National security and civil liberties

  • March 12, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Peter Jan Honigsberg, professor of law at the University of San Francisco and founder and director of the Witness to Guantanamo project

    Most Americans pay scant attention to Guantanamo.  In fact, many Americans believe it is closed or only houses convicted terrorists.  However, Guantanamo is still open, holding 122 men, 55 of whom have been cleared for release.

    As little as Americans know about Guantanamo, they know even less about the lives of detainees after they have been transferred out of Guantanamo.  The more fortunate detainees are resettled to their home country, where they can reunite with and be supported by their families.

    However, a number of the detainees cannot return home because of the instability of their home country, their home country does not want them, or they may be tortured or executed on their return.  These men must wait for other nations to accept them.  Initially, nations wanted to help President Obama close Guantanamo and agreed to accept prisoners.  However, as confidence in Obama’s initial pledge to close the detention center has waned, fewer nations are willing to reach out and receive former detainees.

    Nevertheless, because of the tenacity of Special Envoy Cliff Sloan – the State Department official tasked with resettling detainees from July 2013 to December 2014 – several countries have accepted detainees in the past 18 months.  In November 2014, Slovakia resettled two detainees.  One was Hussein Al-marfadi, originally from Yemen.

    In February 2015, the Witness to Guantanamo project interviewed Al-marfadi in a town in central Slovakia.  Although physically and psychologically scarred from 14 years of torture and brutal treatment at Guantanamo, he is an engaging, even-tempered and thoughtful man.  He was never charged with a crime and had been cleared for release years ago.

    Al-marfadi is a born storyteller with an amazing aptitude for details.  Unlike many detainees the project has interviewed, Al-marfadi provided a day-by-day description of his experiences, including comprehensive accounts of the torture and unspeakable treatment he suffered.  Interviews with detainees generally last for two hours.  His interview covered six-plus hours over two days.  Al-marfadi told W2G that it was important for him to tell his complete story.  He explained that his story was not only for history but also for the men still in Guantanamo.

  • January 14, 2015
    BookTalk
    Reclaiming Accountability
    Transparency, Executive Power, and the U.S. Constitution
    By: 
    Heidi Kitrosser

    by Heidi Kitrosser, Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School

    It is fairly well known by now that the Obama administration has prosecuted more persons for allegedly leaking classified information to journalists than all previous administrations combined.  Yet much less attention has been paid to the legal justifications offered for these prosecutions. 

    Like its predecessors, the Obama administration has consistently maintained in litigation that communications conveying classified information to journalists are “wholly unprotected by the First Amendment.”  This argument, which has been largely successful in the handful of prosecutions to reach courts over the years, rests on the notion that speech about government activities – speech that ordinarily would be deeply protected from content-based prosecution under the First Amendment – loses all protection once marked by the classification stamp.  That stamp is wielded by the millions of persons with some form of classification authority, authority that stems primarily from presidential executive order.

  • August 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Raha Wala, Senior Counsel, Defense & Intelligence, Human Rights First

    Last week President Obama admitted what most people have long known—that, in the president’s words, “we tortured some folks” after 9/11 in a bid to thwart future terrorist plots.  The president was referring to a soon-to-be released report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that documents the CIA’s use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at secret “black sites” around the world in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But the CIA has resisted and even undermined oversight on this critical issue from the beginning. And now current and former CIA leaders appear poised to mount a “counterattack” to undermine the report’s key findings and defend the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. President Obama can’t let that happen.  He should direct members of his administration, including CIA Director Brennan, to get in line with the anti-torture policy he laid out when he—as one of his first official acts as president—signed an Executive Order shuttering the CIA black sites and banning torture and other forms of cruel treatment. 

    The SSCI report is the result of a five-year inquiry into the CIA rendition, detention and interrogation program; it began when the committee discovered that the CIA had disregarded warnings from the White House and destroyed videotapes of waterboarding and other brutal torture sessions. The report—a voluminous account, at 6,700 pages—is based on a review of more than 6 million pages of official documents, and is said to conclude that interrogations in the CIA program were much more widespread and brutal than previously known, and much less effective at gathering intelligence to stop terrorist plots than proponents of so-called “enhanced interrogation” claim. The report will show, for example, how the interrogation program played no meaningful role in gathering intelligence to help discover Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. It is also said to document how the CIA systematically misled Congress, the Department of Justice, and the White House about the effectiveness of the program. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the SSCI, has called the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture one of the most significant in the history of the United States Senate, and the most important oversight activity ever conducted by the SSCI. The executive summary, findings and conclusions of the SSCI report—about 600 pages of material—are set to be released in the coming weeks.

  • August 1, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    The New York Times Editorial Board discusses a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board general counsel which found McDonald’s jointly responsible for the treatment of its workers at all of its franchises and argues that this should spur an increase in wages for fast food workers.

    Writing for SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston reports that challengers of the provision of the Affordable Care Act which provides subsides to those who obtain health insurance via the federal exchange are rushing their case to the Supreme Court, after two federal appellate courts delivered opposite rulings on the issue last month..

    At Politico, Laura W. Murphy compares attempts to reform the National Security Agency in the wake of revelations about the scope of its spying to successful efforts to limit the disparities in drug sentencing born from the War on Drugs.

    Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare about the CIA inspector general’s report regarding alleged hacking of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) staff files and records by the CIA.

  • July 9, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Must it be that we have to make a choice between national security and constitutional principles? It’s a question that has been asked by people from across the political spectrum for generations. But after 9/11 senators and representatives from both political parties strongly backed the sweeping PATRIOT Act, which would help exponentially grow the federal government’s spying apparatus. Far removed from 9/11 and with much more information about the federal government’s eavesdropping operations, more people and groups are questioning the government's motives and mechanisms for spying on Americans.

    In the past 18 months, the extent of how far the government is going in monitoring both Americans and foreigners has taken center stage. When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed secret documents detailing just how deep our government’s spying went, heated debates erupted over whether the government was justified in backing intrusive and massive spying programs. People of all political stripes continue to weigh in, some calling Snowden a hero, others a traitor. But regardless of how you feel about Snowden, you can’t help but be amazed, and perhaps troubled, by what he has exposed.

    Snowden’s latest disclosures show other countries are working with the NSA in spying on their own citizens. And just yesterday, we got a look at which Muslim-American leaders the FBI and NSA have been spying on.    

    According to Ryan Gallagher at The Intercept, huge volumes of private e-mails, phone calls and internet chats are being intercepted by the NSA with secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known. Gallagher says, the classified files leaked by Snowden, shed light on how the NSA’s surveillance of global communications has expanded under a clandestine program, known as RAMPART-A, which depends on the participation of a growing network of intelligence agencies. The latest Snowden documents show that a number of countries, described by the NSA as “third-party partners,” are playing an increasingly important role – by secretly allowing the NSA to install surveillance equipment on their fiber-optic cables.