National security and civil liberties

  • 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.

  • June 3, 2014

     
    The Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania woman who attempted to poison her husband’s mistress cannot be prosecuted under federal law. The justices ruled that the federal ban on chemical weapons does not apply to Carol Anne Bond, whose attempt to poison her victim resulted only in “a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water.” Lyle Denniston as SCOTUSblog breaks down Bond v. United States.
     
    New voting laws across the country will pose an arduous task for minority voters in the midterm elections. In states like North Carolina and Texas, these restrictions will “disproportionately affect registration and voting by African-Americans as compared with whites.” Fanita Tolson discusses the issue in the Tallahassee Democrat.
     
    Trip Gabriel at The New York Times addresses why democrats in Kentucky are disillusioned by the Obama administrations’ ambitious proposal for regulating power plant emissions.
     
    At Just Security, Marty Lederman examines the Obama administration’s reasons for not waiting “30 days to complete the Bergdahl exchange.” 
     
    At Concurring Opinions, Ronald K.L. Collins provides a “snapshot of the Roberts Court’s record on free expression issues.” 
  • May 16, 2014
     
    An unclassified report released Wednesday by the departments of Justice and Defense assured  members of Congress that “if Guantánamo Bay detainees were relocated to a prison inside the United States, it is unlikely that a court would order their release onto domestic soil.” Charlie Savage at The New York Times discusses how the report “addresses concerns over President Obama’s plan to close the controversial prison.
     
    Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg upheld Washington, D.C.’s strong post-Heller gun regulations, finding that they “pass constitutional scrutiny.” Ann E. Marimow at The Washington Post has the story.
     
    At The Week, Matt Bruenig argues in favor of term-limiting Supreme Court justices. In his article, Bruenig supports a proposal that would enable Supreme Court judges to serve single, staggered 18-year terms.
     
    Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit struck down several sections of Wisconsin’s campaign finance law. At Concurring Opinions, Ronald K.L. Collins breaks down Wisconsin Right to Life v. Barland