U.S. Wars, Torture & Snooping Prompt Questions

Today, we highlight recent news reports concerning United States war-making, torture-like prison conditions for a suspected WikiLeaks accomplice, and electronic surveillance of vast numbers of ordinary citizens. Each action arguably violates historic interpretation of governing law.

Longtime readers surely notice that our columns on such topics are extending beyond our initial focus on due process rights in federal litigation. We started this project, for example, with in-depth reviews of the long-running prosecutions of Democratic former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and Republican former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on corruption charges.

We're still exploring those enforcement tactics. But we cannot ignore the kind of overlapping due process and constitutional questions constantly arising also from the country's so-called war on terror.

The consequences directly affect domestic law because of ever-growing precedents expanding Executive Branch power.

Major news organizations are increasingly part of the federal public relations effort, as illustrated by today's Salon / Unclaimed Territory column by legal commentator Glenn Greenwald, "Nobel Peace Drones." In it, Greenwald contrasts the New York Times coverage of aerial bombing by the United States in Pakistan with Libya's military actions:

A U.S. drone attack in Pakistan killed 23 people this morning, and this is how The New York Times described that event in its headline and first paragraph: “Drone Strikes Militants in Northwest Pakistan.†When I saw that, I was going to ask how the NYT could possibly know that the people whose lives the U.S. just ended were "militants," but then I read further in the article and it said this: "A government official in North Waziristan told Pakistani reporters that five children and four women were among the 23 who were killed."

So at least 9 of the 23 people we killed -- at least -- were presumably not "militants" at all, but rather innocent civilians (contrast how the NYT characterizes Libya’s attacks in its headlines: "Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas").

Upon deconstructing this craven, Orwellian-style word-smithing by a leading newspaper, Greenwald continues:

Finally, when the OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] released its rationale for why the President was permitted to involve the U.S. in Libya without Congressional approval, its central claim was that -- due the very limited nature of our involvement and the short duration -- this does not "constitute[] a 'war' within the meaning of the Declaration of War Clause" (Adam Serwer has more on this reasoning).

Now that our involvement has broadened to include drone attacks weeks into this conflict, with no end in sight, can we agree that the U.S. is now fighting a "war" and that this therefore requires Congressional approval?

More generally, we are now seeing the mainstream press starting to touch on the explosive implications of the disclosures that the courageous AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein tried to mainstream years ago. Klein, a technician in AT&T's San Francisco networking center, learned that his company was cooperating with the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor and store for potential retrieval billions of U.S. customer emails and phone records. Ignored by a timid Congress, Klein ultimately described the process in his 2009 book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine. This week, the nation learned that IPhone and Android have been programmed secretly to track their customers, as amplified below. This follows recent legal news that authorities have decided that air travelers give up their Fourth Amendment rights against government searches, and that some are expanding the concept to motor vehicle travelers, who must hand over to authorities upon demand electronic equipment for government searches even if there is no reasonable cause for suspicion of illegal activity.

In other civil liberties news, several protesters of the treatment of Pvt. Bradley Manning, an accused source of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, this week confronted President Obama at a presidential fund-raiser over Manning's treatment pre-trial confinement, which includes sleep deprivation, a vriety of humiliations and denial of United Nations or Congressional fact-finding visits. Drawing on his stature as commander-in-chief and as a much-touted legal scholar, Obama later responded, in essence, that he knew Manning was guilty and deserved whatever punishment the military wanted to impose both before trial and after.

Meanwhile, Texas-based radio host Alex Jones has been one of the few in the media who dare repeat concerns voiced by investigative reporter and former NSA analyst Wayne Madsen that he has received word from a concerned source that authorities have privately hoped for Madsen's demise. Madsen is an oft-controversial 18-year Naval veteran who once strongly supported Obama before embarking on what has now become a long-running series of investigations. Years ago, Madsen visited Rwanda years research a book on genocide without updating his will and ran for the National Press Club presidency in part on what he called an "anti-defenestration" platform. But for the first time since 1981 this week he updated his will and took steps otherwise to secure his papers.

I know Madsen (a frequent Washington-based commentator on cable news) -- and one of the intermediaries for the warning, who took a job-risk to convey to Madsen the rumor/report of official antagonism so that the writer could enhance his safety precautions. As one who knew the darign reporters Jack Anderson, Daniel Pearl and Chauncey "Skip" Bailey also, it seems appropriate to put Madsen's account also on record here, along with similar interpretative columns on other matters noted above. For obvious reasons, we at our Project would be intersted in your own comments -- conveyed either publicly or privately -- on how you feel about our expanded range of legal coverage.

Listed below are selected articles on legal reform, with the most important political, security and media factors. See the full articles by visiting the Project home page's section on News Reports, and clicking the link.

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, Nobel Peace Drones, Glenn Greenwald, April 22, 2011. Now that our involvement has broadened to include drone attacks weeks into this conflict, with no end in sight, can we agree that the U.S. is now fighting a "war" and that this therefore requires Congressional approval?

FireDogLake, Obama on Manning: “He Broke the Law.†So Much for that Trial? Michael Whitney, April 22, 2011. President Barack Obama made stunning accusations about accused Wikileaks whistleblower PFC Bradley Manning, directly asserting that Manning “broke the law.†Apparently the President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has yet to be tried or convicted for any crime.

Huffington Post, Al Franken, Ed Markey Press Steve Jobs On iPhone Tracking, Amy Lee, April 21, 2011. Freaked out that your iPhone may be tracking your every move? So are Senator Al Franken and Representative Ed Markey, who have called on Steve Jobs to explain the situation UPDATE: 7:25 p.m.] Android devices have been found to cache location data in a similar manner.

Wayne Madsen Report, White House threats must be taken seriously, Wayne Madsen, April 4, 2011. In yet another indication that America's democratic experiment is a thing of the past, this editor has received word from a source in a foreign intelligence agency allied with the United States that there has been talk by some within the Obama White House that this editor is under threat. What particular stories have inflamed the White House are not known but the warning conveyed by the source, who has connections within the White House, was stark in its directness: "They want to kill you." It was perfectly clear that the phrase was not being used as a figure of speech. See also interview with radio host Alex Jones, April 13, 2011.

As longer-term perspective, these authors are among those who have described from a civil liberties perspective troubling ideas from early stages of the Obama administration.

Salon, Obama Confidant's Spine-Chilling Proposal, Glenn Greenwald, Jan. 15, 2010.

Raw Story, Obama Staffer Wants 'Cognitive Infiltration' Of 9/11 Conspiracy Groups, Daniel Tencer, Jan. 13, 2010.

Rag Blog, Got Fascism? Obama Advisor Promotes 'Cognitive Infiltration,' Marc Estrin, Jan. 11, 2010.

Harvard Law and University of Chicago Law School Working Papers, Conspiracy Theories, Cass R. Sunstein & Adrian Vermeule, Jan. 15, 2008.


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