforcement, or other government officials of the United States are granted access to an individual who remains in the custody of a third country.
(E) Procedures providing that a certification of national security interests under subsection (a)(4) may be granted for the purpose of transferring a covered person from a third country if such a transfer is in the interest of the United States and could not otherwise be accomplished.
(d) Effective Date- This section shall take effect on the date that is 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and shall apply with respect to persons described in subsection (a)(2) who are taken into the custody or brought under the control of the United States on or after that effective date.

Movie of the Week: “Touki Bouki” (1973)

I’m short on time recently, so, rather than not post at all, I’ll revive my long neglected “Movie of the Week” feature (that died due to being widely ignored) and present one of my now favorite movies. “Touki Bouki” is a avant garde production from Senegalese director and writer Djibril Diop Mambéty. Made for less than $30,000 in 1973, Mambety tells the story of Mory and Anta, a pair of lovers seeking to escape Senegal for a romanticised France.

The film is less of a story, and more of a surreal patchwork of pictures of life in Senegal and insight into the complicated hopes and dreams of a colonized people. France represents a mythical place of prosperity and freedom, though life in Senegal is portrayed as frighteningly real. Mory is a petty criminal who rides around his hometown on a motorcycle decorated with the horns of a bull, and it universally hated and respected by everyone around him. He attempts to get the money to leave Senegal by robbing a gay politician, buys some clothes, steals his car and wins the admiration of the community by throwing money around.

Despite having little experience with film, Mambety’s cinematography is strikingly vivid, a collection of seemingly disconnected scenes shot in full vibrant color, possibly representing the confused and disjointed nature of Senegalese identity post colonialism.

I’m a great fan of African cinema, and this has to be among the best.

South African Secrecy Law Threatens Free Press

The South African Parliament has approved the passage of the “Protection of State Information Bill,” which detractors have called the “South African Secrecy Law.” Its proponents and the ANC maintain that the law is necessary to prevent government employees from leaking important state secrets. Critics view the law as an egregious affront to a free press because it could be hand whistle blowers a draconian sentence of 25 years in prison.

South African human rights leaders such as Bishop Desmond Tutu have vocally come out against the passage of the law, calling it a violation of freedom and a threat to democracy. Amnesty International’s office in South Africa has called the passage of the law a “dark day for freedom.” Business leaders have even criticized the law, stating that it is likely bad for business.

Mail and Guardian "Censored" Edition

South African newspapers have already reacted with outrage. The Mail and Guardian newspaper printed an edition last week where most of the articles were blackened out in a manner similar to that under apartheid. Journalists and press freedom supporters all over South Africa have taken to the streets to protest the law.

The greatest controversy is not over the move to protect state secrets, but the lack of a public interest provision which would protect journalists and citizens from publicly revealing cases of government corruption. A whistle blower expose’ of a corrupt weapons deal, where defense contract Thyssen-Krupp made improper ANC donations to secure the sale of several large naval carriers, would be a punishable offense under the new law.

Attempts to curtail a free press to protect the shady dealings of politicians is not a new phenomenon, of course. The rise of such heavy handed policy in post-apartheid South Africa, which can proudly boast of one of the most progressive constitutions on the planet, is not only sad, but also troubling. Politicians and the powerful state elite in other Sub-Saharan countries will no doubt be emboldened by the effort.

Last year, Bingu wa Mutharika and the DPP, the president and ruling party of Malawi, introduced and passed a a consitutional amendment sharply curtailing press freedom. Section 46 of the Penal Code now states: “If the minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the publication or importation of any publication would be contrary to the public interest, he may, by order published in the ‘Gazette’, prohibit the publication or importation of such publication.”

They have since routinely harassed newspaper unsympathetic to the increasingly autocratic Mutharika and had journalists arrested and beaten. DPP supporters have detained academics who speak out against the failing Malawian government. In the most recent riots this past June, DPP thugs were there not only to incite violence, but to intimidate those opposed to the present government, by brandishing machetes and beating demonstrators.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Native Heritage Month 2011

Thanksgiving is my favorite of all the holidays, mostly because it just requires the eating of food. I do recognize, however, that Thanksgiving is easily the most condemnable of all the holidays.

I was just reading a web page on Oyate, a Native American advocacy site devoted to promoting books which sincerely promote or reflect the words of Native peoples or which accurately depict Native history.

On it, Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin briefly attempt to deconstruct the myths of Thanksgiving, in order to right the wrong of revisionism and the white washing of America’s awful history of bloody colonization:

What is it about the story of “The First Thanksgiving” that makes it essential to be taught in virtually every grade from preschool through high school? What is it about the story that is so seductive? Why has it become an annual elementary school tradition to hold Thanksgiving pageants, with young children dressing up in paper-bag costumes and feather-duster headdresses and marching around the schoolyard? Why is it seen as necessary for fake “pilgrims” and fake “Indians” (portrayed by real children, many of whom are Indian) to sit down every year to a fake feast, acting out fake scenarios and reciting fake dialogue about friendship? And why do teachers all over the country continue (for the most part, unknowingly) to perpetuate this myth year after year after year?

Is it because as Americans we have a deep need to believe that the soil we live on and the country on which it is based was founded on integrity and cooperation? This belief would help contradict any feelings of guilt that could haunt us when we look at our role in more recent history in dealing with other indigenous peoples in other countries. If we dare to give up the “myth” we may have to take responsibility for our actions both concerning indigenous peoples of this land as well as those brought to this land in violation of everything that makes us human. The realization of these truths untold might crumble the foundation of what many believe is a true democracy. As good people, can we be strong enough to learn the truths of our collective past? Can we learn from our mistakes? This would be our hope.

We offer these myths and facts to assist students, parents and teachers in thinking critically about this holiday, and deconstructing what we have been taught about the history of this continent and the world.

While we are taught in school that the Pilgrims and the Native peoples (on whose land the Pilgrims invaded) sat down and had a happy meal together, the truth should be obvious. The only place one can obviously see Native folks in new England is at a casino in Connecticut.

A mere generation later, the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England.” That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War,” most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians. (13)

I call to make Thanksgiving not a day of forgetting, but a day of remembering. I call to change the name of the holiday to “Indigenous People’s Day” and celebrate indigenous cultures all over the world.

The United States under little fanfare has named November 2011 National Native American Heritage Month to complement the opening of the fantastic Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, please do. It is a museum about Native peoples, constructed by Native peoples and, ironically, is the closet structure to the Capitol building besides the Canadian Embassy. I have included a few pictures here of my last trip there.

OWS, Police Miltarization, the Spread of Dissent

We’ve had several weeks of jaw-dropping news of jackbooted police brutality around the country. A young veteran in shot in the head with a rubber bullet and hospitalized with brain injuries. An 84 year old woman and a pregnant girl are pepper sprayed in Seattle. A NYC Councilman is beaten and arrested in a violent crackdown on OWS protests in Zucotti Park. Journalists are arrested and beaten the same night, and a free press is curtailed through official order.

Honestly, the United States seem more like second tier countries like Egypt, Syria, Sudan, and China every day. Telling is the lack of substantive comment from elected officials. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the events of the past month should be cause for outrage.

But yet… nothing.

Last night, NYU students protesting tuition hikes and the ballooning influence of private money on University administration clashed with police as they tried to burst in to a trustees meeting. Police used batons to push the students out of the building and to beat them into submission. 15 people were arrested and a police officer was hospitalized for chest pains.

If NYU is any indication, the escalating military style violence of police is hardening citizen protesters and emboldening people to speak out.

A series of articles appeared right after the event at UC Davis, most decrying the saddening trend of police militarization around the United States. UC Davis faculty member Bob Osterberg wrote an on-the-ground criticism of the UC Davis police and on the disturbing technological and organization upgrade of police power at all levels of law enforcement. Even former Seattle police check Norm Stamper, who was in charge during the famous Seattle WTO protests which involved tens of thousands, has spoken out against this frightening trend in law-enforcement.

The Academy has long taken note of this trend, from this paper in 1998 (before the war on terror), to this list of a number of papers on the militaristic incursion of law enforcement into poor and minority communities. Here is an excellent article outlining the evolution of the gradual organizational upgrade of US police, specifically pointing to an important 1994 bill which authorized the US military to donate old equipment to local law enforcement:

The main culprit was a 1994 law authorizing the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local police departments. In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.

The CATO Institute produced a frightening 2006 whitepaper on the move from traditional law-enforcement models to strategies which differ little from those of militaries fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Libertarians espouse the need for then entire American populace to be armed, though if this paper is any indication, that strategy is futile. Police, in response to wide availability of guns and mass advances in popular gun technology, simply respond by upgrading their own. It is no surprise, then, that a heavily reactionary and organized police force will use heavy handed means to suppress any perceived threat to security.

Personally, I find disturbing the combination of state control, advances in weapons technology and military strategy (defense and weapons industry), a culture of surveillance, and the perceived need to suppress “dangerous elements” (drug dealers, terrorists and poor people) and the dehumanization and willingness to do violence against members of these groups (torture, “enhanced” interrogation) to be a self-sustaining, escalating cycle. Note, the important role of technology and training in maintaining South African apartheid, for example, or the important role of new crowd suppression technologies being implemented in Egypt, for example.

Regardless of one’s political bent, the increasing power of federal, state and local governments to suppress political dissent and protect private interests should give one pause to consider what kind of future we create for ourselves. Fortunately, though, the populace appears unfazed, as the brave level of restraint by UC Davis protesters shows. It is debatable, however, how long this restraint will last.

Update: The pregnant woman who was pepper sprayed in Seattle appears to have miscarried.

Memories of Kent State

We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.

OWS, Agriculture and the Re-Democratization of America

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the decay of democracy in the US through the mass handing over of official powers to unelected bodies. Today, reading the reports of the thousands of people that turned out in NYC and the list of demonstrations in more than 15 major cities, I’m given pause to not be so pessimistic.

It’s wonderful to see people this politically involved though disappointing to see the press and our elected officials summarily ignore it. The President himself, has chosen to only hint at the events, which, arguably, have generated more steam than any of the Tea Party demonstrations. In contrast, though, the Tea Party, though co-opted by Republican candidates that differed little form their predecessors, influenced an entire election.

Looking at the broader picture, though, I’m amazed at the level of citizen involvement that has emerged in the past few years. It was a vast citizen turn out that put President Obama in office. Citizen involvement created the Tea Party, however misguided and narrow their goals were (are?).

Now, citizen involvement is creating the mass demonstrations that make up OWS. People of all types willingly risk being the victim of violence at the hands of state thugs, arrest, detention, fines and legal fees, all for the sake of expressing their political opinions and motivating for change. The Tea Party were never so bold, but I don’t think that OWS could exist without the precedent the Tea Party set. I hate to say that, but it’s true.

As a loosely linked aside (which will likely make as little sense as the rest of this blog), I was attending this week’s meeting of NWEAG (New World Ecology and Agriculture Group), a loosely link international group of pinko commies concerned with issues of agricultural policy. Last night, my good friend Gerald Smith presented a short history of agricultural policy in the United States, from Jefferson’s ideas of the “Citizen Farmer” to modern day food stamp policy.

The subject of the possible turn of US agriculture away from large agri-business and back toward smaller, local, family run farming operations. In short, we were speaking of the re-democratization of food. Food policy in the US, heavy on subsidies that reward and encourage big agri-business and corporate farming, encourage the commodification and dumbing down of what we eat. We eat what we are told to, and few questions are asked.

Local farm markets, however, allow consumers to be directly involved in food production, the types and manner of food production, and inevitable, the nature of the market itself. Moving toward small farming operations not only empowers farmers, but citizens alike. Local farming ends the need for subsidies that not only serve to depress food prices, reward big fast food industries and snack makers, and, ultimately, prevent developing countries from being competitive in the world agricultural market.

Big agri-business will not go away, just as Wall Street will never go away. The reestablishment of the citizen voice and the re-democratization of America, whether in the form of OWS protests or local farm markets or CFAs, will, however, move American politics away from the divided extremes that we see today, and ultimately create a more tolerable world.

Or, perhaps, I’m just being overly optimistic.

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