Whistleblowers Focus On Solutions At 2018 'Summit'


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The annual 2 1/2-day Whistleblowers Summit for Civil and Human Rights began on July 30 with a preview tailored to showcase the vital contributions that courageous, expert informants are making under difficult conditions to solve the nation's problems. 

chuck grassley officialThe first session of the free conference started at 9 a.m. Monday in the Senate Dirksen Building, in Washington, DC, shown above.

Among other highlights of the first day was a luncheon featuring Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, right, an Iowa Republican who has voiced strong support through the years for government whistleblowers helping to expose waste, fraud and abuse that hurts taxpayers. The ticketed lunch was organized on a complimentary basis as in previous years by the National Whistleblower Center.

Its Executive Director Stephen Kohn had discovered in 2013 a long-forgotten law passed in 1778 by the U.S. Continental Congress on July 30 (now "National Whistleblower Day"). This was because the Founders had received reports that two whistleblowers were being prosecuted in Rhode Island after reporting misconduct by the highest-ranking U.S. naval official at the time.

As Grassley noted in his remarks, the law enacted by the Continental Congress called on all U.S. inhabitants or officials to report "any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors." C-SPAN broadcast and archived here the 140-minute luncheon, which included as a featured segment at the end the first public remarks in 15 years by former Clinton White House staffer Linda Tripp.

The overall program is shown on the next page of this column, with details available also on the conference website at Whistleblowers Summit at a Glance. Sessions are in varied but nearby locations on Capitol Hill that are identified in the program.

This editor, a member of the event's overall host committee, joined the opening panel and moderated a session on July 31 about the challenging role of the news media in working with whistleblowers. The term has been defined as persons who expose any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public. The word has been linked to the long ago police and citizen practice of using a whistle to alert the public to wrongdoing.

In my brief segment on the opening panel, I argued that the nation's problems are so serious right now that it is no longer enough to identify problems and use traditional (and often extremely difficult) methods of reform. I challenged participants to use the conference to brainstorm and collaborate for solutions on whatever issues they find most important.

My media panel on Tuesday at the Stewart Mott House next to the Hart Senate Office Building features longtime health journalist Kathryn Foxhall and USA TODAY Washington Enterprise Editor Ray Locker.

Foxhall, an active member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Club's Freedom of Information Committee, has been a leader in organizing media opposition to the increasing practice by Executive Branch officials of both parties to steer media coverage through Public Information Officers (PIOS).

These restrictions block the public from learning via the news media the views of knowledgeable federal employees who work on the substance of issues, as illustrated by a Foxhall talk ‘Censorship by PIO earlier this month to an annual conference of American university professors. PIOs and other public relations officials now far outnumber reporters in Washington and help maintain barriers between the public and whistleblowers and other sources of non-official information.

Locker, author of the bold and important 2016 book Nixon's Gamble: How a President's Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration, provided expert tips on how whistleblowers and other concerned citizens can approach the major media during an era of huge staff cutbacks and many other pressures on news organizations.

rfk ambassador hotelMy focus, standing in for scheduled panelist Dr. William F. Pepper, a late cancellation on Friday because of a painful back condition preventing his travel, will be on Pepper's and others' breakthrough reporting and litigation casting doubt on the official accounts of the 1968 assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy is shown at left giving his California primary victory speech for the Democratic presidential nomination, shortly before his murder in a hotel pantry.

Pepper, a friend of both slain men, reinvestigated the slayings and concluded that the convicted killers, James Earl Ray for MLK and Sirhan Sirhan for RFK, were each patsies set up to take the fall for the real killers.

Pepper, an attorney, represented King's convicted killer Ray in his appeals and also the King family as the latter won a civil verdict in 1999 showing that the killing was a conspiracy.

Pepper currently represents the still-imprisoned Sirhan, who is seeking the first-ever evidentiary hearing introducing forensic ballistics and audio evidence to show that he could not have killed Kennedy, who was shot in the back three times according to the little-known autopsy of the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who is still alive in his 90s and is available as a witness.

The Washington Post and its experienced law enforcement reporter Tom Jackson published separate Sunday front-page articles this spring quoting family members as stating that they did not believe official accounts. The stories, based in part on scientific evidence, represented a breakthrough for such coverage — 50 years after each of the killings.

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ABA Honors Media Revelations About Injustice


The American Bar Association last week continued its 60-year tradition of annual media awards for legal coverage with a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

On July 17, the 2018 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts recognized outstanding work that, in the words of the bar association, "fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system."

The six major awards for categories of print and video recognized cutting-edge work on policing, Japanese American internment during World War II, the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the prison colony at Guantánamo, a murder trial, and mortgage-fraud prosecution.

“The American Bar Association (ABA) engages in a careful, deliberative judging process to pick winners of the Silver Gavel Awards,” said Stephen C. Edds, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards in announcing the awards. “We congratulate all of our 2018 awardees for their extraordinary efforts to foster the American public’s understanding of law.”

Beyond those kinds of formalities that could be spoken any year, speakers noted the backdrop of this year's ceremony: huge attacks on the reputation of legal establishment (such FBI and judicial personnel) and the news media, especially from the White House and its supporters.

akhil amar colorMedia speakers especially voiced concern over how their normal work is being undermined by savage attacks at the same time that Internet-fostered competition is creating devastating financial problems for media organizations, forcing staff and coverage reductions.

As a result, this year's awards ceremony was particularly important, according to keynote speaker Akhil Amar (right), a Yale Law School constitutional scholar and previous Silver Gavel award-winner in the book division.

In such times as these, the professor continued, the Silver Gavel process encourages in-depth and otherwise expensive reporting and commentary from many others besides award winners. The awards thus foster a much larger — and vitally necessary — eco-structure of other good work, he said.  

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Genocide Opponents Protest Myanmar Horrors


Amid continuing government-sponsored mass atrocities in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, human rights activists are ramping up anti-genocide advocacy nationally this month, particularly in Washington, DC.

myanmar flagThe Interfaith Coalition To Stop Genocide In Burma is calling on the U.S. government to more aggressively intervene in the situation and to enact tough sanctions against the government of Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma.

Faith Coalition spokeswoman Nicolee Ambrose travelled to the region this spring and opened a news conference on July 9 at the National Press Club  with reactions from her recent visit to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.

"Since August 2017," the coalition leaders said in their overview, "more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Burma due to horrific conditions of torture, rape, and murder at the hands of the Burmese government. The Kachin Christians are now facing the same treatment as the genocide continues."

aung san suu kyi 2011 myanmar The Rohingya are primarily Muslims from the country's western province Rakhine on the Bay of Bengal. Kachin, a northern province, is overwhelmingly Christian, stemming from long-ago missionary work.

Authorities claim that they are using security measures that are necessary against what they call rebels mingled with civilians.

Complicating the situation is the widespread perception that Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi (shown above), is widely regarded in some circles as a reformer following her years of imprisonment for her human rights advocacy.

But that view was contradicted this month by a 162-page report by the human rights group Fortify Rights. The New York Times summarized the report in Myanmar’s Military Planned Rohingya Genocide, Rights Group Says, which reported that the military pre-planned the slaughter and forced expulsion of about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from the nation.

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"We cannot sit and do nothing," says the Rev. Bob Roberts, Jr., Senior Pastor at the Northwood Church in Dallas, Texas and co-chair of the Faith Coalition. He is at center above in the Justice Integrity Project photo of the July 9 news conference. Ambrose is at right and Kachin National Organization USA President Sut Nau Ndayu is at left.

"We are calling on President Trump to help the people of the region," continued Roberts (shown at right on his Twitter photo). "Our brothers and sisters cannot keep suffering at the hands of these thugs. Kachin and Rohingya people need to be repatriated to their bob roberts jr twittercountry and villages with full rights."

Last week's news conference featured two other natives of the Myanmar's Kachin province, which has experienced especially horrific oppression recently. They were: Dr. Khan Naw, a Kachin Baptist minister; and Bamai Nhkum, another representative of the national organization and currently a student in Iowa.

They protested the horrific mass rapes and other atrocities by the Buddhist dominated government (including military) against Christians in Kachin along with similar crimes against Rohingya from other parts of Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to adjoining Bangladesh, already one of the world's poorest nations.

After the July 9 news conference members of the Faith Coalition visited members of Congress. Their anti-genocide campaign is occurring amid other efforts that raise serious concerns about religious and ethnic persecution in Myanmar.

The problems include the impending trial of two Reuters reporters detained for more than 200 days. As reported in Decision to try two Reuters reporters shows Myanmar court is following orders, the reporters, Wa Lone and Kuyan Soe OO, face 14-year prison sentences on charges of violating the country's Official Secrets Act by investigating the Rohingya massacres.

Shown below is a photo and story published in February that led to the arrests of the two journalists. The story, Massacre in Myanmar: A Reuters Special Report, is further excerpted below.

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Execution: This photo was taken on the day the 10 Rohingya men were killed. Paramilitary police officer Aung Min, left, stands guard behind them. The picture was obtained from a Buddhist village elder, and authenticated by witnesses (distributed by Reuters).

Myanmar's Leadership

Suu Kyi holds the title of State Counsellor, regarded as her country's highest non-military office. Another top political leader is Win Myint, 66, her close confidante in Myanmar's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party,

Suu Kyi is the Oxford-educated youngest daughter of Aung San, the nation's modern founder. She won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize "for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights."

antónio guterres 2012 us missionUnited National Secretary General António Guterres (shown at right in a U.S. State Department 2012 photo) published an oped on July 11 in the Washington Post entitled The Rohingya are victims of ethnic cleansing. The world has failed them.

"Small children butchered in front of their parents," Guterres wrote. "Girls and women gang-raped while family members were tortured and killed. Villages burned to the ground. Nothing could have prepared me for the bone-chilling accounts I heard last week in Bangladesh from Rohingya refugees who had fled widespread killings and violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar."

"The burden of helping desperate refugees," he concluded, "should not fall to front-line countries such as Bangladesh."

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Court Grants Assange Freedom Just As U.S. Ramps Up Claims


Julian Assange at Ecuador's Embassy (Photo Collage by The Indicter Magazine)

Julian Assange, center, at Ecuador's Embassy (Photo Collage by The Indicter Magazine)

A major international human rights body has ordered the United Kingdom to free WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for safe passage out of the kingdom — just when it seemed likely that the UK and other Western powers were on the verge seizing Assange on old charges and possibly major new ones.

Ruling on a petition brought by Ecuador, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced on July 12 a so-far little-reported ruling that political asylum in a nation's foreign embassy — as Ecuador has granted Assange in London for six years — carries also a right of safe passage out of a country, as in Assange's situation.

inter american court human rightsThe Costa Rican-based court is a unit of the Organization of American States (OAS) that adjudicates cases, such as referrals from the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The court ruled that its jurisdiction extends globally when the rights of its members are involved. Under that authority, it ordered the United Kingdom to release Assange for safe passage to Ecuador.

The court's press release stated that the court ruling, issued on May 30 and kept confidential, was delivered to the parties on July 12. The announcement said that the court has not yet received a response from the UK on the decision.

Whatever the UK response, the ruling by the five judges is likely to become controversial because so many major Western nations have such deep hostility towards Assange, whose organization operates in a gray zone between hackers and conventional media.

Years ago, Assange released via WikiLeaks vast quantities of secret foreign and military documents that showed apparent torture, other war crimes and deceitful practices by Western nations.

dnc horizontal logoA new factor is the U.S. Justice Department's July 13 indictment of 12 Russian GRU intelligence officers.

The government alleges that the Russians illegally used massive amounts of stolen political documents from such entities as the Democratic National Committee to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Republicans. The conspiracy was said to include an international group — unnamed and uncharged — that is widely reported to be WikiLeaks.

Since 2010, our Justice Integrity Project has reported extensively on sexual misconduct claims made by two women that year against Assange. The claims (including that he engaged in unprotected sexual relations) have not led to any formal charges against Assange by Sweden in the nearly eight years since his visit there.

But Sweden's aggressive investigation has led to court battles that have kept Assange confined for six years as a political refugee in a small room in Ecuador's London embassy while he was widely smeared in the popular press as a suspected sex criminal.

Yet that "case" against Assange was dubious and tainted by Sweden's oppressive, secretive non-jury court procedures. Even so, one of the complainants, identified most frequently in the press merely as "SW," completely disappeared in 2010 soon after inviting Assange to sleep with her, as we have previously reported in accounts excerpted below.

julian assange facts wikileaks CustomA team of Swedish computer sleuths reported several years ago that "SW" and a number of her social media friends have disappeared from view, suggesting that either they were very frightened of a man long departed from Sweden or that they had been part of a secret operation.

This summer Assange has risked losing even his safe harbor of a room in Ecuador's embassy because of the recent change in Ecuador's government to new conservative leaders displeased by new WikiLeaks disclosures. Ecuador has cut off Assange's Internet and other communications, partly as a reaction to pressure from the United States. The New York Post reported on July 14 that Assange could soon be evicted from London embassy,

WikiLeaks, which launched its first server in 2006 and claims to possess 10 million documents, specializes in release of secret documents received from anonymous sources. Its stated goal? To increase accountability for governments and other major players. In early 2016, a presidential campaign year, WikiLeaks ramped up release of American political documents that hurt Democrats especially.

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Trump's Supreme Court Seat: The Art of the Steal

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Did U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's sudden resignation June 27 stem from corrupt motives?

That question looms even as most court watchers focus on the conventional analysis of evaluating Kennedy's proposed successor, U.S. District of Columbia Circuit Judge Brett brett kavanaughKavanaugh, 53, whom President Trump (shown above in a file photo with the retiring justice) announced Monday evening on July 9.  Kavanaugh is shown below at Monday's announcement with his family and Trump and at right in a file photo.

No matter what hoopla, drama and distraction Trump planned around the selection the possibility of Deep State corruption deserves our attention — and as thorough an investigation as society's (mostly) timid and toothless watchdogs can muster.

djt brett kavanaugh family 7 9 18 SmallThat's particularly so when the high stakes involve an activist ultra-right court majority likely to protect the current president and his cronies from an ongoing corruption probe, with stage apparently set for this appointment by relationships forged with hundreds of millions of dollars in suspicious money disbursed among the current players.

That kind of attack on democracy by corrupt elites, one of the definitions of a "Deep State," is as bad or worse than the court rulings and precedents that a new justice may help create. The intrigue is heightened because Republicans arguably "stole" a seat — and their current majority — by failing to schedule hearings on any Democratic nominee to fill a court vacancy during the last year of President Obama's second term.

There are and will be many mainstream critiques of Kavanaugh and his worthiness for confirmation. The basics were already summarized before the announcement by the specialist SCOTUSblog in a profile by its editor Edith Roberts entitled  Potential nominee profile: Brett Kavanaugh.

But our column takes the scrutiny to a darker level than ventured by establishment commentators. We do so given the high stakes of the process and the repeated gaming of the system by Republicans and their appointees who are typically described as "conservatives" but should be described instead as radical right activists who want a result-oriented federal court system to enact their patrons' agendas, no matter what bromides they utter during charade-like confirmation hearings.

lnr logo newThe track record of this and other recent court appointments provides a solid basis for scrutiny, if not outrage.

In this instance, suspicions of the process arise in part because of the vast financial transitions between Deutsche Bank and LNR Property, entities associated with the Trump and Kennedy families, as well as the clear-cut benefit for Republicans and Trump by rousing their base with a new court deutsche bank logoappointment before the mid-term congressional elections in November. Kennedy had already hired court clerks for the coming term, suggesting that he did not expect to retire until recently.

Trump could also benefit in rulings from a younger and more partisan justice than Kennedy on what are likely to be increasingly serious legal actions by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III against Trump Administration players.

virginia ginni thomas cpac 2017 gage skidmore flickrOn Monday, Republican Justice Clarence Thomas's wife Virginia (shown in a Gage Skidmore photo) showed yet again her side's utter contempt for non-partisan judicial norms when she used her Twitter feed to defend U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan from accusations that Jordan, as Ohio State University's assistant wrestling coach, had helped enable a team doctor's sexual predations on team members.

Jordan, an Ohio Freedom Caucus leader running to become House Speaker, is one of Trump's major GOP defenders against the corruption probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III. Virginia "Ginni" Thomas is a longtime hard-right Republican activist who years ago showed her corrupt proclivities (See the 2011 Los Angeles Times blockbuster, Clarence Thomas failed to report wife's income, watchdog says) by trying to start a consulting business in advance of her husband's (and Kennedy's) vote to destroy the nation's federal campaign financing system in the all-Republican 5-4 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

george w bush v al gore graphic Kennedy has been part of such presidential puppetry before, most obviously with his vote in the 5-4 Bush-v. Gore decision in 2000 that stopped that year's presidential vote recount in Florida. With scant compelling court precedent to anyone but ultra-right partisans, Kennedy thus joined in awarding the U.S. presidency (by an unprecedented court fiat enacted exclusively by Republicans) to GOP nominee George W. Bush, thus altering American history in enduring ways. 

With that background, we explore more fully below the suspicious activity between the Trump and Kennedy families in this sequel to New GOP High Court Threatens Massive Public Pain, our previous analysis of recent court decisions and the potential civic harms stemming from Kennedy's resignation.   

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New GOP High Court Threatens Massive Public Pain

anthony kennedy oThe resignation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy after a series of controversial pro-conservative court opinions last week is prompting widespread fear that the court is moving in sinister fashion toward radical, activist positions causing public harms unprecedented in recent American history.

Several of the court's recent holdings were by 5-4 all-Republican majorities that overcame all-Democratic minorities in ways that underscored how the court functions at times as a brute-force political operation.

Kennedy's unexpected departure and President Trump's prompt timetable for installing a successor portend concentrated government and private power in ways that have never existed in the United States previously even when the conservative Supreme Court's hostility to New Deal legislation in the Depression-era 1930s was balanced by a reform-minded president and Congress. .

jerrold nadler o SmallThese days?  "We're going to go back to before the New Deal" in terms of economic protections for Americans, no matter what nominees might say publicly, according to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New Yorker who is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Nadler (shown at right) told CNN during a July 2 interview that all of Trump's prospective nominees have been carefully vetted by the ultra-conservative judicial selection think tanks like the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation to conform to their agendas, as have their previous picks and their decisions reflected in the latest Supreme Court decisions. 

us supreme court 2017The nine Supreme Court justices, with Chief Justice John Roberts at center, are shown in a 2017 portrait. Each of the nine attended either Yale or Harvard Law School, although Justice Ruth Ginsberg (at left) transferred before graduation to Columbia Law School.

As a general matter beyond the Supreme Court:

American courts, even when staffed by previous generations of conservatives, have always functioned during times when government power was diffused among federal branches and state/local governments.

But a novel and for many in the public a frightening situation now stems from the current concentration of power in an autocratic executive like Trump who uses "national security" as a mantra to assert power with scant pushback.

Targets for Trump and the authoritarians that he is appointing to the courts include voting rights, worker protections, immigrants and the economic safety net of Social Security and Medicare. Trump is using immigration as one of his scare tactics to solidify his base of supporters, many of whom are rightfully resentful of excesses by elites in recent years. But, in ways largely beyond the scope of today's column, Trump's legal initiatives also help protect him and his own cohort of elite backers by underminnig basic American institutions like the courts, Congress, the FBI, the press and ultimately the federal budget and social safety net.

Today's column sets the stage to explore these developments by drawing on recent commentaries about the Supreme Court's just-completed annual term and controversies arising from the Kennedy succession. The material is excerpted below in an extensive appendix. These resources include highlights from two annual seminars that I attended on June 28 that convened leading experts to speaking about the court's term, which extends from the first week of October to the last week of June. 

The Yale Law School Association of Washington, DC sponsored one conferences for alumni and students. The other annual conference was organized by the American Constitution Society, a progressive group whose conservative counterpart the Federalist Society plays a leading role in recommending judges and policy changes to Trump and other Republicans. I am a longtime member of the two rival societies and also hold law degrees from the law schools of both Yale and the University of Chicago.

Following this introduction, we summarize the signficance of Kennedy's resignation and then preview the difficult odds, at least in the short term, of sustaining constitutional checks-and-balances designed more than two centuries ago to limit power-grabs by a president.

These topics are not simple, especially since none of the players or institutions are all-bad or all-good and we do indeed live in an era of "fake news" emanating to some degree from all sides. So, today's column is sets the stage for future reporting, hopefully with your help as readers, tipsters and active citizens. Topics will include the potentially insidious aspects of Kennedy's resignation, as previewed below. 

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