Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Guantanamo Hunger Strike

In February 2013 a hunger strike began at Guantanamo Bay as a result of what the prisoners viewed as the mistreatment of the Koran. The strike was also fueled by many prisoners’ frustration with being held either after being cleared for release 3 years prior or being designated to be held indefinitely without any trial at all.

In March 2013 the prison acknowledged that 14 prisoners were on hunger strike and said that 6 were being force fed. Some medical ethicists oppose force feeding but a spokesman for the prison said that the practice was used in order to protect the “life and health” of the prisoners.

In May 2013 Obama gave a speech where he said that he would lift the moratorium on releasing prisoners to Yemen.

During the G8 summit in June 2013 British Prime Minister David Cameron requested that Obama free Shaker Aamer, a British resident who was one of the hunger strikers. Aamer was cleared for release under the Bush Administration in 2007 and under the Obama Administration in 2010. Aamer says that he was doing charity work when he was captured in Afghanistan.

Later in June 2013 Aamer claimed that the prison authorities were using freezing cold cells and metal tipped feeding tubes to convince prisoners to stop their hunger strike. Aamer also said that a nurse who was force-feeding a prisoner pushed the feeding tube into the prisoner’s lung rather than his stomach. Aamer said of the tactics, “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead."

On June 28 the hunger strike reached its peak with 106 of the 166 prisoners on hunger strike.

In July, twenty five prisoners quit hunger striking after guards allowed the prisoners to live communally if they gave up their hunger strike. During their hunger strike they had been living alone for months.

In August the Obama Administration transferred 2 prisoners to Algeria, they were the first to leave the prison since September 2012 when Omar Khadr was transferred to a prison in Canada.

The Miami Herald is reporting that there are still 14 prisoners on hunger strike, all of whom are being force fed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to Close Guantanamo

President Obama has said that he wants to close Guantanamo. Here is how he could do so if he cares enough to fight for it.


Britain, Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Yemen are all pressuring the United States to release prisoners from their countries held at Guantanamo Bay. 55 of the 83 prisoners cleared for release at the prison are from Yemen. In fact 73 of the 83 prisoners cleared for release are from countries that are either actively seeking their release or have taken Guantanamo prisoners in the past (5 Tunisians, 4 Afghans, 1 Brit, 3 Algerians, a Mauritanian, a Moroccan, a Saudi, a Sudanese, and an Emirati). Obama could order these prisoners released immediately. As they have been cleared for release for over 3 years now, he has an obligation to do so.

If Obama were the abandon the idea of indefinite detention and order the prisoners in that category to be released as well, 44 of the 47 are from countries that have taken Guantanamo prisoners before or are actively seeking their release.

Suitable homes for the remaining 10 cleared for release and 3 indefinite detainees could be found using creative diplomacy. We have already done so with 19 of the Uighurs.


Closing the physical prison at Guantanamo would also require dealing with the remaining category of prisoners, those recommended for trial. Some prisoners are only accused of providing material support for terrorism and/or conspiracy. These are crimes that the DC Court of Appeals has ruled cannot be tried in military commissions for actions taken prior to 2006, when Congress gave those courts the authority to do so. These individuals must be tried in civilian courts in the United States. Individuals accused of more significant crimes can continue to be tried in military commissions at Guantanamo.

The provisions banning the transfer of prisoners to the US are amendments to yearly appropriations bills. They must be reapproved every year. So if the President actually commits to closing Guantanamo, He can veto the 2014 NDAA when Congress passes it with the provision. Doing so would limit funds for our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, but the President could easily blame Congress for “politicizing money for our troops abroad.” Once the trials both military and civilian are completed, the president could move the prisoners to Thompson, Illinois to serve their sentences.


Correction (December 4, 2013): After I wrote this editorial I learned that the 3 remaining Algerians at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release do not wish to return to Algeria. That brings the number of prisoners who are cleared for release but for whom new homes must be found to 13. By nationality they are as follows: 4 Syrians, 3 Algerians, 3 Uighurs, a Libyan, a Tajik, and a Palestinian.

If those currently scheduled for indefinite detention are cleared for release due to inadequate or unreliable evidence of guilt, as I recommended, the number would be 16. The additional 3 are 2 Libyans and a Kenyan. To be clear the Kenyan is the only man from his country to have been held at Guantanamo, so it is unclear if the Kenyan government would be willing to take him back or not.

But that still leaves 70 prisoners who are cleared for release who wish to return to their home country and whose country’s government has taken Guantanamo prisoners in the past or is actively campaigning for their release.

The text in the original editorial remains unchanged.  

The Injustice of Indefinite Detention

Prisoner: Why I am here?

Guard: You’re wife was murdered.

Prisoner: And you think I did it?

Guard: Spouses are often the ones responsible when their partner is murdered.

Prisoner: Then when is my court date?

Guard: You’re not going to have one.

Prisoner: Then you’re releasing me?

Guard: No.

Prisoner: You can’t hold me here without planning to give me a trial!

Guard: Yes I can. You might be guilty and therefore you’re too dangerous to release. It’s too bad we don’t have enough evidence to bring you to trial.

Everyone can recognize the injustice of this scenario. And it is the exact situation that 47 of the prisoners at Guantanamo find themselves in. But instead of being suspected of murdering their wives, the prisoners are accused of connections to terrorism.

On September 14, 2001 Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force which authorized the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terror against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”

President Bush and President Obama interpreted this law as allowing the indefinite detention of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects without charge or trial. Courts have upheld this presidential power “until the end of hostilities.” As the War on Terror, or as Obama likes to say “the war against Al Qaeda,” is endless, so is this power.

The core of Guantanamo is the concept of indefinite detention. What do you do with the people that you think might be guilty but don’t have the evidence to prove that they are in a court of law? Both the President and Congress believe that these people should be imprisoned until they die. In their view the greater harm would come from releasing someone who does have ties to terrorism than in keeping an innocent man in prison. And indeed there have been a few former Guantanamo prisoners who were militants that returned to the battlefield after they were released. The exact number is hard to determine, but it is likely small compared to the number of prisoners who haven’t.

I think the greater harm comes from wrongly imprisoning an innocent person. It is also possible that some of the prisoners in this group are guilty of working with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, but played minor roles. No civilized country can adopt a policy whereby it keeps prisoners locked up for the rest of their lives without a trial. That is a power that is fit only for tyrants and despots. 

Guantanamo Explained

What vision does Congress have for the prison?

Congress does not want Guantanamo prisoners released in the United States, out of a fear that they might be dangerous, even if they have been cleared for release. Congress does not want Guantanamo prisoners held in prisons in the US for fear that the prisoners may be able to coordinate plots from within the prison, might be able to stage a prison break, or that the prison may be the sight of an attack to free the prisoners. Congress doesn’t want prisoners tried in civilian courts in the United States because in their minds Ahmed Ghailani almost got away as a result of his trial.

How committed is Congress to its vision?

Very committed.

What vision does the President have for the prison?

President Obama wanted to bring prisoners scheduled to face a military commission or to be held in indefinite detention to a prison in Thompson, Illinois. He wanted to try some prisoners in civilian courts and release others. He, like Congress, is committed to indefinite detention, the idea that there are some prisoners who are too dangerous to release but for whom there is not enough evidence to bring to trial. He would like to close the physical prison at Guantanamo eventually.

How committed is the President to his vision?

Not very. Most, if not all, of his other goals (immigration reform, progress on gay rights, a climate change bill, a grand bargain on reducing the deficit) are more important to him than getting what he wants on Guantanamo.

Why is the prison still open?

Congress’s vision requires that Guantanamo stay open and Congress is much more committed to its vision for Guantanamo than the President is.

Why didn’t Obama meet his 1 year deadline to close the prison?

It wasn’t until 11 months into his 12 month deadline that Obama actually had determined exactly how he wanted to deal with Guantanamo. This was primarily because his Guantanamo task force that determined the administration’s plan on what to do with each prisoner took longer to do so than he had expected. This was partly because it took time to find all of the physical documents about each prisoner. The plan Obama decided on in December 2009 wouldn’t have even allowed him to close Guantanamo on time, the prisoners cleared for release would have been continued to be held at Guantanamo. As 83 prisoners cleared for release remain there to this day, it appears that Guantanamo would still be open today even if Obama had gotten everything he wanted.

Obama-Congress-Guantanamo Timeline

In August 2007 candidate Barack Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison if elected president. Obama’s general election opponent John McCain was also in favor of closing the prison.

In the first hours of his presidency, Obama suspended the military commissions system set up by the Bush Administration to try prisoners at Guantanamo in order to review the process and see if there were any changes he wanted to make.

On January 22, 2009, during his first week as president, Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year. The order also created a task force composed of high level members of the Obama Administration to determine whether each prisoner should be transferred, released, prosecuted, or held in indefinite detention. The executive order clearly allowed for the possibility that some prisoners may be chosen to be held in indefinite detention without ever being tried.

One of the problems the task force faced was the difficulty of finding the physical documents about each prisoner.

The Obama Administration planned to release two of the Uighur prisoners in northern Virginia, where there is a Uighur community. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell opposed the plan, saying, “By releasing trained terrorists into civilian communities in the United States, the administration will, by definition, endanger the American people.” In May 2009 Obama abandoned the plan. That decision made it much more unlikely that third countries would agree to take Guantanamo prisoners due to the US’s own unwillingness to do so. It also showed Congress that he was not willing to fight for the measures necessary to close the prison.

Later in May 2009 the Senate voted 90 to 6 to remove funding to close Guantanamo from a military spending bill. House Democrats had already removed the funding from their version of the bill. When the bill passed in June, it prevented the president from transferring any prisoner to the US except for prosecution.

The day after the Senate vote to remove the funding from the bill, Obama gave a major national security speech. In it he announced that he would bring back military commissions, with some modifications. He also announced that he would continue to hold some Guantanamo prisoners in indefinite detention without trial.

In November 2009 Obama admitted that he would miss his one year deadline for closing Guantanamo.

In December 2009 the Obama Administration announced its plan to buy a prison in Thompson, Illinois that would hold some of the Guantanamo prisoners. The prisoners the Administration planned to imprison there would be held in indefinite detention or would be tried by military commissions.

Mitch McConnell said of the plan, “The Administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping terrorists off our shores in the secure facility in Cuba.”

Later in December 2009 a Nigerian man attempted to blow up a plane heading to Detroit using a bomb hidden in his underwear. The US government believes that the plot was directed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula out of Yemen. In January 2010 Obama imposed a moratorium on transferring Guantanamo prisoners to Yemen for fear that if the released men were members of Al Qaeda or had terrorist sympathies they could easily join the active branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Later in January 2010 the Obama Administration task force on Guantanamo released its results. Of the 164 prisoners currently at Guantanamo, 83 were cleared for release, 47 were designated to be held in indefinite detention without trial, and 34 were referred for prosecution.

The first person tried by a military commission under the Obama Administration was the Al Qaeda child soldier Omar Khadr. Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010 to serve one more year at Guantanamo and 7 years in a prison in Canada.

In November 2010 a civilian jury found Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Ghailani guilty of conspiracy to destroy federal buildings and property. Ghailani admitted buying the TNT and truck used in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Tanzania. However, the jury acquitted Ghailani of all of the other 284 counts. The prosecution was prohibited by the judge from using a witness the government learned about the witness as a result of coercive interrogation. The witness said he sold Ghailani the TNT. In January 2011 he was sentenced to life in prison. As a result of the verdict, Republicans criticized Obama’s decision to try some Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts before the sentence was even announced.

In December 2010 Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011, a bill that funds the military, with a provision banning the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the US for any purpose, including trial. Obama signed the law in January 2011. Similar measures passed in the 2012 and 2013 NDAA as well. Obama did not veto any of these bills.

In October 2012 former Guantanamo prisoner Salim Hamdan’s conviction by a military commission was overturned by the DC Court of Appeals. The court ruled so because material support for terrorism, the crime he was convicted of, was not a crime that could be tried by a military commission at the time he committed the actions that served as the basis for his conviction.

This ruling meant that the prisoners that prosecutors planned to try for material support for terrorism and conspiracy could no longer be convicted in a military commission. The prisoners could not be tried in civilian courts because of the prohibition against transferring the prisoners to the United States in the NDAA. So instead they will be held in indefinite detention without ever receiving a trial.

In January 2013 the state department reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing Guantanamo, and said that they would not replace him.

At the start of 2013 opponents of the prison were incredibly disheartened. The prisoners were as well. In February they began a hunger strike at Guantanamo.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why the US Shouldn’t take Military Action Against Syria

President Obama is seeking Congressional approval for military action against the Syrian government after alleging that Syrian forces used chemical weapons. He will make his case to the American people in a televised speech on Tuesday. Senator McCain is advocating for a more expansive US bombing campaign with the goal to assist the Syrian rebels in removing the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power.

Pro-democracy protests began in Syria in March 2011 and were brutally repressed by the Assad regime. In September 2011 militant rebel groups began fighting to over through the Syrian government.

The Syrian government has engaged in the worst possible abuses known to man. According to Human Rights Watch the Syrian government has repeatedly indiscriminately fired on rebel-controlled neighborhoods and has established a system of torture centers throughout Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that the death toll from Syria’s civil war is now over 100,000.  

But taking military action against Syrian forces would be a grave mistake.  

The AP is reporting that anonymous officials say that the US intelligence community does not have proof that the use of chemical weapons was ordered by Assad. AP also says that the US is not entirely certain where the Syrian government’s chemical weapons are stored, which means, “a possible series of U.S. cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling Assad's military infrastructure could hit newly hidden supplies of chemical weapons, accidentally triggering a deadly chemical attack.”

But much more importantly, any military action against the Syrian government would aid the Syrian rebels.

Human Rights Watch has reported that Syrian rebels have on various occasions committed kidnappings, torture, and executions.  

One rebel group, the Omar al-Farouq Brigade, engaged in indiscriminant shelling of Lebanese villages. A commander of that same brigade took a bite out of the heart of a pro-government fighter after saying, “I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs – we will eat your heart and livers! Takbir! God is Great! Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!” The Alawites are a religious sect of Islam that Assad belongs to.

One of the more successful rebel groups is al-Nusra, which has pledged its allegiance to the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. One of the commanders of al-Nusra said that in response to the alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government his organization will target Alawite villages. “For every chemical rocket that has fallen on our people in Damascus, one of their villages will, by the will of God, pay for it. On top of that we will prepare a thousand rockets that will be fired on their towns in revenge for the Damascus Ghouta massacre.”

By using US military action in an attempt to prevent the Syrian government from using chemical weapons, the US government would be helping the Syrian rebels, some of whom torture, have genocidal ambitions, and-or are members of al-Qaeda.

Post Script: The Russian government also deserves to be criticized for its role in the Syrian conflict. It is selling weapons to the Syrian government. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Salim Hamdan

Salim Hamdan was born in Yemen. He became a driver for Osama bin Laden. He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and arrived at Guantanamo in May 2002. His military commission was the first for a Guantanamo prisoner that did not end in a plea deal. During his trial before a military commission Hamdan faced charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism. In August 2008 the commission acquitted Hamdan of the conspiracy charge but found him guilty of material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to time served plus five and a half months.

On Democracy Now, Jess Bravin, the Supreme Court reporter for the Wall Street Journal, said that the sentence demonstrated that, “the military jury, as had been suggested by defenders of the military at the beginning, was quite independent and not simply there to rubber-stamp any kind of conviction.”

Hamdan was released in January 2009.

The DC Court of Appeals overturned Hamdan’s conviction in October 2012. In its opinion, the court said that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 granted military commissions the ability to rule on charges of material support for terrorism. The appeals court ruled that because Hamdan committed the actions that were the basis for his conviction before the law was passed, his military commission did not have the ability to try him for the crime.

The chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo told Reuters that Hamdan’s appeals court ruling dissuaded prosecutors from pursuing cases against other prisoners they had considered charging with providing material support to al-Qaeda.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Guantanamo Uighurs

The Uighur people are a Turkic ethnic group that predominantly lives in the Xinjiang region of China. Most Uighurs are Muslim. Many Uighurs want independence from China, a country that persecutes them. Twenty two Uighur men left China and traveled to Afghanistan where they were trained at a militant Uighur separatist training camp. The village that housed the training camp was bombed by the US military as part of the Afghan War in 2001. The men fled to Pakistan where Pakistani villagers took them in. The villagers then turned them over to the US in exchange for bounties offered for Al Qaeda and Taliban members.

By June 2002 the 22 Uighurs arrived at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. None of them ever lifted a finger against the United States, the US government, or US forces. China demanded that they be repatriated to China. The US government did not extradite them out of concerns that they would be tortured or executed if they were returned. The question then became, where do we send them?

China pressured countries against taking the Guantanamo Uighurs. Five were sent to Albania in 2006. The Obama Administration planned to release two of the Uighurs in northern Virginia, where there is a Uighur community. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell opposed the plan, saying, “By releasing trained terrorists into civilian communities in the United States, the administration will, by definition, endanger the American people.” In May 2009 Obama abandoned the plan. That decision made it much more unlikely that third countries would agree to take Guantanamo prisoners due to the US’s own unwillingness to do so. The decision made it significantly more difficult for Obama to close the prison as he had promised to do.

Four Uighurs were sent to Bermuda in June 2009, six were sent to Palau in October 2009, two were sent to Switzerland in March 2010, and two were sent to El Salvador in April 2012. Three Uighurs who declined to go to El Salvador remain at Guantanamo.

The Uighurs who went to Palau are running out of money but at least one Uighur in Albania seems to be doing fairly well.


Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr was born in Toronto, Canada. His father moved his family to Afghanistan when Omar was 11. Omar’s father Ahmed Khadr had connections with Al Qaeda. Ahmed sent his sons to an Al Qaeda training camp.

On July 27, 2002, Omar was one of a group of Al Qaeda fighters who got into a firefight with American forces in Afghanistan. Bombs were dropped on the compound Omar and his fellow Al Qaeda fighters were in. The two sides exchanged bullets. Omar was shot in the back and the bullet exited out his front. During the firefight a grenade mortally wounded the US soldier Christopher Speer. Omar Khadr survived the firefight and was sent to the prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He was 15 years old. 

While he was imprisoned at Bagram his first interrogator, Joshua Claus, told Omar a false story about an Afghan boy who lied and was sent to a US prison and gang raped.  At some point after this threat, Khadr told an interrogator that he had thrown the grenade. A medic once found Omar chained by his arms to the door of his cage-like cell, hooded and in tears. Omar Khadr was transferred to Guantanamo in October 2002.

In December 2002 the United States ratified the “UN Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict” which says that signatories must ensure, “the physical and psychological reintegration” of child soldiers. Instead of rehabilitating Omar Khadr, the US prosecuted him as a war criminal. 

In October 2010 Khadr accepted a plea deal where he was given an 8 year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder, spying, conspiracy, and providing material support for terrorism. Under the agreement Khadr said he through the grenade in the firefight even though he had previously denied doing so.  One year of the sentence was to be served at Guantanamo and 7 were to be served in Canada. Khadr was not given credit for time served.

Nevertheless, the military commission that heard Khadr’s case announced the sentence Khadr would have gotten had he not accepted the plea deal; Omar Khadr, a child soldier, would have been sentenced to 40 years in prison. Khadr made a very wise decision in taking his plea deal. Omar Khadr was moved to a Canadian prison in September 2012.

Omar Khadr is now 26 years old.

Guantanamo: The Question of Habeas Corpus

The Bush Administration chose Guantanamo Bay as the place to imprison prisoners captured in the War on Terror because it believed that the prison was outside the jurisdiction of US courts. On January 11, 2002 the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay. Some of the prisoners who were sent to Guantanamo were captured by Afghans and Pakistanis in exchange for a 5,000 dollar reward offered by the US government for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. This meant that many completely innocent people came to be imprisoned at Guantanamo.

The US government leased the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base from the newly independent country of Cuba in 1903, after the Spanish-American War. The agreement says that Cuba maintains “ultimate sovereignty” but that the US has “jurisdiction and control” over the area. In 1934 Cuba and the United States signed a treaty saying that the lease would remain in effect as long as, “the United States of America shall not abandon the… naval station at Guantanamo.”

The Cuban government was overthrown by the communist Cuban Revolution in 1959. One party to the treaty ceased to exist. The new Cuban government asked that the land be returned to Cuba. That is an ongoing request. The bottom line is that the US has the bigger military and is keeping the base.

The Bush Administration argued that because the prisoners were held in a place that the 1903 lease says the US does not have sovereignty over, the prisoners were not entitled to habeas corpus rights. Habeas Corpus is the right of an individual to challenge the legality of their imprisonment. The Guantanamo prisoners were denied the right to a lawyer, the right to a trial, and the right to know the charges against them (if there were any charges against them at all).

In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled in Rasul v Bush that, “the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the Executive’s potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be totally innocent of wrongdoing.” The Court’s opinion was written by Justice Paul Stevens and referenced the 1215 Magna Carta. The Court ruled that the prisoners had a right to Habeas Corpus under statutory law.

In response to this ruling, Congress changed the law to remove the prisoners’ right to Habeas Corpus. In 2006 Congress passed the Military Commissions Act which said, “No court justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.” President Bush signed the legislation. In 2008 the Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v Bush that the prisoners at Guantanamo had a constitutional right to Habeas Corpus.

Since July 2010 the DC Appeals Court made a series of rulings that required federal judges hearing Guantanamo cases to grant a special presumption of accuracy to US intelligence reports being used to justify the continued detention of Guantanamo prisoners. In June 2012 the Supreme Court declined to consider several appeals by prisoners at Guantanamo who argued they were not being granted a “meaningful opportunity” to challenge the legality of their imprisonment. The Supreme Court’s decision to not hear these cases rendered its earlier rulings that the prisoners had the right to Habeas Corpus all but meaningless.



Virtually Unrelated Tangent: The Magna Carta says that, “No freeman shall be…imprisoned…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” Originally “freeman” meant barons, church officials, and merchants, who were only about 25 percent of the population. However, the provision eventually came to apply to all English. The phrase “lawful judgment of his peers” did not refer to a jury trial; it instead referred to a trial by combat, a duel.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

How the NSA Collects Information on Millions of Americans

The British Guardian newspaper is in the process of reporting the most significant revelations since Wikileaks published thousands of classified US documents in 2010. So far the Guardian has reported 4 major stories as a result of documents and information from Edward Snowden, a whistleblower from the National Security Agency. Here is what the Guardian has revealed so far.

The Guardian has reported that a classified court order requires Verizon to give the NSA information on all telephone calls both within the US and between the US and other countries. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the program includes AT&T and Sprint as well.  The information collected includes the phone numbers of both callers, location data, and the time and duration of the call. The contents of the call are not included.

The Guardian also reported the existence of a program called “PRISM” that allows the NSA to collect information about online activity including search history, the content of emails, and file transfers. The Guardian initially falsely reported that the program gave the government the ability to directly access the servers of major technology companies. That inaccurate detail was a result of an inaccurate classified PowerPoint slide that made the same mistake. The New York Times is reporting that PRISM is an arrangement where the NSA accesses a dropbox that is filled with data, by a technology company, which was requested by the NSA through a FISA court order. The Washington Post reports that while the program is designed to collect information on foreigners, Americans’ online activity is often unintentionally collected.

The Guardian has also reported that politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted at the request of the British government. Some delegates were even tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

Finally, The Guardian is reporting that Britain's spy agency GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, has gained access to the network of cables that carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and is processing vast streams of personal information that it is sharing with the NSA. The data collected by GCHQ includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, and internet browsing history. The GCHQ told the NSA that what the NSA searched for in the collected information was “your call.”  Snowden says that the information provided to the NSA by GCHQ allows the NSA to engage in bulk interception of US traffic that they themselves are prevented by law from doing.

In March Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper answered, “No, sir.” Wyden followed up by asking, “It does not?” Clapper replied, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, but not wittingly.” Millions of customers of Verizon alone have had their metadata collected by the NSA. It is abundantly clear in the wake of the Guardian revelations that Clapper lied under oath in testimony before Congress. But it is the truth teller Snowden, and not the liar Clapper, who the Justice Department is attempting to prosecute.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Libertarians across Kansas come to Manhattan for State Conference

On Saturday the K-State chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) hosted the organization’s state convention. The convention took place at the Holiday Inn across from campus and lasted from 9 AM to 6 PM. At the conference, speaks talked about a diverse set of topics ranging from local politics to foreign policy. Approximately 90 students and community members from Manhattan, KU, other parts of Kansas, and Missouri attended the conference.  

Elizabeth Francis, President of the K-State chapter of YAL, and one of the convention’s main organizers, said that she was, “absolutely thrilled with the turnout of the convention. Students and non-students turned up to show that the message of liberty is strong in the Mid-west.” Francis also thanked the national level of YAL for allowing K-State YAL to host the conference.

Laura Nicolae, 15, is a freshman at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka and is currently reading, “For a New Liberty” by the libertarian author Murray Rothbard. Nicolae said that her favorite part of the convention was when Ron Paul skyped in to talk to the attendees.

“My favorite part of the convention was definitely getting to talk to Ron Paul because I wanted to do that forever and he is probably my favorite person ever, other than Thomas Jefferson.” Nicolae also said that she enjoyed talking, “to people who are like minded and understand the issues outside of the standard bi-partisan system.”

Cody Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas, talked to the conference about his nearly completed effort to create a gun from a 3D printer. Wilson says that the project has first and foremost, “a symbolic political goal” to show that gun control legislation will not be successful. Wilson says that once the gun is created, “in the next couple weeks,” he will be showing it first to BBC World News so that knowledge of the project will spread to countries that have stronger gun control policies than the United States.

John Matta, the recently elected mayor of Manhattan, talked to the attendees about his opposition to mandatory rental inspections which he said is, “a privacy issue.” He also spoke about his opposition to public transportation. However, Matta said that he would reconsider a proposed transit system, “if we can get a financial commitment from K-State student fees.” The proposed transit system would take students to and from the university, which supporters say would alleviate the problem of parking on campus.

The main speaker at the conference was author Tom Woods, who discussed his opposition to the bailouts after the financial crash of 2007-2008. Woods spoke in favor of the doctrine of nullification where states refuse to enforce laws they believe are unconstitutional. He also argued against an interventionist foreign policy. Woods told the group that, “we represent the third America,” the alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Correction: I am an idiot

In December 2010 I wrote a blog post criticizing Harry Reid for joining a Republican filibuster. I also criticized the media for ignoring this fact. It was the fifth post on my blog. Unfortunately, my editorial rested on my misunderstanding of the rules of the Senate.

As I was researching the filibuster of Chuck Hagel, Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, I found this sentence an article at the New York Times.

“Because of parliamentary rules, Mr. Reid voted with Republicans to allow him to bring the Hagel nomination back for another vote. Counting Mr. Reid, Mr. Hagel was actually just one vote shy of the 60 needed.”  

The Washington Post says something similar.

“Reid changed his vote to no so that he could use parliamentary rules to quickly reconsider the nomination when the Senate returns from its Presidents Day break Feb 25.”

Wonkblog at the Washington Post provided the most detailed explanation for Reid’s actions.

“As Sarah Binder, a Senate rules expert at George Washington University, told me, it’s not that the majority leader has to vote no. It’s that somebody on the winning side of the cloture vote — in this case, the side voting against cloture — has to file a “motion to reconsider” if the matter is to be taken up again. “I suppose the broader parliamentary principle here is that it would be somewhat unfair to give someone on the losing side of a question a second bite at the apple,” Binder explains. So the rules provide for senators whose opinion has changed to motion for another vote, whereas those whose opinion stays the same don’t get to keep filing to reconsider.

Reid, and other majority leaders before him, have developed a clever workaround: Just change your vote at the last minute if it looks as though you’re going to lose, then move to reconsider. In theory, any supporter of the bill or nomination in question could do the same, but traditionally it’s been the majority leader.”

I am still somewhat confused by the unnecessary mind-boggling Byzantine complexity of the rules of the senate. However, I do understand that Reid joins Republican filibusters not because he is against passing the bill (or confirmation) in question at the time. He joins the filibuster because doing so allows him to pass the bill (or confirmation) as quickly as possible.

The hypocrisy of writing an editorial based on a falsehood, on a blog that was at the time mostly devoted to factchecking, is not lost on me. I conducted research to understand Reid’s motivations at the time, and came up empty. The implied falsehood in my editorial that Reid opposed funding health care for 9/11 first-responders was based upon a misunderstanding of the topic. I was not attempting to deceive anyone. Nevertheless, I am leaving my original post as evidence of my fallibility and ignorance.

Post Script: The Senate should change its rules to allow for the Senate majority leader to bring a vote to reconsider a filibuster as soon as they wish without having to vote against something they support.

I really thought I had found a scandalous fact everyone else was ignoring. I suppose it is a good thing only 7 people read that post. I also put false information on the internet without someone correcting me. That is disappointing indeed.