U.S.| “Costs of War: Institutionalizing the War on Terror”

posted on 02.03.2010 by

From ISN Security Watch: The first budget written by the Obama’ administration institutionalizes spending on the war he inherited – not just in the Department of Defense, but across the US government. In effect, the new budget request is a spending plan for endless conflict, Shaun Waterman writes for ISN Security Watch.

More here.

U.S.| UN calls on U.S. to “stop secret detention and abuse” ahead of report to Human Rights Council

posted on 01.28.2010 by

The United Nations has called on the U.S. and others to put an end to secret detention policies and human rights abuses in their “war on terrorism”, IDN reports. Read more

U.S.| Obama administration urged to renew pledge to close Guantanamo, ensure accountability

posted on 01.21.2010 by

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Obama pledging to close Guantanamo Bay, human rights watchdogs have urged the administration to redouble its efforts to close the prison and ensure accountability for “war on terror” abuses. Read more

Event| “One Year and Counting: When and How Will Guantanamo Close?”

posted on 01.21.2010 by

Location: New York City
Event Date: January 22, 2010
Event Time: 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Contact: The Constitution Project – [email protected]

The Open Society Institute, the Consitution Project, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund sponsor a lunchtime panel discussion to mark President Obama’s deadline for closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, which he set by Executive Order one year earlier, on his second day in office.

The discussion will examine the obstacles preventing the president from fulfilling his promise, when and how Guantánamo is likely to close, and the impact of the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing on the politics of closing the detention facility. The discussion will illuminate why it is essential that America comply with the rule of law as it continues its efforts to close Guantánamo.

A light lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m. The discussion will begin promptly at noon.

Confirmed participants include the following, with a representative of the U.S. government to be announced shortly:

* Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker (moderator)
* Stephen Abraham, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.), U.S. Army Intelligence Corps (Reserves)
* Honorable John Coughenour, Federal District Court, Seattle, WA, who presided over the 2005 trial of Ahmed Ressam, known as the Millennium Bomber
* Talat Hamdani, September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
* Shane Kadidal, Senior Managing Attorney, Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative, Center for Constitutional Rights
* Celeste Koeleveld, Chief of the Criminal Division, Chief Appellate Attorney, and Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York (1991-2008)

Rockefeller Brothers Fund
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is located in the Interchurch Center. Please enter at 61 Claremont Avenue and 120th Street. The event will take place in the Interchurch Center’s first-floor conference room, the Sockman Lounge.

More here from Open Society Institute.

U.S.| Profile: Sonia Sotomayor’s debut

posted on 01.05.2010 by

Lauren Collins writes in “Number Nine”, in the 11 Jan 2010 issue of the New Yorker: On October 6th, at 10 A.M., Neal Katyal, an attorney for the Department of Justice, rose in front of the Supreme Court to argue the government’s position in the matter of United States v. Stevens. Standing at a mahogany lectern, surrounded by marble friezes of lawgivers—Draco, Hammurabi, Marshall—Katyal began his address, which, he announced, would amount to a four-pronged defense of Section 48 of Title 18 of the federal criminal code. The law, which Congress passed in 1999, had been intended to restrict certain depictions of animal cruelty. Chief among them were “crush videos,” in which small animals such as guinea pigs, kittens, hamsters, birds, and mice are taped or tied to the floor and—as a congressional report put it—stomped to “a bloody mass of fur” by women, often wearing spike heels, who “can be heard talking to the animals in a kind of dominatrix patter” (“What’s wrong, little man? Are you scared?”). The acts shown in the videos—“The Tales of Charlie’s Ankles,” “Smush”—were already illegal, but prosecutors had found it nearly impossible to identify the participants in the videos, and thus to enforce the existing laws. Congress responded by targeting the images, making it illegal, with some artistic and educational exceptions, to “knowingly create, sell, or possess . . . for commercial gain . . . any visual or auditory depiction . . . in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed.”

The law went unenforced until January, 2003, when Robert J. Stevens was arrested at his home, in Pittsville, Virginia. Stevens owned a business called Dogs of Velvet and Steel, and operated a Web site, pitbulllife.com, through which he sold dog-training paraphernalia and documentary films about pit bulls. Three of the films incorporated footage of dogs fighting. The government did not allege that Stevens had anything to do with staging or filming the fights. But, under Section 48, a jury found that his production and distribution of the films was criminal, and sentenced him to thirty-seven months in prison. An appeals court overturned the verdict.

The Stevens matter, having reached the Supreme Court, was shaping up to be one of the biggest cases of the term. In briefs, the government, along with animal-rights groups, asserted that depictions of animal cruelty were of such grievous harm to society that they—like depictions of child pornography, which the Court had prohibited with its decision in New York v. Ferber (1982)—were not shielded by the Constitution. Stevens’s lawyers, joined by an unlikely alliance of gun advocates and civil-liberties organizations, argued that the law infringed upon “a broad swath of never-before-regulated speech.” The case was a First Amendment depth bomb. If the Court upheld the statute, it would create a new category of unprotected expression for the first time in twenty-seven years. [...]

More here.

U.S.| Scalia says Supreme Court needs varied job experience

posted on 01.05.2010 by

The Associated Press reports: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says he’s concerned there aren’t more people with varying professional backgrounds being nominated to the nation’s highest court.

Scalia was a federal judge before President Reagan nominated him to the court.

He said there were three justices with no prior judicial experience back then and today there are none.

Scalia said he’s concerned about the practice because “every aspect of your career broadens your outlook” so “it’s good for the court to have people of varying backgrounds.” [...]

More here via Huffington Post.

U.S.| Supreme Court dismisses case on limits of immunity for prosecutors

posted on 01.05.2010 by

From the Christian Science Monitor: The US Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case over whether prosecutors who knowingly procure false testimony that leads to a wrongful conviction can later be sued for damages.

Lawyers announced that the parties in the underlying lawsuit had agreed to end the case in a $12 million settlement.

The two innocent men, Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee, had spent nearly 26 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. After the truth was discovered and they were released, they sued the prosecutors in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.

An investigation revealed that the prosecutors helped assemble and present false testimony that led to their convictions. Messrs. Harrington and McGhee had been sentenced to life in prison at hard labor with no possibility of parole.

The prosecutors fought the civil lawsuit, arguing that they were entitled to absolute immunity from such litigation for actions taken at trial.

The high court heard oral argument in the case on November 4. The case is Pottawattamie County v. McGhee and Harrington.

“Terry Harrington deserves this after his unwavering patience and perseverance as to his innocence,” said one of Harrington’s lawyers, Doug McCalla of Jackson, Wy. “Cases like Terry’s make it very clear that we need the powerful remedies provided by this country’s civil rights statutes.”

More here.

Related coverage:

U.S.| Airport scanners: privacy vs. security

posted on 01.05.2010 by

From ABC News: Civil liberties groups and privacy advocates are urging federal officials to slow down the rush to buy more full body airport scanners until there is more proof that the machines would disrupt a future terror attack.

Nineteen airports already have 40 of the machines in use, 150 more are scheduled to be installed this year, and the Transportation Security Administration recently announced it has secured funding for an additional 300.

At the same time, officials in Great Britain and the Netherlands who had been slow to introduce the machines now say passengers on transatlantic flights will be required to pass through them.

Mike German, a former FBI agent who now serves as policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while longstanding privacy concerns have not gone away, the real concern should be whether the machines will do anything to improve the safety of the traveling public.

“The question should be not whether it’s worth the privacy invasion, but whether it’s worth investing in technology that the terrorists are already showing can be defeated,” German told ABC News. “There is no reason to sacrifice our liberty or privacy if there is no security gain.” [...]

More here.

U.S.| Restriction on visas to HIV-positive foreigners lifted

posted on 01.05.2010 by

From CNN: Foreign nationals who are HIV-positive will find it easier starting Monday to visit the United States.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed HIV infection from the list of diseases that prevent non-U.S. citizens from entering the country.

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus — the virus that causes AIDS.

Advocates for HIV-positive people said the new policy was long overdue, calling it “a significant step forward for the United States.” [...]

U.S. laws and regulations enacted since 1952 have made persons “who were afflicted with any dangerous contagious disease” ineligible to receive a visa to enter the country. People infected with HIV have been restricted since 1987, when Congress directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to add HIV to its list of diseases of public health significance. [...]

More here.

U.S.| On the illegality of torture, op-ed

posted on 01.04.2010 by

Editorial from the New York Times: Bush administration officials came up with all kinds of ridiculously offensive rationalizations for torturing prisoners. It’s not torture if you don’t mean it to be. It’s not torture if you don’t nearly kill the victim. It’s not torture if the president says it’s not torture.

It was deeply distressing to watch the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sink to that standard in April when it dismissed a civil case brought by four former Guantánamo detainees never charged with any offense. The court said former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the senior military officers charged in the complaint could not be held responsible for violating the plaintiffs’ rights because at the time of their detention, between 2002 and 2004, it was not “clearly established” that torture was illegal.

The Supreme Court could have corrected that outlandish reading of the Constitution, legal precedent, and domestic and international statutes and treaties. Instead, last month, the justices abdicated their legal and moral duty and declined to review the case.

A denial of certiorari is not a ruling on the merits. But the justices surely understood that their failure to accept the case would further undermine the rule of law. [...]

More here.

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