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June 17, 2003

Terrorism or National Liberation Struggle?

The word “terrorism” is bandied about by the Bush administration as it suits its political agenda. It is important to try to define and distinguish between different forms of terrorism, and to distinguish that from national liberation struggles.
M. Kalliopi K. Koufa, the U.N. special rapporteur for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, has differentiated between five different types of terrorism: individual or group terrorism, international state terrorism, state regime or government terror, state sponsored or state supported terrorism, and national liberation struggles for self-determination. I will apply those definitions to the September 11th attacks, the U.S.-U.K. bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel’s occupation and massacre of the Palestinians, U.S. support for Israel’s military operation and Palestine’s response to the illegal occupation.

Individual Terrorism

The September 11 attacks are examples of sub-state terrorism. Individual acts of violence and intimidation, including assassinations, bombings, sabotage and robberies, have historically been perpetrated by individuals and groups to terrorize the state and the public in order to revolutionize the masses and create social and political change. Individual terrorism has been waged by religious as well as national and political groups. The planning of the September 11 attacks has been largely attributed to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. In 1996, Bin Laden declared a jihad to drive the U.S. military forces out of the Arabian Peninsula, overthrow the Saudi government and liberate Mecca and Medina. Four years later he issued a fatwa stating it is the duty of all Muslims to kill U.S. citizens and their allies. After September 11, he said, “America and its allies are massacring us in Palestine, Chechneya, Kashmir and Iraq. The Muslims have a right to attack America in reprisal….The September 11 attacks…targeted America’s icons of military and economic power.”

Bin Laden’s other flash points were the deaths of one million innocent Iraqis as the result of sanctions and U.S. complicity in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He holds the American people responsible for electing a government that manufactures arms and gives them to Israel.

The Convention of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism defines terrorism as follows:
Any act of violence, or threat thereof notwithstanding its motives or intentions perpetrated to carry out an individual or collective criminal plan with the aim of terrorizing people or threatening to harm them or imperiling their lives, honour, freedoms, security or rights or exposing the environment or any facility or public or private property to hazards or occupying or seizing them, or endangering a national resource, or international facilities, or threatening the stability, territorial integrity, political unity or sovereignty of independent states.

The Convention defines a “terrorist” crime as “any crime executed, started or participated in to realize a terrorist objective in any of the contracting states or against its nationals, assets or interests or foreign facilities and nationals residing in its territory punishable by its internal law.” Under the Convention, the September 11 attacks constituted individual or group acts of terrorism because they were acts of violence to carry out an individual or collective plan to terrorize and imperil the lives of people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

International State Terrorism
International state terrorism is the use of force as coercive diplomacy, the unlawful use of force in violation of the U.N. Charter. A number of states have endorsed the following definition of this form of state terrorism:
. . terror inflicted on a large scale and with the most modern means on whole populations for purposes of domination or interference in their internal affairs, armed attacks perpetrated under the pretext of reprisals for preventative action by states against the sovereignty and integrity of third states, and the infiltration of terrorist groups or agents into the territory of other states.

The bombing of Afghanistan by the U.S. and the U.K., undertaken in violation of the U.N. Charter, inflicted large scale terror on the whole population. The military strikes against Afghanistan were armed attacks perpetrated under the pretext of reprisals for the September 11 attacks and the prevention of further terrorist attacks on the U.S.9 They constituted international state terrorism and violated international law.

The sanctions against Iraq, the on-going bombing of Iraq in the “no-fly zones,” and the U.S-U.K.’s war on Iraq-none of which has been sanctioned by the Security Council-are other examples of international state terrorism. The U.S. and U.K. are not responding to an imminent threat of danger from Iraq. Regime change violates the sovereignty of Iraq as guaranteed by the U.N. Charter.

State Terrorism by a Regime or Government

Traditionally, “regime” or “government” terror is conducted by organs of the state against its own population or the population of an occupied territory for the purpose of preserving a regime or suppressing challenges to its authority. It is frequently characterized by kidnapping and assassination of political opponents of the government, by the police, secret service, army or security forces; imprisonment without trial; persecution and torture; massacres of racial or religious minorities or certain social classes; internment in concentration camps; and government by fear. Regime or governmental state terrorism is legitimized by the law the state has itself established.

Israel’s 36-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, its subjugation of the Palestinian people, in a system of apartheid, and its recent brutal massacre of hundreds of Palestinians, particularly in Jenin and Nablus, constitutes regime or governmental state terrorism. The Israeli government justifies its policies as lawful self-defense against Palestinian terrorists, e.g. “suicide bombers.”

State-Sponsored/Supported Terrorism

State-sponsored or state-supported terrorism includes overt or covert assistance or support by a state to terrorist agents in order to subvert or destabilize another state or its government.12 According to Koufa, “State sponsored terrorism occurs when a government plans, aids, directs and controls terrorist operations in another country. It is sometimes called ‘surrogate warfare.’”

Congress votes annual appropriations of military aid to Israel, which was $2.76 billion dollars this year.14 The U.S. financial and military aid to Israel, with the knowledge of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian lands and massacres of Palestinian civilians, constitutes state-supported terrorism. Further, the U.S. exercise of its veto in the Security Council to prevent condemnation of Israel’s actions enables Israel to continue its occupation and terror against the Palestinians. The paramilitary forces tolerated by the U.S.-supported Uribe government in Colombia also characterize this form of terrorism.
Terrorism vs. National Liberation Struggles

In her report, the U.N. rapporteur Koufa distinguished between “terrorism” and “wars of national liberation in the context of the right of self-determination,”15 which are memorialized in the 1999 Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism. That convention says:
Peoples’ struggles, including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime.

Likewise, the 1998 Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism excepts struggles against foreign occupation and aggression for liberation and self-determination from the definition of terrorist crime.

Two Islamic resistance movements, Hizbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine, were born in the 1980s in reaction to Israel’s invasion, occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. They combine political action and militant jihad with humanitarian, social and educational programs.18 Hizbollah is a political party with seats in Parliament, and it continues to function in mainstream Lebanese society.19 Through suicide bombings, roadside booby traps and other violence, Hizbollah forced Israel to withdraw from the southern strip of southern Lebanon in May 2000.20 In response to Israel’s 2002 invasion of the occupied territories, Hizbollah fired rockets from Southern Lebanon into Israel.

Before 1994, Hamas restricted its guerrilla actions to political and military targets in the occupied territories. But after Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, shot and killed 29 Muslim worshippers in the Mosque of the Patriarch in Hebron, Hamas took revenge with a new weapon-the suicide bomber. Israel has responded by massacring Palestinian civilians.

In September 2000, the Palestinians began a campaign of resistance (intifada), sparked by Israel’s increasing aggression in the occupied territories. The armed resistance of Palestinians to the 36-year Israeli occupation is not terrorism. It is an armed struggle for self-determination against foreign occupation, aggression and colonialism. Suicide bombers who target civilians, however, are engaging in terrorism.

Conclusion

The international community has long sought to eliminate international terrorism. It recently adopted U.N. General Assembly resolution 55/158, which reaffirmed international cooperation and stated that actions by states to combat terrorism should be conducted in conformity with principles of the charter. The U.S. must immediately ratify: the International Criminal Court statute, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing Terrorism, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The United States government must stop claiming unilateral jurisdiction over individuals, organizations and nations it defines as “terrorist” or “aiding terrorists.” Instead it must work through the international legal community.

June 11, 2003

Dropping the Ball on Torture: The US Supreme Court Ruling in Chavez vs. Martinez

The use of torture to obtain information from suspects has become an important topic in fighting the war on terror. In December, for example, the Washington Post reported that CIA officials at Bagram air base in Afghanistan used interrogation techniques that could constitute torture.

In Chavez v. Martinez, decided May 27, the United States Supreme Court was presented with a golden opportunity to address the issue of torture in the context of a 42 U.S.C. §1983 claim against police. Acting like a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming truck, the high court failed to take decisive action. The facts of this case were egregious.

Oliverio Martinez was riding his bicycle to his girlfriend’s house when two Oxnard police officers ordered him to dismount, spread his legs, and place his hands behind his head. A frisk of Martinez yielded a knife and an altercation ensued. Martinez was shot five times, leaving him paralyzed and blind.

On the way to the hospital and in the emergency room, Officer Ben Chavez repeatedly interrogated Martinez. In response to Chavez’ questions about what had occurred during the altercation with the officers, Martinez said several times, “I am dying” and “I am choking.” At one point, Martinez told Chavez, “I want them to treat me,” and he later asked Chavez, “Aren’t you going to treat me or what?”

The District Court found that Martinez “had been shot in the face, both eyes were injured; he was screaming in pain, and coming in and out of consciousness while being repeatedly questioned about the details of the encounter with the police.” Martinez admitted taking the officer’s gun and pointing it at the police; he also admitted that he regularly used heroin. At no time did Chavez Mirandize Martinez, who was never charged with a crime.

Both of Martinez’s constitutional arguments, violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, were sustained by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court was so fractured it produced six separate opinions. Six justices agreed that Martinez could not recover against Chavez for violation of Martinez’s privilege against self-incrimination, since he had not been criminally prosecuted. Five justices, writing for a Court unable to agree on whether Martinez’s due process rights had been violated by Chavez, punted that issue back to the lower court.

It is well-settled that police methods so brutal and offensive to human dignity that they shock the conscience violate the due process clause. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing also for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia, was satisfied that Chavez’s interrogation of Martinez did not constitute a due process violation. Thomas admitted that “police torture or other abuse that results in a confession is [not] constitutionally permissible [even if] the statements are not used at trial.” Thomas’s denial of Martinez’s due process claim, however, is an implicit rejection of the notion that police used torture to elicit statements from Martinez.

Three justices – John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – discussed this case with reference to torture. Stevens felt so strongly that Chavez’s conduct rose to the level of torture, he began his separate opinion with the following words: “As a matter of fact, the interrogation of respondent was the functional equivalent of an attempt to obtain an involuntary confession from a prisoner by torturous methods.”

Kennedy wrote separately: “A constitutional right is traduced the moment torture or its close equivalents are brought to bear. Constitutional protection for a tortured suspect is not held in abeyance until some later criminal proceeding takes place. These are the premises of this separate opinion.” In Kennedy’s words, Martinez’s “blinding facial wounds made it impossible for him visually to distinguish the interrogating officer from the attending medical personnel. The officer made no effort to dispel the perception that medical treatment was being withheld until Martinez answered the questions put to him … Martinez begged the officer to desist and provide treatment for his wounds, but the questioning persisted despite these pleas and despite Martinez’s unequivocal refusal to answer questions.”

Justices Stevens and Ginsburg agreed with Kennedy, who wrote that “severe compulsion or even torture” violates the right against compelled self-incrimination, and that the “use of torture or its equivalent in an attempt to induce a statement violates an individual’s fundamental right to liberty of the person,” a violation of due process.

In her separate opinion, Ginsburg cited with approval Stevens’s characterization of “Martinez’s interrogation as ‘the functional equivalent of an attempt to obtain an involuntary confession from a prisoner by torturous methods’.” She also quoted E. Griswold in The Fifth Amendment Today, who analogized “the struggle to eliminate torture as a governmental practice” with the privilege against self-incrimination, “one of the great landmarks in man’s struggle to make himself civilized.”

None of the justices mentioned the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Torture Convention is an international treaty ratified by the United States and therefore part of our supreme law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. The Convention’s definition of torture includes any act of a public official, by which severe mental suffering is intentionally inflicted on a person to obtain information or a confession, or to coerce him. Chavez’s conduct fits the Convention’s definition of torture.

The justices should not have hesitated to underscore our duties under the Torture Convention. Indeed, Justices Stevens, O’Connor, and Souter have advanced international law to support their opinions in other cases.

The Supreme Court’s failure to definitively resolve this case is disturbing. The Court must face the difficult issues arising from the “war on terror” without trepidation. The same day the Court announced its decision in Chavez v. Martinez, it refused to review whether the hundreds of secret deportation hearings since September 11, 2001, violated the First Amendment, and indeed, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another treaty ratified by the United States.

Litigators must educate judges about the international jurisprudence that has been incorporated into our domestic law. Jurists must incorporate treaty principles into their decisions. And hopefully, Oliverio Martinez, who was subjected to incomprehensible anguish in that ambulance and emergency room, will receive some relief for his suffering.

April 23, 2003

The War Profiteers: Tax Corporations on Excess War Profits

Basking in his high ratings from the Iraq war, George W. Bush turned his attention on April 15 to selling his tax-cut plan. Bush’s proposal to cut taxes by $550 billion over the next decade has been roundly criticized as corporate welfare at its best.

Bush’s timing could scarcely be labeled serendipitous. His tax-cut campaign coincides with USAID and Army Corps of Engineers awards of massive reconstruction contracts to corporations that have filled Republican Party coffers with hefty campaign donations. The most egregious aspect of these contracts is that they will result in windfall profits for the corporations that have landed them.

The list of companies that will profit handsomely from the contracts reads like a Who’s Who of Republican loyalists. Topping the list is Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., headed by Dick Cheney before he was tapped for vice president, which was initially awarded the most lucrative Iraq reconstruction contract. The pact for emergency oil-field services may be worth $7 billion over the next two years. It could earn as much as 7 percent profit, or $490 million.

Strikingly, this contract was bestowed upon Kellogg Brown & Root without sending it out for bids, to the consternation of many in Congress. After the General Accounting Office, Congress’s investigative arm, launched a wide-ranging inquiry into the award, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would send the Halliburton contract out for competitive bids. It remains to be seen whether the Corps’ about-face is simply a perfunctory move to forestall criticism, in which Halliburton will walk away with the contract in the end. Months before the Iraq war, Kellogg Brown & Root had been granted a separate Army logistics contract, which has the unprecedented distinction of carrying no price tag.

Another fat Iraq reconstruction contract for $680 million was awarded to Bechtel Group, which donated most of its $1.3 million worth of political campaign contributions since 1999 to the Republican Party. Bechtel has close ties to the Bush administration.

Donald Rumsfeld once served as a liaison between Bechtel and the Iraqi government to finesse the building of an oil pipeline. And former Secretary of State George Shultz, a member of the board of directors of Bechtel, is also chairman of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a strongly pro-war organization with influence in the White House.

An accused human rights violator, DynCorp, a firm which provides security services and which has donated nearly $70,000 to the Republican Party, won a multi-million dollar contract to police post-war Iraq. DynCorp has been accused of engaging in the prostitution business in Bosnia, and it is being sued in a class action by a group of Ecuadorean peasants for spraying herbicides in Colombia that drifted across the border, killing children and crops.

Many in Congress are miffed because the bidding process for these reconstruction contracts has taken place in secret. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Hillary Rodham Clinton (.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have cosponsored the Sunshine in the Iraq Reconstruction Contracting Act of 2003, to bring transparency to the awarding of these contracts.

Tony Blair must also be seething. Notwithstanding Blair’s unwavering loyalty to Bush, Iraq reconstruction contracts will go exclusively to U.S. firms. Foreign corporations can only subcontract for these lucrative jobs.

Moreover, after the Bush administration succeeds in privatizing Iraq’s oil, U.S. corporations will likely be first in line to do business. The hundreds of protestors chanting “No blood for oil” at ChevronTexaco’s world headquarters in San Ramon the day before Bush launched his tax-cut campaign understood this well.

Defense contractors are also profiting handily from the war. SY Coleman, a key company connected to the U.S. Patriot missile system, is headed by Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the new “sheriff of Baghdad.” And Northrop Grumman, which won $8.5 billion in contracts last year, has ties with the neoconservatives who provided the blueprint for Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war, beginning with Iraq.

It is wrong for huge corporations to profit from war. During the Civil War, there was a public outcry in Georgia against profiteering from that national tragedy. Georgia’s General Assembly responded by enacting a special profits tax.

Congress itself enacted “excess-profits taxes” during World Wars I and II and the Korean War, to prevent firms from making windfall profits from these conflicts. Democratic Rep. Clement C. Dickinson of Missouri eloquently stated the rationale for an excess-profits tax on the floor of Congress in 1917. He said that “those who reap large war profits in times of distress should help to bear the burdens of government, increased by reason of the very conditions that add to the wealth of those who flourish and fatten on the misfortunes of the country.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first radio address following the outbreak of World War II, declared that “no American has the moral right to profiteer at the expense either of his fellow-citizens or of the men, women and children who are living and dying in the midst of war in Europe.” The U.S. had not yet entered the war at that point.

In a message to Congress in 1940, Roosevelt sought “a steeply graduated excess-profits tax” to ensure “that a few do not gain from the sacrifices of the many.” The members of the U.S. armed forces who have served in the war on Iraq are not making excess wages for their sacrifices. Many will suffer for the rest of their lives with injuries and, likely, with Gulf War II Syndrome.

On Feb. 13, 2003, former Sen. George McGovern suggested on MSNBC’s “Buchanan & Press” that Congress impose an excess-profits tax. “I don’t think people ought to be making money out of young American blood in Iraq,” McGovern said.

Excess-profits taxes are generally calculated in one of two ways. Any return on capital over a fixed percent may be considered excess profits. Or they might be defined as net income in excess of prewar levels.

In his farewell speech to America in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

George W. Bush has cited the lofty ideal of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people as justification for this war. He should not then oppose the imposition of an excess-profits tax on corporations that have secured contracts to rebuild Iraq.

March 27, 2003

Why the U.N. General Assembly has Authority to Speak on the War on Iraq in the Event of Security Council Stalemate

As was widely reported, the current war on Iraq followed on the heels of contentious deliberations among the members of the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. – along with the U.K. and Spain – tried to convince the Security Council to pass a resolution that would have authorized the use of armed force. But when France threatened to veto any such resolution, and their ability to get a majority seemed dicey at best, the U.S. and U.K. decided to start the war even without Security Council approval.

Nevertheless, the Security Council has not acted further, since the war began. That’s not surprising: The U.S. and U.K. would doubtless veto any resolution denouncing the war, or stipulating that the U.N. or its designee would be the entity to control post-war Iraq. (Interestingly, the deadlock goes both ways: France has said it will veto any proposed resolution that would give the United States and Britain–not the U.N. – the right to govern postwar Iraq.)

Does that mean the U.N.’s hands are tied – due to the U.S.’s and U.K.’s veto powers? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no.

The United Nations Charter confers on the Security Council primary responsibility to keep the peace. Yet when the Security Council is unable to act, there is a procedure for the General Assembly to fulfill this role in its stead. It is contained in the “Uniting for Peace Resolution,” Resolution 377.

The Uniting for Peace Resolution

Under the Uniting for Peace Resolution, within 24 hours of a stalemate in the Security Council, the General Assembly can meet to consider the matter. Either seven members of the Security Council or a majority of the members of the General Assembly can invoke the Uniting for Peace Resolution.

Once the Resolution is invoked, the General Assembly can recommend collective measures to “maintain or restore international peace and security.” Thus, even in the face of insoluble disagreement in the Security Council, the General Assembly could act to urge the U.S. and its allies to stop the war – or, for example, to mandate that after the war, the U.N. should be the one to keep the peace and determine what the new Iraq should look like.

The Origins and History of the Uniting for Peace Resolution

It was, ironically, the United States itself that spearheaded the passage of the Uniting for Peace resolution, in 1950. Even more ironically, the resolution’s passage was prompted by the same situation that prompted the war on Iraq: Security Council deadlock due to the exercise or threatened exercise of veto power.

After North Korea invaded South Korea, the United States was unable to obtain Security Council approval for a U.S.-led military operation to invade North Korea, because of the Soviet veto. Thus, Secretary of State Dean Acheson secured the passage of the Uniting for Peace resolution.

Then, that same year, the U.S. used the Uniting for Peace Resolution to pressure the Soviet Union to halt its invasion of Hungary, after the Soviet Union had vetoed an anti-intervention resolution in the Security Council.

Now, countries opposed to the war in Iraq could likewise use the Uniting for Peace Resolution to de-legitimize the use of armed force, and call on Bush to halt it immediately. Many nations have requested the Security Council hold an emergency meeting to urge the U.S. and its allies to stop the war. Failing that, they are advocating the General Assembly convene and take action.

Though they are certain to lose in the Security Council, due to the threat of U.S. and U.K. vetoes, nations in favor of peace may well prevail in garnering a majority in the General Assembly.

The U.S.’s Attempt to Preempt The Use of the Uniting for Peace Resolution

Meanwhile, fearful of a resolution condemning its war in Iraq, the Bush administration has mounted a preemptive campaign to prevent the General Assembly from convening. The campaign is somewhat hypocritical, as the U.S. itself has recognized, in the past, that the Uniting for Peace Resolution is a useful outlet when veto powers deadlock in the Security Council – which is just what happened here.

Nevertheless, General Assembly President Jan Kavan has commented, “The United States is putting pressure on many countries to resist [a General Assembly meeting on the issue].” Indeed, the U.S. government has sent communications to several nations, stating, “Given the current highly charged atmosphere, the United States would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as unhelpful and as directed against the United States.”

The U.S.’s campaign is unlikely to succeed in the end. Just as many Security Council members refused to put their imprimatur on a resolution that would have authorized the war before it began, myriad countries will likely defy the United States and call for a cessation of the war.

The Need to Stay With the United Nations Process, Even Now

The General Assembly, the democratic body of the U.N., deserves the opportunity to speak the truth: This is an illegal war. The General Assembly also deserves the opportunity to do what it can at this point – ensure that the U.N. administers a peaceful postwar Iraq in the interests of its citizens.

February 6, 2003

A Double Standard on Torture: The U.S. Should Practice What We Preach

The Bush administration has a double standard on torture and human rights violations as it prosecutes the “war on terror.” While trying to convince the American people in his State of the Union address that war with Iraq is necessary, President George W. Bush marshaled accusations that Saddam Hussein has tortured his people to coerce confessions. Yet in the same speech, Bush sanctioned extrajudicial killings by the United States. He said that more than 3,000 suspected terrorists had been arrested but many others had met a “different fate,” so they would no longer cause us problems. Even more recently, Human Rights Watch and other human rights monitoring groups have expressed concern that the United States has actually been using torture to extract information from prisoners.

The evidence of American torture and associated inhumane conduct is especially disturbing. In December of last year, the documentary “Massacre in Afghanistan” was aired on German television, to the consternation of the U.S. State Department. It shows interviews with eyewitnesses to the torture and slaughter of 3,000 Taliban POWs, who surrendered to U.S. and allied Afghan forces. The film demonstrates the complicity of the American army command in the killing of these 3,000 men. Some of the prisoners died from suffocation while being transported in closed containers that lacked any ventilation. An Afghan soldier who traveled with the convoy reported he was ordered by an American commander to fire shots into the containers to provide air, knowing he would hit the men inside. One of the drivers recounted the fate of survivors of the transport – dumped in the desert, shot and left to be eaten by dogs, as 30 to 40 American soldiers looked on. These allegations suggest evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity under the statute of the new International Criminal Court. It is precisely liability for actions such as these that Bush sought to escape when he endeavored to remove the United States’ signature on this treaty last year.

A week after the documentary was shown in Germany, the Washington Post reported that “stress and duress” tactics were being used on captured al Qaeda operatives and Taliban commanders who are being interrogated at the CIA’s secret detention center at the U.S.-occupied Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Those who remain uncooperative may be kept standing or kneeling for hours, wearing black hoods and spray-painted goggles. Some are kept in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a bombardment of lights for 24 hours. According to the Post: “While the U.S. government publicly denounces the use of torture, each of the current national security officials interviewed for this article defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary.” At least two prisoners are known to have died at Bagram base, one of a pulmonary embolism, the other of a heart attack. The article quotes “Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment,” who reported that MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops beat captives and confined them in tiny rooms. Many are blindfolded, thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep. They also report prisoners being bound to stretchers with duct tape for transport. This was the treatment that U.S. citizen John Walker Lindh received, which proved the driving force behind the government’s agreement to a plea bargain. Attorney General John Ashcroft sought to avoid testimony about Lindh’s mistreatment while in captivity.

The Post also reported in March that the U.S. government was secretly sending terrorism suspects to countries such as Egypt and Jordan for interrogation, where they would be subjected to torture. This practice is known as “rendition.” One U.S. diplomat is quoted as saying: “These sorts of movements have been occurring all the time. It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can’t do on U.S. soil.”

These actions of the U.S. government constitute direct violations of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also proscribes torture. Both of these treaties, which the U.S. has ratified, forbid torture even in wartime. Alarmed at the Post report about torture undertaken or condoned by the U.S., Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote to Bush, saying that immediate steps must be taken “to clarify that the use of torture is not US policy.” Roth reminded Bush that, “U.S. officials who take part in torture, authorize it, or even close their eyes to it, can be prosecuted by courts anywhere in the world.” The prohibition against torture is so basic, it is considered jus cogens, and is thus binding on all countries, even if they haven’t ratified the Torture Convention. The U.S. government’s practice of torture is unjustifiable and a clear violation of international law.

The Bush administration has been emboldened to engage in serious human rights violations since the horrific attacks of September 11. Cofer Black, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center in September, 2002, testified at a joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committee: “This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off.” Indeed, in his speech, Bush said: “All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way – they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.” Bush was likely referring to the November 2002 assassination of an alleged al Qaeda leader in Yemen by the CIA. Besides violating the Torture Convention and the jus cogens norm prohibiting torture, extrajudical killings, or summary executions, violate the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the U.S. mainland have also been victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the U.S. government. In Guanatanamo, prisoners have been locked in 8-foot by 8-foot cells 24 hours a day, with one 15-minute exercise break each week. A class action filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in April 2002, alleged that prisoners in the U.S. were beaten into unconsciousness, bloodied, pushed, kicked in the face, teeth loosened, head slammed against the wall, thumbs bent back and called terrorists. Likewise, many foreign nationals who came forward to register recently with the Immigration and Naturalization Service pursuant to Ashcroft’s order, reported being forced to sleep standing up, or were hosed down before they went to sleep on cold concrete floors in frigid temperatures, according to the Los Angeles Times. These constitute violations of the Torture Convention. Amnesty International has reiterated the U.S. government’s international obligations to refrain from violating the Torture Convention and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo and in the United States.

Victims of torture may have a cause of action in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act. There have been 27 cases brought in U.S. federal courts, in five circuits and nine districts, in which the Convention Against Torture was used successfully. Last year, a judge in Georgia awarded compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs, based in part on the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in a lawsuit brought by four Muslim refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina against a former Bosnian Serb police officer under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act.

Thus far, primarily immigration lawyers and attorneys with foreign-born clients have used the Torture Convention in their litigation. There is, however, great potential to assert the treaty to support U.S. client claims as well, particularly under the Torture Victim Protection Act.

The United Nations has taken steps to make countries that engage in torture accountable to the international community. In December 2002, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a new anti-torture treaty after 10 years of negotiation. The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture will allow independent international and national experts to conduct regular visits to places of detentions within the States Parties, to assess the treatment of detainees and make recommendations for improvement. The treaty was adopted by a vote of 127 in favor, 4 against and 42 abstentions. The United States was joined by Nigeria, the Marshall Islands and Palau in opposing this treaty.

While decrying human rights violations in other countries as it furthers Washington’s agenda, the Bush administration refuses to be accountable for its own transgressions. As U.S. Senior District Judge Jack Weinstein (E.D.N.Y.) wrote last year: “The United States cannot expect to reap the benefits of internationally recognized human rights – in the form of greater worldwide stability and respect for people – without being willing to adhere to them itself.” During his speech, Bush celebrated “the cause of human dignity.” His words, however, ring hollow.

December 13, 2002

Oil: Weapon of Mass Destruction

When Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil services company, he told the Cato Institute: “The good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States.” He admitted: “Occasionally, we have to operate in places where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go…we go where the business is.” After Cheney became vice president, he made hegemony over the world’s oil supply a priority for U.S. foreign policy. The blueprint for this strategy was developed in the 1992 draft Pentagon Defense Planning Guidance on post-Cold War Strategy, at the direction of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, when he was Undersecretary of Defense under Cheney in George H.W. Bush’s cabinet.

This 1992 draft, which was strategically leaked to The New York Times, advocated continued U.S. leadership in NATO by discouraging the advanced industrialized nations “from challenging our leadership.” It said: “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” The overall objective in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, according to the draft, “is to remain the predominant outside power in the region to preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.” The bombing of Afghanistan, and the impending Iraq war, both serve that goal.

The incessant drumbeat from Washington is that Americans must be protected from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Notwithstanding CIA Director George Tenet’s unambiguous declaration that Hussein does not pose an imminent threat to the United States, media commentators postulate unremittingly how many and what types of weapons Hussein must have. George W. Bush has manipulated and cajoled Congress and the Security Council into jumping on his WMD bandwagon. Yet, Bush’s war on Iraq is merely the next step in a concerted strategy to secure control over valuable oil deposits in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Bush’s agenda to reincarnate NATO, inspired by the Wolfowitz document, is key to this oil strategy. NATO was created as a defensive alliance during the Cold War to protect Western Europe from a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. After World War II, the countries of Western Europe were unable to defend themselves. Now they have the resources to provide for their own security, yet NATO has expanded eastward, added several former Soviet bloc countries to its ranks, and redefined its strategic purpose. Bush’s abandonment of containment in favor of preemption is a brazen manifestation of the Wolfowitz theology embodied in the 1992 draft. Indeed, Wolfowitz has been systematically bribing NATO countries to assist with Bush’s impending invasion of Iraq.

The U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, justified as a response to the September 11 attacks, was part of the U.S. oil strategy. Afghanistan never attacked the U.S. and most of the hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, a strategic U.S. oil partner. Yet, U.S. and U.K. warplanes ousted the Taliban and secured Afghanistan for the construction of an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan, south through Afghanistan, to the Arabian Sea. The Bush administration had been uncritical of the Taliban’s human rights record when Unocal oil company was negotiating for the pipeline rights before September 11. After assuming control of Afghanistan, Bush conveniently installed Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal official, as interim president of Afghanistan.

Bush likewise seeks to install a U.S.-friendly replacement for Hussein after conquering Iraq. Although couched as a battle against weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. allied with Iraq when it used chemical weapons on the Kurds; indeed, the U.S. furnished Iraq with its WMD technology, according to an Associated Press report. The U.S. played Iraq off against Iran for years, to ensure access to Middle East oil. Bush’s war with Iraq, and ultimate occupation of that country, will clinch that control. With the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis at stake, oil may prove to be the most terrible weapon of mass destruction.

December 7, 2002

Three Strikes: Bad Cases Make Bad Law

When former governor Pete Wilson signed California’s three strikes law, he compared the construction of new prisons which would be required to house the increased inmate population to building the University of California system: “We’re producing … capital improvements for future generations, and they rightly can be called upon to help pay for it.”

Following the tragic murder of Polly Klaas by two-time felon Richard Allen Davis, California voters and the legislature enacted the “three strikes and you’re out” law in 1994. It requires a sentence of 25-years-to-life in prison when a defendant commits a third felony (“three strikes”), and a doubling of the sentence after the commission of a second felony (“two strikes”). Although the law was supposed to deter violent crime, it has had no significant effect on the reduction of crime in California. It has actually increased the number and severity of sentences for non-violent offenses, and has contributed to the aging of the prison population, at considerable cost to California’s taxpayers.

The most recent study, “Aging Behind Bars: ‘Three Strikes’ Seven Years Later” by Ryan S. King and Marc Mauer of the non-profit Washington-based Sentencing Project confirms prior studies which dispel the myth that the law has led to a drop in California’s crime rate. Since the beginning of the 1990s, crime has been on a steady downturn both in California and nationwide. But criminologists attribute this to an improved economy, changes in drug markets, demographic changes and strategic policing.

Moreover, in June of this year, the FBI announced a 2 percent upswing in serious crime nationwide, with a 6 percent increase in California. This is not surprising, as a recent article published in the Journal of Legal Studies documented studies in 24 states, which found three strikes laws associated with 10 to 12 percent more homicides in the short run and 23 to 29 percent more in the long run.

Most of the three strikes convictions in California are for non-violent crimes, according to the California Department of Corrections. It reported that 57.9% of third strike cases and 69% of second strike cases are for property, drug or other non-violent offenses. Indeed, the skewed use of the law has caused Polly’s brother, Marc Klaas, to conclude the three strikes law is not working as anticipated: “In the depth of despair which all Californians shared with my family immediately following Polly’s murder, we blindly supported the [three strikes] initiative in the mistaken belief that it dealt only with violent crimes. Instead, three of the four crimes it addresses are not violent.”

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is also concerned about the severity of sentences for minor offenses under California’s three strikes law. In Andrade v. Attorney General, the court struck down a sentence of 50-years-to-life as cruel and unusual punishment, where Andrade’s third and fourth strikes were petty thefts of nine videotapes from K-Mart.

The Ninth Circuit also overturned 25-years-to-life sentences in Brown v. Mayle and Bray v. Ylst, where the third strikes were petty thefts. The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Andrade, which has been set for argument in tandem with Ewing v. California. In Ewing, the Court of Appeal upheld a 25-years-to-life sentence where the third strike arose from the theft of three golf clubs.

California’s three strikes law is singular in the country in permitting misdemeanor conduct both to enhance a petty theft to a felony, and to constitute a third strike which triggers a life sentence, an anomaly the Andrade court decried as a “unique quirk” in the California law. The Ninth Circuit was also concerned about other features of California’s three strikes law that “combine to make it particularly severe,” including: (1) a defendant may be considered to have two prior strikes even though he was convicted of both in a single judicial proceeding; (2) prior strikes need not be violent, as long as they qualify as “serious”; (3) serious or violent felony convictions imposed prior to the law’s enactment in 1994, foreign convictions, and juvenile true findings can be charged as strikes; (4) there is no “washout” period after which prior qualifying convictions will no longer be counted as strikes; (5) defendants with prior strikes who are convicted of current multiple felonies committed on different occasions must serve consecutive sentences; and (6) a defendant sentenced under the three strikes law cannot have his term reduced by credit for good time or work time. Andrade must serve a minimum of 50 years in prison before he is eligible for parole. He will be 87 years old.

The three strikes law also targets older people who had serious criminal problems much earlier in life, reformed in their later years, but committed a minor offense which counts as a third strike. Crime rates peak in the late teens or early twenties for most offenses, and decline rapidly after that. A law designed to reduce crime should thus be aimed at younger offenders. But the Sentencing Project found that in the first five years of the implementation of California’s three strikes law, the proportion of new felony prison admissions above age 40 increased from 15.3 percent in 1994 to 23.1 % in 1999, while there has been a consistent decline in admissions for age groups between 20 and 35 years of age. King and Mauer project that 83 percent of three strikes prisoners by the year 2026 will be forty years or older.

It costs $25,607 to incarcerate an inmate in California. At the current intake rate of 1,200 three strikes cases per year, approximately 30,000 inmates will be serving sentences of 25-years-to-life by the year 2026. King and Mauer estimate the cost of maintaining these prisoners at $750 million annually. Moreover, it will cost $1.5 million to incarcerate an elderly prisoner for the minimum 25 years, because he will generally require greater expenditures for health care.

Higher court costs have also ensued from the three strikes law. Whereas more than 90 percent of all criminal cases used to be resolved by pleas, now many second and third strike candidates are demanding trials because of the lengthy prison terms they face.

California’s three strikes law has exacerbated racial disparities in the prison system. African-Americans have higher arrest rates due in part to racial profiling, and consequently have higher rates of prior convictions. Although African-Americans constitute 20 percent of felony defendants, they comprise 43 percent of offenders sentenced under the three strikes law.

Six years after the enactment of the three strikes law, California’s legislature passed a bill calling for a thorough review of the law. But Democratic Governor Gray Davis, fearing a voter backlash if he appeared soft on crime, vetoed the bill.

Although 93 percent of people surveyed in California support mandatory sentences for those convicted of three violent, serious felonies, only 65 percent support this sentencing scheme for three serious drug violations, only 46 percent support it for serious property crimes, and just 13 percent support three strikes for less serious property offenses.

Indeed, Proposition 36, the “Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act” was approved by 61 percent of California voters in November 2000, and took effect July 1, 2001. Proposition 36 has been diverting low-level, non-violent offenders convicted solely of possession of drugs for personal use into community-based treatment programs instead of incarceration. Early indications suggest that the law has been fulfilling its promise to reduce drug addiction and crime rates, and save California taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing the jail and prison population.

Forty states have habitual criminal statutes, and 26 of them have a three-strikes provision. But only California mandates the imposition of 25-years-to-life for a third felony, whether or not serious or violent. There have been attempts in both the legislature and the citizenry to amend the three strikes law, by voter initiative, to require the third felony be a serious or violent one. AB 1790 passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee and is currently pending in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. And the Citizens Against Violent Crime, chaired by Polly Klaas’s grandfather Joe, have been collecting signatures for a similar initiative.

What is the face of three strikes? It’s the face of Freddie, who walked into Sears one day and stole a $99.99 pair of binoculars. Freddie had suffered two robbery convictions 14 years before. As he was 51 when he committed this “third strike,” Freddie will be 76 when he’s eligible for parole. The California Court of Appeal rejected my argument that Freddie’s sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Andrade, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to eliminate petty thefts as eligible offenses for third strike treatment. The voters can amend the law to forbid non-violent and drug-related offenses from constituting third strikes. But we must explore alternatives to the draconian prison sentences established as political responses to a climate of fear. Until we devise more effective rehabilitation programs, such as Proposition 36, people like Freddie will spend the rest of their lives in prison, at a considerable cost to our society.

November 21, 2002

UN Resolution 1441: Blackmailing the Security Council

In 1990, George H.W. Bush “persuaded” the members of the Security Council to authorize Desert Storm by bribing them with cheap Saudi oil, new arms packages and development aid. But when Yemen refused to capitulate, a U.S. diplomat immediately warned, “that will be the most expensive ‘no’ vote you ever cast.” Indeed, the United States punished Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, by cutting off its entire U.S. foreign aid package of $70 million.

Twelve years later, George W. Bush’s administration has used similar tactics to persuade members of the Security Council to sign onto Resolution 1441, dealing with Iraq. The current Security Council has attempted to save face by changing a few words, such as “or” to “and,” and “restore” to “secure.” Those changes made the resolution palatable for Russia and France. But in adopting the resolution, it seems certain the Security Council was ever mindful of Yemen’s fate when it defied the United States in 1990. Members of the Security Council have opted to jump onto the speeding U.S. train rather than be crushed under its mighty wheels.

Bush the Younger has exercised power politics throughout his crusade to obtain authority to attack Iraq. Bush first threatened and cajoled a majority in Congress to declare Saddam Hussein Public Enemy Number One, despite Hussein’s failure to attack any country for 12 years, and the absence of any evidence linking him to Al Qaeda. All that remained was to secure Security Council “authorization” to conduct Bush’s new preemptive military strategy, change Iraq’s regime and clinch U.S. corporate control of Middle East oil.

The passage of Resolution 1441 gives the Bush Regime the tools it needs to carry out that mission. Although couched as a means for disarmament, this resolution is really a “set up” that will be used to justify the U.S. military takeover of Iraq. Paragraph 8 states that “ . . . Iraq shall not take or threaten hostile acts directed against any representative or personnel of the United Nations or of any Member State taking action to uphold any Council resolution.” Although the “no-fly-zones” have never been sanctioned by the Security Council, under Paragraph 8, the U.S. could justify its use of military force against Iraq, if Iraq fired on a U.S. airplane which was unlawfully violating Iraq’s airspace within these zones.

The resolution further declares that “false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq” and “failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully with the implementation of this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations . . .” The U.S. will, as it has in the past, take it upon itself to judge whether Iraq has complied with this provision, in spite of the Security Council’s exclusive authority to declare when a country is in material breach.

Iraq responded to Resolution 1441 by denying it has weapons of mass destruction, indicating its intention to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, and stating it would later issue an analysis of why this resolution violates the United Nations Charter, prior Security Council resolutions, and other provisions of international law.

It would be very difficult for any sovereign nation to comply with Resolution 1441, which in effect authorizes the occupation of Iraq. A particularly onerous provision grants weapons inspectors the unrestricted right to interview all Iraqi officials and all other persons inside or outside Iraq. That provision would give inspectors power to act as de facto asylum officers and transport anyone, including high ranking Iraqi officials, with or without his permission.

Finally, in a direct invitation for non-compliance, the resolution sets a 30-day deadline for Iraq to declare not only its weapons programs, but all chemical, biological and nuclear programs unrelated to weapon production. Even Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, told the Security Council that this was an unrealistic deadline.

If Iraq misses this deadline, thousands of U.S. troops already poised at its border are likely to invade, resulting in the massive loss of Iraqi and American lives. The invasion is likely to occur without further authorization from the U.N. Indeed, Colin Powell said on CNN’s “Late Edition,” that if the U.N. isn’t willing to authorize the use of “all necessary means” to disarm Hussein, “the United States, with like-minded nations, will go and disarm him forcefully.”

But only the Security Council can authorize the use of armed force. Since 1990, the Council has not authorized the use of force in Iraq. No country can unilaterally use military means to enforce a U.N. resolution without violating the U.N. Charter. It remains to be seen when and how the United States will unilaterally decide that Iraq has breached the terms of Resolution 1441, and use that as a pretext to strike. The lives of a quarter million U.S. soldiers and millions of Iraqi people are at stake.

September 2, 2002

Invading Iraq Would Violate U.S. and International Law

Despite opposition by many prominent Republicans, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are mounting an intensive public relations campaign to justify their pre-ordained invasion of Iraq. A preemptive strike against Iraq would violate the Constitution and the United Nations Charter.

Article I, section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress, not the president, to debate and decide to declare war on another country. The War Powers Resolution provides that the “constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories, or possessions or its armed forces.”

Congress has not declared war on Iraq, no statute authorizes an invasion and Iraq has not attacked the United States, its territories, possessions or armed forces. President Bush’s lawyers have concluded that he needs no new approval from Congress. They cite a 1991 Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in the Persian Gulf, and the September 14, 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

These two resolutions do not provide a basis to circumvent Congressional approval for attacking Iraq. The January 12, 1991 Persian Gulf Resolution authorized the use of force pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 678, which was directed at ensuring the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait. That license ended on April 6, 1991, when Iraq formalized a cease-fire and notified the Security Council. The September 14, 2001 resolution authorized the use of armed force “against those responsible for the recent [Sept. 11] attacks against the United States.” There is no evidence that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

A preemptive invasion of Iraq would also violate the United Nations Charter, which is a treaty and part of the supreme law of the United States under Article 6, clause 2 of the Constitution. It requires the United States to settle all disputes by peaceful means and not use military force in the absence of an armed attack. The U.N. Charter empowers only the Security Council to authorize the use of force, unless a member state is acting in individual or collective self-defense. Iraq has not attacked this country, or any other country in the past 11 years. None of Iraq’s neighbors have appealed to the Security Council to protect them from an imminent attack by Iraq, because they do not feel threatened.

Cheney and Bush cite the possibility that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction as the rationale for a preemptive strike. Iraq is in violation of Security Council Resolution 687, which requires full cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors. But this issue involves the Iraqi government and the United Nations. The Security Council did not specify any enforcement mechanisms in that or subsequent resolutions. Only the Security Council is empowered to take “further steps as may be required for the implementation of the resolution.” Although the Security Council warned Iraq, in Resolution 1154, of the “severest consequences” if it continued its refusal to comply, the Council declared that only it had the authority to “ensure implementation of this resolution and peace and security in the area.”

Articles 41 and 42 of the U.N. Charter declare that no member state has the right to enforce any resolution with armed force unless the Security Council decides there has been a material breach of it resolution, and determines that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted. Then, the Council must specifically authorize the use of military force, as it did in November 1990 with Resolution 678, in response to Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in violation of Security Council resolutions passed the previous August. The Security Council has not authorized any use of force for subsequent violations involving Iraq.

Moreover, the claim by Cheney and Bush that Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction is spurious. Scott Ritter, who spent seven years in Iraq with the UNSCOM weapons inspection teams, has said, “There is absolutely no reason to believe that Iraq could have meaningfully reconstituted any element of its [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities.” Ritter, a twelve-year Marine Corps veteran who served under General Norman Schwarzkopf in the Gulf War, maintains that the Iraqis never succeeded in developing their chemical and biological agents to enable them to be sprayed over a large area. It is undisputed that Iraq has not developed nuclear capabilities.

There is no legal justification for a preemptive attack on Iraq. Only Congress can authorize the use of United States armed forces, and only the Security Council can sanction the use of force by a U.N. member state. Both are necessary; neither has been forthcoming.

August 19, 2002

War on Civil Liberties Hits a Speed Bump

“Watch out for well-meaning men of zeal!” These words penned 74 years ago by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis are no less relevant today. Brandeis was dissenting from a ruling that exempted wiretapping from the protections of the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court later reversed its decision, holding that the government must follow the Fourth Amendment when it electronically seizes our conversations. But under the guise of the “war on terror,” the zealous men in Washington have launched a major new assault on our constitutional rights.

One of the most recent manifestations of this dangerous zeal is the new TIPS program. Under the Terrorism Information and Prevention System, Attorney General John Ashcroft seeks to recruit millions of Americans to spy on each other. TIPS is designed to ask volunteers, including letter carriers, utility employees, truck drivers and train conductors, to report “suspicious activity” to the government. TIPS was originally slated to be initiated this month in the nation’s ten largest cities, and the Department of Justice hopes to recruit 1 million informants for a total population of almost 24 million.

Informant reports will then enter databases from which the government can create dossiers on its citizens. TIPS is reminiscent of the East German stasi, or secret police, who maintained files on millions of people. When asked how the data will be stored and used, Ashcroft has been less than forthcoming.

Operation TIPS will not only help the government spy on us more effectively. It will encourage neighbors to snitch on neighbors, and won’t distinguish between real and fabricated tips. Anyone with a grudge or vendetta against another can provide false information to the government, which will then enter the national database.

Shortly after TIPS was unveiled, there came a public hue and cry. The United States Postal Service stated categorically it would refuse to allow its mailpersons to participate. Even the Washington Post, in a recent editorial, was alarmed by the prospect of TIPS: “Americans should not be subjecting themselves to law enforcement scrutiny merely by having cable lines installed, mail delivered or meters read.” The government seeks to use private citizens to circumvent the dictates of the Fourth Amendment. As the Post editorial says, “Police cannot routinely enter people’s houses without either permission or a warrant. They should not be using utility workers to conduct surveillance they could not lawfully conduct themselves.”

The House Select Committee on Homeland Security, headed by Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.), shelved the repressive program. In response to the public and congressional backlash, the Bush administration announced on August 9 that it would no longer solicit tips from persons with access to our homes. Laura W. Murphy, head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, hailed the administration’s “backpedaling” on TIPS, saying, “It’s quite a relief . . . knowing that even the Ashcroft adminstration is not immune to public criticism.” But the government still intends to enlist a multitude of workers to participate in TIPS this fall, leading Murphy to question whether the government has truly backed down or simply seeks to neutralize the criticism. The administration may be attempting to derail legislation which proposes to gut the program. And the Senate is scheduled to take up the TIPS program in the fall.

TIPS is just the latest manifestation of a steady dragnet by Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI to intimidate Americans and emasculate their civil liberties. Since the horrific attacks on September 11, Ashcroft has:

  • rammed the USA PATRIOT Act, which significantly lowers the standards for surveillance of telephone and computer communications, through a timid Congress;
  • inaugurated a new program of COINTELPRO-style surveillance activities, which were banned by Congress in the 1970s after civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. were targeted;
  • urged federal agencies to resist Freedom of Information Act requests, a vehicle for citizens to hold the government accountable by allowing them to request, receive and publicize public records;
  • ordered his agents to eavesdrop on conversations between attorneys and their clients, defying the oldest and one of the most important privileges in our society;
  • indefinitely detained hundreds of men of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent in the United States and Guantanamo, Cuba, with no charges or suspicion of terrorist ties;
  • determined to set up internment camps to hold U.S. citizens in indefinite detention, and deny them their constitutional rights including the right to counsel and access to the courts;
  • and, in what New York Times columnist William Safire characterized as “the new Ashcroft-Mueller diktat,” the FBI has been granted sweeping new surveillance powers, to conduct investigations for up to a year without the necessity of showing any suspicion of criminal activity.

It is essential that people feel safe and secure in these perilous times. But we cannot have confidence that turning ordinary Americans into snitches or relaxing limitations on the FBI’s spying activities will make us any safer. We must be vigilant to safeguard the liberties and freedoms under gird a democracy. That means speaking out, and writing op-eds, letters to the editor, our congresspersons, the White House and the Department of Justice, to express our concerns. The government’s backpedaling – even if temporary – from TIPS in the face of public criticism, demonstrates that we can affect official policy. If we uncritically succumb to the government’s frightening surveillance campaign, we will find ourselves in the midst of a police state.