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December 8, 2011

Welcome to the United Police State of America

While people in Tahrir Square and elsewhere around the world are putting their lives on the line in order to free themselves from the grip of military rule and create democratic societies, the U.S. Senate has moved America in the opposite direction, passing a bill that gives the military unprecedented power to seize suspected terrorists, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including on U.S. soil, and keep them locked up indefinitely without charge or trial.

The $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, S. 1867 (NDAA) was approved in the Senate on Thursday, December 1 by a vote of 93-7. After passing the measure, the Senate incorporated it into the related House bill—H.R. 1540—which passed in Congress on May 25 by a vote of 322-96. Since Congress does not have the authority under the Constitution to initiate appropriations, the bill now returns to Congress for reconciliation.

Opponents of the bill say it violates the due process rights of the U.S. Constitution and gives states too much power. When the House version of the bill passed last spring Indigenous Peoples worried that the legislation could be used against them for asserting their rights to self-determination and sovereignty or for protecting their lands and resources against exploitation by governments or corporations.

President Obama opposes certain provisions of S. 1867 and has promised to veto it, but the overwhelming support for the bill in Congress means it could easily override a veto. In a statement issued November 17 by the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, the administration said that it strongly objects to the military custody provision of the bill. “This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President’s authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals. Moreover, applying this military custody requirement to individuals inside the United States… would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

The bill, which was drafted by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), gives the president and future presidents the unfettered authority to wage war against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces,” without defining what those might be.

Hundreds of terror suspects have been prosecuted in federal court, throughout the Bush years, and under Obama, Andy Worthington wrote in an article on Common Dreams, “but supporters of military custody like to forget this… Underpinning it all is the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the founding document of the “war on terror,” passed the week after the 9/11 attacks. This authorizes the President to pursue anyone, anywhere who he thinks was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and it is a dreadfully open-ended excuse for endless war… ”

The new defense bill unlinks the AUMF from 9/11, and expands it by asserting that “the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons. . . pending disposition under the law of war.”  The bill defines “covered persons” broadly and ambiguously as anyone who is “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda; and (anyone found) to have participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.”

Since the bill mandates military custody for captured terror suspects, it will be virtually impossible for detainees to be transferred from military custody to civilian custody. The bill also prevents shutting down Guantanamo by prohibiting spending on new or expanded prisons in the U.S.

S. Amdt. 1068, an amendment authorizing torture introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte and co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. James Inhofe was ruled “non-germane” during the Senate discussion of the bill on November 30. Ayotte, Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham can be seen here defending their eagerness to institutionalize secret torture against terror suspects. Earlier in the week 26 retired military leaders urged the Senate to support an amendment by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would uphold the ban on torture, but the amendment was voted down. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, a champion of harsh torture tactics, was a guest at the Republican lunch before the vote was taken, the Washington Post reported.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) was a vocal opponent of the bill. On November 29, he posted a video on his website explaining why. He emphasized that the legislation would allow the military to detain indefinitely without a trial suspected al Qaeda sympathizers.  “I want to repeat that. We are talking about people who are merely suspected of a crime. And we are talking about American citizens,” Paul said. “If these provisions pass, we could see American citizens being sent to Guantanamo Bay. It puts every American at risk. The only thing protecting innocent Americans from the heavy hand of ‘a too powerful state’ is the Constitution. Detaining citizens without a court trial is not American. In fact, this alarming arbitrary power is reminiscent of Egypt’s permanent emergency law authorizing permanent detention—a law that provoked citizens to tear their country apart last spring and risk their lives to overcome tyranny.”

The NDAA was widely opposed by the executive branch and agencies. Strong opposition was voiced by the Secretary of Defense Leon Panneta, CIA Director David Petraeus, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller, all of whom have said the bill’s detention provisions are harmful and counterproductive to their work. “One of the even more extraordinary things about the Senate’s custody provisions is not only that they are a mangled, scrambled mess, but also that no one who will be required to obey them wants anything to do with them,” Worthington noted. “The executive branch, the military, the FBI and the CIA — no one asked for this new policy.”

What does all this mean for American Indians? Congress passed H.R. 1540 last spring, shortly after two incidents in which the government conflated American Indians with terrorism—the military’s use of Geronimo as the code name for Osama bin Laden and the revelation that military commission prosecutors had compared the Seminole Indians to terrorists and had cited Andrew Jackson’s murderous actions against the Seminoles as a justification and precedent for prosecuting Al Qaeda suspects.

The use of Geronimo’s name generated a flurry of outrage in articles, columns and letters that went viral on the Internet (search for “Geronimo” on ICTMN’s website), including a letter from Fort Sill Apache Tribe Chairman Jeff Houser asking President Obama to issue a formal apology for associating one of the most enduring and heroic figures in Indian country with the name of the man who epitomized global terrorism.

In the issue involving the Seminoles, prosecutors in the case of Ali Al Bahlul, a Guantanamo detainee convicted of “providing material support for terrorism” to Al Qaeda, reached for a historic precedent in military law to support their claim that providing aid is a war crime under the jurisdiction of the military commission. Defense lawyers argued it was not a recognized war crime and that Congress cannot create new war crimes not accepted internationally as violations of the rules of war. The case the prosecutors cited occurred in 1818 when then Major General Andrew Jackson illegally invaded Spanish Florida in search of runaway slaves with the intent of returning them to their “owners” and the Seminoles resisted this invasion of their land. Jackson’s incursion kicked off the First Seminole War and during that conflict, he captured two British men, Alexander George Arbuthnot and Robert C. Ambrister, who were living among the Seminoles. One of the men had written letters supporting the Seminoles’ land and treaty rights and Jackson used this “evidence” to accuse the men of “inciting” the Seminoles to “savage warfare” against the U.S. He quickly convened a “special court martial” tribunal then had the men executed.

Congress at the time condemned Jackson’s illegal war against a nation at peace with the U.S. and his execution of two British citizens, according to court documents. “His actions were a study in flagrant disobedience, gross inequality and premeditated ruthlessness… he swept through Florida, crushed the Indians, executed Arbuthnot and Ambrister, and violated nearly every standard of justice,” historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown wrote in Andrew Jackson’s Honor.

The prosecutors’ comparison of the Seminoles to Al Qaeda provoked strong objections from both the Seminole Nation and the National Congress of American Indians. The NCAI filed an amicus curiae letter objecting to the “distorted offensive historical analogy” comparing the First Seminole War to the terrorism of al Qaeda. “This is an astonishing statement of revisionist history,” NCAI wrote. “The Seminole effort to defend themselves from an invading genocidal army could be termed an ‘unlawful belligerency’ only by the most jingoistic military historian” and “calls into question the reasoning and judgment of those who are representing the government in [Al Bahlul’s] case.” Al Bahlul has appealed his conviction in federal court.

Indigenous opponents of the new defense bill say they have reason to worry about the expanded government powers, particularly the suppression of their free speech in direct actions to protect their lands. They point to the case of four Mapuche men in Chile involved in the struggle for their land rights who were swept up in the country’s Pinochet-era “counter-terrorism” law and sentenced to 20 and 25 years in prison in what appears to be trumped-up charges under the anti-terrorism legislation. “What is happening in Chile isn’t justice; it’s a pantomime, because under the anti-terrorism law, there is absolutely no way justice can be done,” said José Venturelli, spokesman for the European Secretariat of the Ethics Commission against Torture.

Governments have long connected indigenous peoples with terrorists. In 2008, former New York Republican Assemblyman David Townsend, a politician with a long history of opposing Indian sovereignty, attempted to link American Indian nations’ tobacco sales to terrorism, targeting the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Townsend sent a flier to constituents in Oneida and Oswego counties, making the extraordinary claim that “cigarette smuggling rackets originating on New York’s Indian reservations are transferring huge sums of money to Middle East terror groups.” He cited a report called “Tobacco and Terror: How Cigarette Smuggling is Funding our Enemies Abroad” that purported to connect the sale of untaxed tobacco products on Indian reservations to Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaeda, but provided little substantive evidence to support the claim. He asserted that the document was “a report of the United States Congress,” but it was prepared by the Republican staff of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security as the result of an “investigation” launched by Republican Rep. Peter T. King of Long Island, another anti-Indian—and Islamophobic—legislator. The report cited unnamed sources in unspecified federal and N.Y. state law enforcement agencies who “told the committee that in New York state the smuggling networks rely primarily on access to the Native American Indian reservations for tax-free cigarettes – for obvious financial reasons.” In trying to link Indian tobacco sales with international terrorism, neither Townsend nor King were trying to fight terrorism. Their just wanted to force Indians to pay state taxes on the cigarettes they sell on sovereign tribal land.

Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle condemned Democrats and Republicans for “join(ing) hands” to pass the NDAA bill. “This contempt for our rights is outrageous,” Hinkle said in a statement. “Any member of Congress who supports that provision is grossly violating his or her oath to uphold the Constitution.  If the president thinks you are a terrorist, let him present charges and evidence to a judge. He has no authority to lock you up without any judicial review, just because he and Congress believe he should have unlimited power. That is the kind of power held by tyrants in totalitarian regimes. It has no place in the United States.”

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December 9, 2011

Anonymous Warns Senate Over Endless Detention Bill: ‘Expect Us!!’

Click here to view the embedded video.

The hacktivist group Anonymous, famous for hacking former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s e-mails, among other things, has issued a warning to the U.S. Senate for passing a bill that brings the United States closer to military rule and further from democracy: “US SENATE: Expect us!!”

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act on December 1 in a bipartisan vote of 93-7. The bill gives the military the unprecedented power to seize suspected terrorists anywhere in the world, including American citizens on U.S. soil, and keep them locked up indefinitely without charge or trial. Indigenous Peoples worried that the legislation could be used against them for asserting their rights to self-determination and sovereignty or for protecting their lands and resources against exploitation by governments or corporations.

The controversial bill has alarmed and outraged many who say it violates the due process rights of the U.S. Constitution and takes the country one step further on the wrong path toward tyranny. The bill also enraged Anonymous, a nebulous Internet community that opposes censorship and oppression. The group’s latest video is a “Message to the American People” and begins with the salutation, “Dear brothers and sisters. Now is the time to open your eyes!”

Expect Us1 e1323456517779 270x217 Anonymous Warns Senate Over Endless Detention Bill: Expect Us!!The video shows a figure at a table wearing a black hoodie and reading a statement. The person’s face is covered in the white mask of a smiling moustached face made famous in the film V for Vendetta in which a shadowy freedom fighter known as “V” uses violence to resist a totalitarian regime.

“The passage of this law is nothing less than an outright declaration of WAR against the American People by the military-connected power elite,” the Anonymous member says. “If this is signed into law, it will shred the remaining tenants of the Bill of Rights and unleash upon America a total military dictatorship, complete with secret arrests, secret prisons, unlawful interrogations, indefinite detainment without ever being charged with a crime, the torture of Americans and even the ‘legitimate assassination’ of U.S. citizens right here on American soil!”

“If you have not yet woken up to the reality of the police state we’ve been warning you about, I hope you realize we are fast running out of time. Once this becomes law, you have no rights whatsoever in America — no due process, no First Amendment speech rights, no right to remain silent, nothing,’” the Anonymous member says.

Business Insider describes Anonymous as a cyberspace Internet meme – a set of ideas and beliefs that is transmitted culturally, in this case through social media on the Internet. “The meme started in 2003 and has been adopted by a decentralized online community acting anonymously in a coordinated manner, usually toward a loosely self-agreed goal, and primarily focused on entertainment,” the report said. Beginning in 2008, however, the Anonymous collective became increasingly associated with collaborative, international hacktivism, undertaking protests and other actions, often with the goal of promoting internet freedom and freedom of speech, the report says. In addition to Sarah Palin’s e-mail, Anonymous hacked Mastercard and Visa after the credit card companies cut off financial transaction with Wikileaks; at least 41 Malaysian government websites; H.B. Gary, an Internet  security firm that the U.S. government relies on to keep its information safe. The group is credited with bringing down websites in Egypt and Tunisia before the Arab spring events, and in Libya before the U.S./NATO air invasion. The group also threatened companies and government officials it viewed as complicit in the mistreatment of Bradley Manning, the army private accused of leaking documents to Wikileaks.Anonymous Message to the American People e1323456570986 270x208 Anonymous Warns Senate Over Endless Detention Bill: Expect Us!!

“The US senate does not want us to speak,” the Anonymous member in the video says. “Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice…intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance, coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.”

Then comes the Anonymous warning:

“We are anonymous.

We are Legion.

United as ONE.

Divided by zero.

We do not forgive Censorship.

We do not forget Oppression.

US SENATE:

Expect us!!”

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December 13, 2011

Will Senate’s Military Detention Law Lead to Tyranny?

What‘s in store for democracy in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Some people think that recent government actions don’t augur well for American freedom.

On December 1, the Senate passed the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 93-7. Buried in the 600-page document is an amendment that mandates the military to go after people it suspects are supporters of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or undefined “associated forces” and lock them up indefinitely without charge or trial – including U.S. citizens on American soil. The bill – S. 1867 – was incorporated into the House version that passed last spring – H.R. 1540 – and was sent back to Congress for reconciliation in a conference committee.

Critics of the NDAA’s military detention provision say the detention provision of the bill violates the Constitution and points ominously to further repression. Soon after the Senate approved the NDAA, video and print ads by the U.S. Army seeking “internment/resettlement specialists” – also known as concentration camp guards – began to circulate on the Internet. Then came the news that federal and state agencies are using unmanned drones without authorization or public disclosure to hunt down alleged wrongdoers.

On December 12, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) announced he has the support of 10 other representatives in his fight against the military detention provisions of the NDAA. Amash and the representatives wrote a letter to their fellow congressional representatives asking them to strip the detention provision from the bill in conference. “Our Constitution does not permit the federal government to detain American citizens indefinitely without charge or trial,” they wrote.

It’s hard to imagine tanks in the streets of American cities, but not impossible if one compares these recent government actions with examples from history. For example, connect the dots between the passage of the NDAA, the army’s want ads for interment specialists, the use of drones for surveillance and the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement that has spread from the Arab Awakenings in Tunisia and Egypt to dozens of U.S. cities and some surprising parallels show up with the imposition of martial law in Poland that occurred 30 years ago today.

On December 13, 1981, a 19-year-old student from Paris stepped off a train onto a platform in Warsaw, Poland, in the early morning. Although Poland was his homeland, he had been involuntarily exiled from it for nearly 15 years and he was returning for the first time to visit his father’s family.

“As my father drove me through the streets of Warsaw deserted due to the imposed curfew, I recall seeing well armed and very alert looking soldiers about my age then, on foot patrols, army personnel carriers and tanks as they maneuvered around the core of the capital,” Michael Werbowski writes on Global Politician. “Telephone lines within and outside the country were cut off, borders closed, schools and theaters shut down and public gatherings were banned. I was basically stuck and stranded in Warsaw, my birthplace. . . The Military Council of National Salvation, as it called itself in an Orwellian sense, had taken over the country in this military putsch Polish style.”

LO RES Poland Martial Law AP811216046 270x152 Will Senates Military Detention Law Lead to Tyranny?

An armored Polish army vehicle is stationed in Warsaw, Poland on December 16, 1981. On December 13, 1981, Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law, crushing a 16-month Solidarity upheaval against communist repression. The government jailed 10,000 opposition activists. Dozens were killed in clashes with police during ensuing strikes and protests. (AP Photo)

Martial law in Poland was declared by then Prime Minister Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and a junta of 20 other high ranking military officers who made up the oddly named council. The “putsch” came after a period of civil turmoil following the formation 18 months earlier of the free and independent Solidarity trade union. The activists and citizens who supported Solidarity’s movement toward democracy expected the communist government to respond, but not the way it did, according to Web of Stories.

Two years earlier, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan and many Poles thought a similar invasion of Poland was possible. Others, notably the CIA, thought Poland’s communist rulers would use the martial law to deter a Soviet invasion, but that’s not what happened. “In fact, what the communist leaders in both Warsaw and Moscow were intent on doing was to reassert state control over society. To this end, leaders of the free and independent trade union Solidarity were arrested and isolated, as were around 5,000 Solidarity supporters. The crackdown was severe and units of riot police were mobilized to deal forcefully with demonstrators in the ensuing protests,” the article says. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was arrested and imprisoned for almost a year, and was under constant watch and harassment by secret police for the next seven years, according to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Ordinary citizens woke up on the morning of December 13th not only to find troops and tanks patrolling their streets, but only one TV channel and one radio station broadcasting Jaruzelski’s speech declaring martial law, Web of Stories says.

Poland’s martial law came after months of escalating social and economic unrest. The “Occupy” protests have come after the worst economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While the Polish people struggled to free themselves from the anti-democratic oppression of the communist government’s state-controlled economy that kept hardworking people from advancing economically, the Occupy movement is protesting the anti-democratic greed and corruption of the capitalist government’s corporation-controlled economy. “Occupy Wall Street is . . . fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations,” according to Occupy Wall Street.

Both the Solidarity and Occupy Wall Street movements hoped to pressure the governments to introduce economic reforms, promote economic equality and democracy. The leaders of the Solidarity movement and a reported 5,000 of their supporters were arrested when martial law was imposed on Poland. While the Occupy movement has no single leader, Occupy Arrests has documented the arrests of at least 5,425 protesters in 94 U.S. cities as of December 12, 2011.

The communist Soviet regime had a massive system of prisons and labor internment camps that an estimated 18 prisoners passed through. A Google search for “U.S. internment camps” or “U.S. prison camps” turns up dozens of articles and even video asserting the existence of more than 600 internment camps awaiting prisoners while dozens of other articles say the internment camps are a hoax and the product of conspiracy theorists.

So, are conditions ripe for law in the U.S. Col. Larry Wilkerson (U.S. Army, Ret.) and chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, says the military detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Bill bring the country closer to military domination. “I think it’s another step on the road to tyranny,” Wilkerson told The Real News. Furthermore, Wilkerson said, the country has been on the path to despotism for some time now. “I think the Patriot Act was a huge giant step on the road to tyranny. I just think it’s completely the wrong direction,” he said. “We’re creating tyranny in this country as sure as if we went over to the Jefferson Memorial where he says, ‘I’ve sworn eternal hostility to all forms of tyranny over the mind of man,’ and tore it down.”

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