Thursday, December 11, 2014

Are Rush Limbaugh And Fox News Still Laughing About Torture?

December 10, 2014 by  ERIC BOEHLERT

Remember when Fox News contributor Sarah Palin joked about torture?

Last spring, Palin appeared before an NRA convention crowd and laughed about how liberals supposedly coddle America's mortal adversaries. "Oh, but you can't offend them, can't make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen," said Palin. "Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists," The NRA audience roared with approval, but even some conservative commentators who saw the tape of Palin's wisecrack took offense, upset that she had linked bodily torture with a Christian sacrament. ("It's disgusting.")

Palin, of course, hardly stands alone among conservative media commentators who have spent years not only downplaying the grievous practice of torture adopted by the Bush administration, but who have routinely made light of the cruel tactic previously banned by the United States. 

"If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh," Rush Limbaugh once announced, and claimed"if somebody can be water-tortured six times a day, then it isn't torture." At the time of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Limbaugh routinely mocked the claims of prisoner abuse, which were confirmed by horrific photographs: "Here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever." Limbaugh dismissed the prison torture as a "fraternity prank," suggesting "Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured."

Meanwhile, Fox News' Eric Bolling once joked that the types of interrogation techniques being described in the press ("loud music, sleep deprivation, barking dogs"), sounded like "a typical weekend at my house with my twelve-year old son."

Then-Fox News host Glenn Beck greeted 2009 news of CIA interrogation revelations with fake sobs, after noting that "[c]ritics of the Bush-approved [interrogation] methods have called them torture." And that same year, Sean Hannity laughed on the air while agreeing to be waterboarded to raise money for charity. (Two thousand days later, Hannity still hasn't done it.)

That longstanding conservative attempt to make light of torture (who does that?) is now even harder to justify in light of the disturbing details contained in the new Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's five-years-in-the-making report on the Central Intelligence Agency's detention and interrogation program. (The report is told mostly via internal CIA communications.)

Aside from what the report claimed were widespread efforts by the CIA to cover-up its practice from Congressional oversight and even from the rest of the Bush administration, and that the informationextracted through torture was at times fabricated and never considered good enough to thwart an imminent terror plot or help apprehend sought-after terrorists, the key take-away remains the level of brutality inflicted as part of a systemic U.S. policy.

The report appears to obliterate claims routinely made by the Bush administration that controversial methods of "enhanced" interrogation used by the CIA was both humane and legal.

According to the report, some detainees were deprived sleep for up to a week, told they'd soon be killed in custody, and subjected to bouts of "rectal feeding" and "rectal hydration" as a form of behavior control. They were waterboarded to the point of "near drownings" and some were housed in a "dungeon"-like black site in Afghanistan, where prisoners "literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled." The dungeon was described as being completely dark, where detainees were "constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste." One detainee, "had been held partially nude and chained to the floor died," reportedly died from hypothermia.

The torture procedures were so disturbing that "some C.I.A. officers were "to the point of tears and choking up," and several said they would elect to be transferred out of the facility if the brutal interrogations continued,"according to the New York Times.

The implications of the report are profound. "I don't think it's hype to say that there has never been a day like this in American history," said legal analyst Jeffery Toobin on CNN last night. "We didn't treat the Nazis like this. We didn't' treat the Vietcong like this. This is something that is without precedent in American history."

Added a Guardian editorial, "It is one of the darkest episodes in the history of a nation that sees itself, not unreasonably in many respects and in some eras, as a beacon to the world."

For now, it appears the right-wing media jokes about torture have subsided. Instead, commentators have shifted to insisting the practice was effective and crucial to the War on Terror. (Or maybe that it wasn't really tortureat all.) But the nearly decade-long campaign to laugh off torture and treat the brutal practice as a running joke helps highlight how truly radical the conservative media in America have become.

Saudi Arabia -Two women human rights defenders continue to remain in detention for attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia

Follow us: 
Twitter: @FrontlineHRD 

11 December 2014

11 December 2014 marks the 10th day since the arrest and detention of two women human rights defenders Ms Maysaa Al-Amodi and MsLujain Al-Hathlol. On 7 December 2014 they were both informed that their detention has been extended for an additional 25 days. Both defenders were detained on 1 December 2014 for attempting to drive over the Saudi border. Maysaa Al-Amodi is currently being held at Al- Ahsa Central Prison while Lujain Al-Hathlol is held at Al- Ahsa juvenile centre for girls. The human rights defenders, as well as their families and their lawyers, are unaware of any official charges against them.

Maysaa Al-Amodi and Lujain Al-Hathlol are women's rights defenders who have advocated for the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.Lujain Al-Hathlol actively participated in the 26 October Saudi Women Driving Campaign and she posted videos of herself encouraging women to drive their cars within the context of this campaign in 2013. Maysaa Al-Amodi, who is a TV host and well known media personality, was alsovocal about the right to drive.

On 30 November 2014, Lujain Al-Hathlol drove to the Saudi border from Abu Dhabi and attempted to cross into Saudi Arabia. Although she carries a UAE driving license that is valid in all Gulf Council Countries, she was asked by the Saudi authorities to park her car at the Al-Batha border crossing until they received further notice from superiors. While they awaited this, her passport was confiscated and she was held inside her car at the border crossing overnight.

On 1 December 2014, Maysaa Al-Amodi drove from Dubai to the border crossing to bring supplies to Lujain Al-Hathlol without the intention of crossing the border to Saudi Arabia. It was reported that she parked on the UAE side of the border crossing and walked over to the border guards where she informed them that she did not intend to cross the border. She was asked by the border guards to get back into her car and to make a U-turn to return back to Dubai, which involved having to cross over the border in order to complete the U-turn. Once she crossed the border, she was immediately arrested by female officers and her car, personal items and documents were confiscated. Similarly, the following day Lujain Al-Hathlol was informed that she would be allowed to cross the border. However, once she had driven across, she was also arrested.They were taken directly to prison, Maysaa Al-Amodi was taken to Al- Ahsa Central prison and Lujain Al-Hathlol to Al- Ahsa juvenile centre for girls, a detention centre for women under the age of thirty. Since their detention, they have been interrogated by the Prosecution Office.

The two human rights defenders have not been granted access to legal representation since their detention and their lawyers have not been given access to the investigation files.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the detention of Maysaa Al-Amodi and Lujain Al-Hathlol and the fact that they have not had contact with their lawyers whilst in detention. Front Line Defenders believes that their arrest and detention is a direct result of their human rights activism.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

* Immediately and unconditionally release Maysaa Al-Amodi and Lujain Al-Hathlol, as it is believed that they are being held solely as a result of their defence of the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia;

* Allow Maysaa Al-Amodi and Lujain Al-Hathlol immediate and unfettered access to their lawyers, who must be granted access to the investigation files;

* Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Media Advisory: SCC to rule on search and seizure of cell phones

Ottawa – On December 11, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision in R. v. Fearon. This case considers whether the power to search incident to a lawful arrest includes the authority to search the contents of a cell phone.

Mr. Fearon was arrested for armed robbery. During a pat-down search in connection with the arrest, a police officer found Mr. Fearon’s cell phone. The police officer searched the contents of the phone during the arrest and found photographs of a gun and cash, along with an incriminating text message. The cell phone was seized during the arrest and was searched several times over the next couple of days. A search warrant was later obtained and the photos and text message were entered into evidence at Mr. Fearon’s trial.

The BCCLA is an intervener in this case. At the core of the BCCLA’s argument is the profound privacy interest that individuals have in their cell phones. The BCCLA argues that a warrant should always be required for the search of cell phones, even when they are found incident to a lawful arrest. Along with all manner of private information (including photos, videos, notes, calendar, financial information, contact lists, GPS location information, internet browsing history), cell phones also contain private communications. The BCCLA takes the position that cell phone searches are the modern-day equivalent of a wiretap on a phone and a search of your computer files. The BCCLA argued that the police should not be authorized to search cell phones without a warrant issued beforehand and without the heightened scrutiny required for the interception of private communications.

The BCCLA is represented by Gerald Chan and Nader Hasan of Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan.

Read more about the case here.

The BCCLA’s argument in this case is available here.

What: Supreme Court of Canada to deliver its judgment in R. v. Fearon

When: Reasons for judgment will be delivered on December 11, 2014 (9:45 am EST/6:45 am PST)

Where: Supreme Court of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)

Who: Representatives of the BCCLA available for comment

Dec 10 Justice for Deepan Support Committee: A call for political action.

Dec 10, 2014 -- Ottawa

More than 65 years ago, John Humphrey, a Canadian, authored what was to become the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Around the world people rightfully applauded their governments for unanimously supporting the 30 articles, detailing Human Rights protections that everyone is entitled to and which governments are obligated to uphold. 

Article 15 of the UN Declaration states;

“Everyone has the right to a nationality.” Further more, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality…”

Despite the historic significance of a Canadian citizen being credited with crafting of this important text and despite Canada’s ratification of the UN Declaration over 6 decades ago, – it is travesty that today’s Conservative government would purposefully strip Deepan Budlakoti of his Canadian nationality making him stateless and recently stripping him of access to healthcare services.

Deepan is not alone, a half million residents of Canada are denied healthcare coverage, which is also a violation of the spirit and intent of the UN Declaration. Article 5 of the UN Declaration says, everyone also has the right “not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet again this government violates this article by denying tens of thousands of refugees access to healthcare and by revoking Deepan’s birth right to health coverage within the province where he was born.

Commemorating a global achievement such as the UN Declaration means taking a stand to uphold these rights –for everyone. Valuing the UN Declaration also means taking solidarity actions everyday.

The Justice for Deepan Campaign is putting out a call for activists concerned about human rights abuses, and unjust changes to the Citizenship Act like revoking status in contravention of the Declaration of Human Rights to deliver a message of opposition to the Conservative government members in their riding. 

We urge activists to craft their own innovative message of community disapproval, via email blitzes or face to face meetings with Conservative MP’s.

Ideas could include, sending copies of the UN Declaration Article 15 with the message - Your in Violation!

or place signs near their offices that read:

Healthcare matters to our community! 

Deepan stays - Conservative can go!

Check out for materials and background to create your own messages. 

Be creative, be direct and be courageous, while we let this government know where they stand as an election approaches.

Western Sahara – Critical health of Mr Mbarek Daoudi who is on hunger strike after a year in pre-trial detention

10 December 2014

9 December 2014 marked the sixth week of hunger strike for Sahrawi human rights defender Mr Mbarek Daoudi which he began on 1 November 2014 in protest of his lengthy pre-trial detention and the conditions of his detention. Moroccan police arrested Mbarek Daoudi ِand three of his sons on 28 September 2013, after raiding his house in the city of Guelmim in southern Morocco. Since then, he has been in pre-trialdetention, facing military court for “possessing weapons”. He is currently detained in Salé prison and is in very poor health.

On 1 November 2014, the human rights defender started a hunger strike in protest against abuse and negligence by prison officials, as well as the delay in scheduling his trial. Mbarek Daoudi's health is rapidly deteriorating. He is reportedly unable to walk or talk and has difficulty opening his eyes. He started vomiting blood on 21 November. He is detained in an overcrowded cell with over 20 prisoners.

Mbarek Daoudi is a Sahrawi human rights defender and father of five. He served in the Moroccan Army for more than 30 years and retired in 2008. He has advocated for the right to self determination for the Sahrawipeople since his retirement. At the time of the uprising in Gdeim Izik in October and November 2010, Mbarek Daoudi mobilised families in his home region and encouraged them to join the protest camp thatconsisted of nearly 7,000 tents and was later dismantelled by the Moroccan authorities.

Mbarek Daoudi was initially arrested on 28 September 2013, after the Moroccan police raided his house on El Kharchi Street, in the centre of Guelmim, and arrested him alongside his three sons, including one who was just 17 years old. The four of them were then handcuffed and moved to an undisclosed location. Reportedly, the house of Mbarek Daoudi’s father in Legsabi, 10km from the centre of Guelmim, was also raided, where police officers found a weapon from the war against the French in 1936 that belonged to his great-grandfather. Later on, the possession of this firearm was declared as the official reason for Mbarek Daoudi's arrest. Both houses were searched without a warrant.

On Friday, 29 November 2013, Mbarek Daoudi appeared before the General Crown Prosecutor at the Permanent Court of the Royal Armed Forces in Rabat, although his trial session was originally scheduled for 30 January 2014. Reportedly, Mbarek Daoudi's lawyer was not present and the court appointed a different lawyer to provide legal assistance. In his court session on 30 January, the original date scheduledfor his initial court appearance, the trial of the human rights defender was indefinitely postponed by the Moroccan military court in Rabat. He appeared before the court in the absence of his family, international observers and Sahrawi defenders of human rights. A group of observers and lawyers from Spain and France arrived the day before to attend the trial, but they were prevented from accessing the court room.

In a separate incident, on 19 August 2013, the Guelmim Commission Court in southern Morocco issued sentences ranging from four to ten months in prison against six Sahrawi prisoners, including another two of Mbarek Daoudi's sons. They were arrested after a football match for raising the Sahrawi flag, chanting slogans, demanding the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and leading to clashes between security forces and young Sahrawis. On the day of their trial, Mbarak Dawdi's house was surrounded by police officers in civilian clothing because of a meeting he had attended with foreign observers and Sahrawi human rights activists in the capital city of the formerly Spanish colony, El Aaiun. The international observers were also prevented from attending the trial.

Mbarek Daoudi's arrest is believed to be related to his advocacy for the right to self determination of the Sahrawi people, his regular participation in peaceful demonstrations and the fact that he had testified as a witness to the execution of a family in February 1976, whose bodies were discovered in the mass grave of Amgala in June 2013.

Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned at Mbarek Daoudi's deteriorating state of health and at the allegations of mistreatment and believes that his arrest and detention are solely motivated by his peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of human rights, and his advocacy for the right to self-determination in Western Sahara.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Morocco to:
  • Immediately and unconditionally release Mbarek Daoudi;
  • Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of the human rights defender, in particular grant him access to medical attention;
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Western Sahara are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

CIA cites Israeli court ruling to “justify” torture program

by Rania Khalek Dec 10, 2014

The CIA repeatedly cited an Israeli high court decision to justify torture, according to the long-awaited US Senate report on the agency’s torture program.

This latest disclosure comes just months after revelations that the Obama administration relied on an Israeli high court ruling to justify targeted killings of American citizens without trial. 

Released Tuesday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence after months of stalling, the nearly 600-page report discloses new details about the atrocities that took place at the CIA’s network of rendition and torture sites created in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks. 

The CIA’s torture techniques — which included water-boarding, sleep and sensory deprivation, sexual torture, threats to kill and rape loved ones, mock executions, electrocution and medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” — were far more gruesome and pervasive than the agency let on.

Furthermore, the report explicitly states that the CIA lied about the torture program’s effectiveness, falsely claiming its techniques successfully extracted information that thwarted terrorist plots, including a fabricated attack “in Saudi Arabia against Israel.” 

As the CIA engaged in a deceptive propaganda campaign to mislead the American public about the program’s lawfulness and effectiveness, it relied on Israeli precedent as a legal defense.

How to legalize torture

As early as November 2001, CIA officials began brainstorming possible legal justifications for torture techniques they were already employing at black sites around the globe, culminating in a draft memorandum described by the Senate report as follows:

On 26 November 2001, attorneys in the CIA’s Office of General Counsel circulated a draft legal memorandum describing the criminal prohibition on torture and a potential “novel” legal defense for CIA officers who engaged in torture. The memorandum stated that the “CIA could argue that the torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm,” adding that “states may be very unwilling to call the US to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives.”

According to the corresponding footnote, the November memo “cited the ‘Israeli example’ as a possible basis for arguing that ‘torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.’”

The “Israeli example” was invoked again the following year in an official memorandum to the White House Office of Legal Council to the President on 1 August 2002, which “include[d] a similar analysis of the ‘necessity defense’ in response to potential charges of torture.”
Israeli loopholes

The “Israeli example” is a reference to the 1999 Israeli high court decision that supposedly outlawed the use of torture — the Israeli euphemism for which is “moderate physical pressure” — to extract confessions from Palestinian prisoners, a longstanding and widespread practice up until that time. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselemcelebrated the ruling at the time, declaring it a victory for democracy. 

In reality, the decision was filled with obvious loopholes and merely limited the circumstances under which torture techniques could be legally employed. (Israel’s high court is also known as its supreme court.)

Till this day Israeli torture of Palestinian prisoners remains widespread and no Palestinian is immune, not even children, who are systematically subjected to solitary confinement, sensory deprivation and stress positions in Israeli custody. 

Last winter, Israeli cruelty reached new heights when its prison services placed Palestinian child detainees in outdoor cages during one of the most severe winter storms to strike the region in years. 

As the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has argued, not a great deal has changed since the 1999 ruling due in large part to the high court’s inclusion of the “necessity defense” — a loophole that immunizes interrogators who use torture techniques from being held criminally liable based on the argument that they had to do it out of “necessity” to prevent loss of or harm to human life. 

Such loopholes have led to absolute impunity for Israeli torturers. Of the more than 800 complaints of torture submitted by Palestinian prisoners since 2001, exactly zero have led to criminal investigations despite the state corroborating at least 15 percent of the torture allegations, according to PCATI.

It is also notable that even the CIA methods revealed in the Senate report bear striking similarity to long-standing Israeli torture techniques documented by human rights organizations, among them sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold, confinement in very small spaces and painful “stress positions.” These are techniques that are thought to inflict maximum suffering while minimizing the risk that they will leave tell-tale signs of torture on the victim’s body. 
A ticking time bomb fiction

Strangely, even notable anti-torture liberals have been duped into believing that Israel banned torture.

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has cited the Israeli high court decision on torture as an exemplary ban the US should emulate.

“The police think that a suspect they have apprehended knows where and when a bomb is going to go off,” Ginsberg told The New York Times. “Can the police use torture to extract that information? And in an eloquent decision by Aharon Barak, then the chief justice of Israel, the court said: ‘Torture? Never,’”

According to Ginsburg, the Israeli ruling sent the message “that we could hand our enemies no greater victory than to come to look like that enemy in our disregard for human dignity.” 

Ginsburg’s takeaway from the Israeli decision is as erroneous as her racist portraryal of a Palestinian “enemy” lacking in “human dignity.” 

Far from banning torture altogether, the Israeli decision includes an unambiguous exemption for the hypothetical scenario Ginsburg lays out.

In the event of a “ticking time bomb” scenario, the Israeli decision states that “necessity defense” gives Israeli interrogators discretion to employ torture to extract information to stop an explosive from detonating.

It should be noted that even the Senate report concedes that the “ticking time bomb” so often invoked by torture enthusiasts has no basis in reality.

But even if it did, Article 2 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states: ”No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Turning to Israel for inspiration

In a desperate bid to keep the torture program alive amid growing (albeit weak) pressure from Congress in 2005, a CIA official once again turned to Israel for inspiration and a legal rationale.

The CIA attorney described the “striking” similarities between the public debate surrounding the McCain amendment [a proposed ban on torture] and the situation in Israel in 1999, in which the Israeli Supreme Court had “ruled that several… techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,” and that the Israeli government “ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques.”

The corresponding footnote adds:

The CIA attorney also described the Israeli precedent with regard to the “necessity defense” that had been invoked by CIA attorneys and the Department of Justice in 2001 and 2002. The CIA attorney wrote that the Israeli Supreme Court “also specifically considered the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario and said that enhanced techniques could not be pre-approved for such situations, but that if worse came to worse, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense, if he were ever prosecuted.”

This suggestion was adapted into a 20 July 2007 memorandum authored by then Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven G. Bradbury, who argued that based on the Israeli court case, CIA torture is “clearly authorized and justified by legislative authority.”

Sharing values

It should come as no surprise that the US is following Israel’s lead on torture given that the two nations feed off of one another’s atrocities. 

When Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike earlier this year to protest their indefinite detention, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to push through the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, a bill that would permit the force-feeding of prisoners. According to human rights groups, force-feeding amounts to cruel and inhumane punishment.

To excuse his demand for the implementation of the excruciatingly painful technique, wherein a tube is shoved through the nostril into the stomach, Netanyahu pointed to US force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay. 

When it comes to torture, few people understand the shared values that unite the US and Israel better than Rasmea Odeh.

The 67-year-old Palestinian-American activist was convicted last month of immigration fraud for failing to disclose a 1969 Israeli military court conviction based on a confession extracted under weeks of Israeli sexual torture

At the behest of the Obama administration’s Justice Department, the trial judge barredthe jury from hearing evidence about Odeh’s torture, protecting and ultimately legitimizing Israel’s system of abuse. Meanwhile, Odeh was subjected to further torture, this time at the hands of the US government, which placed her in solitary confinement for twelve consecutive days for no apparent reason until she was granted bail andreleased on Monday. 

While the depth of collusion between the US and Israeli torture programs has yet to be fully unearthed there is reason to suspect that some US methods were modeled on Israel’s.

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US has fashioned much of its counterterrorism strategy on Israel’s decades-long suppression of Palestinian resistance to its colonial ambitions. 

Invented by Israel for use against Palestinian leaders, extrajudicial targeted killings are now the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy. 

Like its targeted killing policy, Israel has spent decades perfecting torture techniques on Palestinian prisoners, designed to maximize the suffering while leaving behind few visible scars. 

So, how much did Israel influence the CIA? Perhaps the answer can be found in the original 6,000-page still classified Senate torture report that Tuesday’s release is based on. It makes one wonder what is being left out of the public record.

CIA torture and the crimes of the state

10 December 2014  

by Barry Grey

The unclassified executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, released Tuesday, describes, in extensive detail, horrific crimes that unquestionably violate domestic and international laws.

The review of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation program” documents the systematic use of sadistic forms of torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation (for up to a week at a time), head-banging, sensory deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, holding detainees in stress positions, confinement in coffin-like boxes, “rectal hydration” and “rectal feeding.” See, “Senate report on CIA interrogation details brutal torture methods.”

The report condemns these practices as illegal, immoral and ineffective, and denounces the CIA for withholding information from Congress and falsely claiming that its brutal interrogation methods helped foil terror attacks, capture and kill Al Qaeda operatives and “save lives.”

However, the most pertinent and obvious questions that arise from the report are not even being raised in the political establishment or the media: Who will be held accountable? Who will be indicted? Who will be prosecuted?

The Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, do not name a single top Bush administration official, limiting their exposé to former high-ranking CIA officials. There are no formal proposals or calls for criminal prosecutions or other actions to hold those responsible for these heinous actions accountable. The report seeks to maintain the absurd fiction that the torture program was an isolated aberration, involving only a handful of operatives.

In fact, the program of CIA torture was planned, implemented and monitored at the highest levels of the state. The cast of criminals includes President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden.

The response to the report by many of these very same criminals leaves no doubt that such methods continue, in one form or another, today, and will be employed on an even broader scale in the future. In advance of the release of the report, Bush gave an interview in which he rejected the Senate committee’s suggestion that he was deceived by the CIA about the scope and nature of the interrogation program and categorically defended it.

Cheney called talk of CIA deception “a crock” and all but accused Feinstein and her allies on the committee of treason. Hayden and a number of other former top CIA officials launched a media campaign in advance of the report’s release calling the report flawed and biased and warning that it would spark anti-American protests and terror attacks around the world. The propaganda campaign against the report continued after its release, with top Republicans and most Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee joining in.

The Obama administration too is culpable, functioning as an accomplice to the crimes described. From his first day in office, Obama worked might and main to shield CIA torturers and Bush administration officials and prevent their prosecution. In 2010, Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that the Justice Department would not prosecute CIA operatives who destroyed videotapes of CIA waterboarding sessions in 2005.

Obama made John Brennan, who oversaw the torture program as a CIA official under Bush, his chief counterterrorism adviser during his first term and elevated him to become CIA director in his second. Brennan and the White House have worked together to attempt to suppress the Senate report, withholding documents from the committee and then sitting on the completed draft of the report for two years. Under Brennan, the CIA spied on Senate staffers preparing the report, violating the constitutional separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment ban on arbitrary searches and seizures, and a number of US laws.

Congress itself, including Feinstein and the rest of the Democratic lawmakers, are also complicit in the torture program and other criminal practices. They were briefed repeatedly about the interrogation program, and if they were misled by the CIA, it is because they wanted to be misled.

Feinstein has for years been an unswerving defender of the US intelligence apparatus. She has categorically defended the National Security Agency spying programs and denounced whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea (Bradley) Manning as criminals and traitors.

The so-called liberal media has played no less an integral part. The Intelligence Committee report includes an entire section that details the manner in which the CIA fed leaks of classified information on its interrogation program to the New York Times and the Washington Post to manipulate public opinion in favor of such methods. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, articles were published and television programs produced aimed at legitimizing torture.

In her speech on the Senate floor Tuesday introducing the Intelligence Committee report, Senator Feinstein presented the torture program as an unfortunate and wrongheaded, if understandable, response to the 9/11 attacks and the need to wage the “war on terror.” This is a lie.

As the WSWS repeatedly warned, the phony war on terror was a criminal conspiracy to justify endless war abroad and a massive attack on democratic rights at home.

The CIA torture program itself was only an extreme expression of a break with bourgeois legality that characterizes every aspect of US policy. The theft of the 2000 election set the stage for the post-9/11 assault on democratic rights and creation of a police state-in-waiting, including Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Department, the Northern Command, rendition, indefinite detention, drone assassinations and mass NSA spying.

Within the United States, the police, operating in close collaboration with the military and intelligence agencies, function ever more openly as an instrument of social and political repression. The “war on terror” is being brought home.

The acts described in the Senate report reveal the essence of bourgeois rule in the United States. The response must be not merely shock and horror, but an independent political movement of the working class to put an end to the capitalist system and hold accountable the criminals that preside over it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Physicians for Human Rights: U.S. Senate Report Confirms Health Professionals’ Complicity in CIA Torture

Everyone Involved in Detainee Abuse Must be Held to Account

Media Contact
Deputy Director of Communications, New York
vjaksiclowe [at] phrusa [dot] org
Tel: 917-679-0110

New York, NY - Dec 9, 2014

In the wake of the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for accountability for all those who designed, authorized, implemented, and enabled the systematic torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

"Health professionals played a pivotal role in the abuse and brutality exposed in the CIA torture report and they must be held accountable," said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor. "They were complicit at every step, including designing the torture techniques, monitoring the infliction of severe physical and mental pain, and failing to document clear evidence of harm. What happened was unethical, unlawful, and immoral, and we must ensure it never happens again."

Health professionals' involvement in monitoring the torture techniques was central to providing legal protection to those carrying out the CIA’s program. PHR said the use of doctors and psychologists was the primary means by which the government attempted to justify torture as “safe, legal, and effective.” PHR said that the health professionals who were involved betrayed their ethical duties and profoundly harmed the people they should have been protecting.

"For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture," said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. "The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability."

PHR calls for the investigation and prosecution of all those complicit in the torture and ill-treatment of detainees and the revocation of licenses for any health professionals who participated. PHR also repeats its call for transparency, and for the U.S. government to clarify the extent to which U.S. officials and those acting at the government’s direction violated the U.N. Convention against Torture and the U.S. Constitution.

PHR has extensively documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by U.S. military and medical personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its reports, including Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, Broken Laws, Broken Lives, Aiding Torture, and Experiments in Torture.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

The Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD) statement with regard to the Canadian government decision to suspend its embassy operation in Cairo

December 9, 2014

The Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD) is troubled by our government’s latest decisions to suspend its embassy operation in Cairo and to issue an advisory for its citizens against non-essential travel to Egypt due to the security situation.

The decisions which were harshly criticized in the state-controlled Egyptian Media, followed close on the heels of the Egyptian court’s politically motivated ruling for 188 people to be sentenced to death on charges of killing 11 police officers in the town of Kerdasa in August 2013. 

Whereas ECCD commends the decisions and the concern for the safety of our Canadian diplomats and citizens, we are troubled by the Canadian Government’s continuous support for the current regime that has irrefutably failed in delivering on its key promise, to restore safety and security in Egypt. 

In spite of the harsh criticism in the Egyptian state-controlled media, we believe that, giving the inability of the regime to ensure the safety of foreign nationals, the Canadian Government decisions were appropriate measures to protect Canadian Nationals in a highly volatile and unpredictable environment. Furthermore, ECCD cautions of the regime’s history of covertly inciting violence in order to discredit the opposition movement and to crack down on all voices of dissent. ECCD holds the Egyptian government solely responsible for the safety of all Canadian citizens living in Egypt, as well as its own Egyptian citizens.

ECCD recognizes that the decisions also reflect the government’s awareness of the rapidly deteriorating security environment in Egypt, an issue that is continually raised by ECCD and other human rights organizations. ”Since the military coup of July 3rd 2013, Egyptians have been living in a republic for fear, characterized by unprecedented human rights abuses by the regime’s security apparatus, and record setting violence and crime rate.”, said Ehab Lotayef, ECCD Chairman.

“What more does the Canadian government need to publicly withdraw its support for the coup regime that robbed Egyptian’s right to democracy under the watchful eye of western democracies in the name of security and stability” asked Mr. Lotayef in a recent statement.

We call upon the Canadian government to seize the opportunity and publicly withdraw its support to the current illegitimate regime that robbed Egyptians of their January 25th revolution’s dream for economic prosperity, freedom, and social justice. 

Media contact:

For human rights defenders under threat, every day is Human Rights Day

Meaghen Simms
Executive Director
Peace Brigades International-Canada

Dec 9, 2014

The United Nations has set aside Dec 10th to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; we honour this celebration and the people who are working tirelessly to have human rights respected for you, for me and for every one of us.

But it is also a reminder that for the men and women that Peace Brigades International accompanies, human rights day never ends.

Thank you for standing up with threatened human rights defenders today and every day of the year. Together we stand with people like Yomaira Mendoza who, along with Enrique Cabezas and others, has risked everything to make sure that the displaced Afro-descendant communities of Curbaradó, Colombia can go home in peace. I was fortunate to meet with Enrique and Yomaira in Spain this fall and they wanted me to share their story with you because it is a story that Canadian business interests may have played a part in writing and one that you can help to rewrite with a happier ending.If you haven’t already, please consider a donation in support of peace today

Yomaira and Enrique are clear that they would be dead today if not for PBI’s protective accompaniment and advocacy on their behalf, and the supporters like you that make it possible. The wave of threats and attacks against the pair began in early 2014, after they testified about land grabbing in Curbaradó; a relatively peaceful place until the paramilitaries came in 1997, forcing more than 70% of the people who lived there to flee. In their absence, the land that their families depended on for survival was taken over by local and international business interests — including palm oil and banana plantations, cattle ranches, and mining companies from Canada and other countries.

In the first half of this year PBI volunteers accompanied Yomaira nearly night and day for months as the death threats and attacks against her came one after another. The threats targeted not only Yomaira, but also her children and other family members. They threatened to bury her in the land she was struggling to go home to and gave warnings like: “my boss has a lot of money and cash; we can do what we want.”

The only reason PBI can act on emergencies like this one is because your contribution makes it possible. Can you donate $35, $50 or even $100 to help us provide protection, support and solidarity to defenders when they are most in need? 

Yomaira is a land restitution leader and so much more. She is a farmer and a mother; she was a sister to her brother until he was tortured and killed by paramilitaries in 2002; she was a wife until her husband was shot dead before her eyes in 2007, not long after refusing to pay a fine for cutting trees on their own land, having returned to Curbaradó to try to find a way to support family who had been displaced to the city of Medellín. “You get to a point where you can’t part with anyone anymore,” she told me.

Yomaira and defenders like her are called “land restitution leaders” because they are struggling to return land to the over 5 million Colombians forced to flee their communities by the decades-long armed conflict. Legislation like the 2011 Land Restitution and Victims Law provides the legal basis for the right to return, but in practice implementation has been problematic and least 43 land restitution leaders have been killed since 2008.

You might ask if the risks are worth it? On that Yomaira is clear: “If we all keep our mouths shut, the impunity will go on and on; there will never be justice,” she told the Guardian newspaper in November. You can read the article “Stop investing in Colombian blood” here or learn more about Curbaradó on PBI Colombia’s website.

The land restitution leaders of Curbaradó have long been supported by the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (ICJP), a Colombian organization that Peace Brigades International has now accompanied for two decades.

While Yomaira and Enrique have had to flee Colombia, and are now in exile in Europe, they are continuing their struggle from a place of safety so that one day they can go home in peace. In the meantime in Colombia, the support of PBI and the ICJP for Curbaradó and other displaced Colombian communities is ongoing. “Thanks to the accompaniment of international organizations like PBI, at the moment there are more than 800 families living in humanitarian zones and bio div zones,” explains Enrique. “This is a pacific strategy for them to reclaim their lands.”

These are the victories that your support makes possible. These are the survivors you have helped to keep alive.

In gratitude and solidarity.

Hypocrisy of UK 'partnership' with brutal tyranny crushing democracy in Bahrain

The US and Britain claim to support secular democracy and civil rights in countries such as Libya and Syria while in alliance with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and UAE.

Patrick Cockburn 08 December 2014. 

The British decision to spend £15m establishing a naval base at Mina Salman Port in Bahrain is being presented as a "symbolic" deal to increase stability in the region, guard against unnamed threats and strengthen Britain's partnership with the states of the Gulf.

The agreement will identify Britain as an old colonial power strongly supporting the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain that mercilessly crushed demands for democracy and civil rights from the island's Shia majority during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Even by the standards of the time, repression was excessive. Shia mosques and holy places were bulldozed. Doctors at the main hospital in Bahrain that treated injured protesters were tortured by being forced to stand without sleep for days on end. Other prisoners were told that unless they sang the praises of the king their interrogators would urinate into their mouths.

At the heart of the crisis convulsing this part of the Middle East is a struggle between Sunni and Shia, and Britain has openly taken the side of the former. It may not necessarily be a good long-term investment.

The total population of states bordering on the Gulf is about 145 million of whom at least 110 million are Shia. It is a mistake to think that the Shia in the rest of the Middle East do not notice or care what happens to their co-religionists in Bahrain. The Islamic State (Isis) fighters have become the shock troops of the Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria but their extremism and international isolation may lead to a defeat for the Sunni in both countries.

There is no question about Bahrain's toxic human rights record. An independent inquiry in 2011 catalogued abuses and, despite promises of reform, torture and mistreatment continue.

Last year even the United States State Department, normally cautious when it comes to highlighting the failings of the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, said that the abuses in Bahrain included "citizens' inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights."

Only last week Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison for "insulting the king" by tearing up his photograph. She had just given birth to her second child, and is free on bail pending appeal. Her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is already in jail serving a life term for his role in encouraging the Arab Spring protests.

Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain's leading human rights activists, was arrested on 1 October because he "offended national institutions" by his comments on social media. Mr Rajab had criticised the government for using counterterrorism laws to prosecute human rights defenders, and had accused the Bahraini security forces of encouraging violent beliefs similar to those of IS.

He pointed out that a former Bahraini interior ministry officer, Mohamed Isa al-Binali, had joined Isis and was calling on other interior ministry employees to do likewise. Among Mr Rajab's tweets was one saying: "Many Bahrain men who joined terrorism & Isis came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator." The Bahraini security forces often draw their personnel from other Sunni states such as Pakistan and Jordan and they then become naturalised Bahraini citizens. The Bahraini Shia say there is a continuing campaign to deny them jobs in all sectors and to change the demographic balance on the island in favour of the Sunni.

There has always been a strong strain of hypocrisy in the claims of the US and Britain to support secular democracy and civil rights in countries such as Libya and Syria. They do so in alliance with Sunni theocratic absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and UAE which understandably have no interest in spreading secular democracy anywhere. In 2011, UAE said it would refuse to join the coalition against the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi if there was any criticism of Bahraini repression.

The most powerful figure in Bahrain is widely regarded as being not King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa but the Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa who has held his office since 1970. Calls for his resignation were one of the main demands of demonstrators three years ago, but he has steadfastly refused to step down.

Bahrain was a British protectorate from the 19th century until independence in 1971, ruled by the al-Khalifa dynasty that has long looked to Britain to shield it from international reaction against domestic repression. From the mid-1960s the head of security on the island was Ian Henderson who had played a role in the suppressing the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s. Successive periods of protest were harshly dealt with.

Since 2011 Britain has played a role in muting the international reaction to the suppression of the protests by emphasising that a dialogue is under way and reforms are being introduced, though nobody else sees any sign of these going anywhere. It has played along with Bahraini government claims that Iran is orchestrating Shia dissent on the island though there is no evidence for this.

Sectarian hatreds between the Sunni and Shia communities within Bahrain have deepened in the last three years with the Shia more marginalised than ever. There had been divisions within the royal family about how to handle dissent, with the King and Crown Prince seeking compromise and the Prime Minister and the branch of the al-Khalifa known as "Khawalids" opposed to sharing any power with the majority. But these differences seem to have ended with a victory for the latter faction which can increasingly ignore Shia protests that are confined to villages and the outskirts of the capital, Manama.

It is not at all clear why Britain needs to establish its first permanent naval base in the Middle East since 1970 in Bahrain, other than the fact that it is possible to do so.

British intervention in Iraq after 2003 saw the deployment of ground troops in Basra, but they were far too few to control the city or the surrounding countryside. There was a political failure to understand the degree of popular hostility and resistance this force would face.

Much the same happened in Helmand Province in Afghanistan after 2006, when again the numbers of British soldiers were too few to assert control while they were enough to provoke local opposition.

The base in Bahrain will be used to support RAF operations against the Islamic State in Iraq, but these are on such a small scale that they will not do much to affect the outcome of the war with Isis. Most British disasters in the Middle East over the past century have stemmed from wishing to be a major player in the region, while underestimating the resources necessary to do so.

Monday, December 8, 2014

To fight fundamentalism and gender violence, 'throw books,' not bombs, Nobel laureate Ebadi says

Posted December 8, 2014

by Ushma Patel, Office of Communications

With passion and humor, Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi called for an intellectual response rather than military action against religious fundamentalism in a talk Thursday, Dec. 4, at Princeton University.

"What counts is to eliminate the grounds that these type of people thrive on," such as illiteracy, said Ebadi, who spoke in Farsi with friend Shirin Ershadi serving as translator. "Western countries should use the budget that they allocate to fight groups like ISIS to building schools. Instead of throwing bombs on ISIS, we have to throw books at them.

Shirin Ebadi (left), an Iranian human rights activist and winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, discusses the ways individuals, media and governments can work to balance human rights and religious beliefs, with the help of her translator, Shirin Ershadi. (Photo by B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs)

"We have all witnessed how the terrorists are scared of schools. Look at what happened to Malala Yousafzai," said Ebadi, referring to the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls' education and who was a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Ebadi, who won the Nobel Prize in 2003, is a lawyer who has fought for democracy and human rights, particularly for women and children. Ebadi visited Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Dec. 3 and 4 as the 2014 Joseph S. Nye Jr. '58 International Lecturer. Her visit also was part of the Wilson School's Leadership Through Mentorship program, in which prominent policymakers visit the school for several days to meet with students.

Introducing Ebadi, Wilson School Dean Cecilia Rouse called Ebadi "one of the world's notable champions of human rights" and said, "She has dedicated her life to protecting and defending Iran's most marginalized and vulnerable."

Ebadi was Iran's first female judge, but she and all other female judges were removed from their posts after Iran's 1979 revolution. She was able to return to private practice as a lawyer in 1992, defending many controversial political and human rights cases against the government. Using some of her Nobel Prize award funds, she established the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights in Iran. She has not returned to Iran since 2009 due to heightened pressure on human rights activists.
Updating the interpretation of religious laws

Ebadi began by talking about the widespread existence of discrimination and violence against women, listing examples of widows shunned in India, genital mutilation in Liberia, domestic violence in Italy and economic inequality in Finland, as well as legal inequality and terrorist kidnappings in Islamic countries.

"Unfortunately, I have to say, in all countries of our world and all of our societies, violence against women still exists. But it appears differently in different countries and different societies," she said.

Similarly, religious fundamentalism and violence exist in many countries, Ebadi said, giving examples of the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar, Chechnya and China. But as a Muslim woman, she said, she wanted to specifically address whether Islam and Shariah — Islamic law — call for violence against women.

At its birth, Islam afforded women more rights than they had in Arab countries, such as giving them the right to inherit property, she said. While laws governing the relationship with God, such as rules about praying or fasting, cannot be changed, those that deal with people's relationship to society should be modernized, Ebadi said.

For example, she said, adultery by women is not accepted in Shariah, but the penalty should be adjusted from stoning, which was prevalent 15 centuries ago, to financial penalties in a divorce, and should be applied for both men and women, Ebadi said.

"This way the general spirit of the law regarding adultery will be preserved but the punishment is changed according to the time that we live in," Ebadi said. "On the basis of the same argument, modern Muslims believe that they can change many rules of the Islamic law and bring them up to the standard of human rights.

"Muslims, and specifically Muslim women, expect the media in the West, the schools in the West, universities in the West, intellectuals in the West, to help them in this matter and bring their voice to the rest of the world," she said. She added, "Most importantly, governments that claim that they support human rights should not be supporting the fundamentalist governments that do not support women's rights."

Governments will not be able to defeat fundamentalist ideology with military action, pointing to the United States' 13-year fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ebadi said.

"Young people should know that violence is contagious, and if we resort to violence, we will see violence," she said.

Instead, "we can and should live in peace and in friendship," Ebadi said. "This world may be like a dream today, but let's not forget that dreams have been the source of many movements in the world."
Students engage with Ebadi

In the question-and-answer session, freshman Omid Abrishamchian asked Ebadi what the United States' role should be in on the world stage. She said that as a leading power, the United States should accept and participate in international legal conventions, such as the International Criminal Court, and U.S. citizens should vote for politicians who respect international law.

"I liked the fact that she's very outspoken in her opinions, and she brought her answer to our level too, in terms of how we should vote," said Abrishamchian, who plans to major in operations research and financial engineering. "Anytime you have the chance to hear a Nobel Peace Prize laureate talk, it's an opportunity worth taking."

During her visit, Ebadi met with students over lunch, dinner and coffees; attended an undergraduate class, "Civil Society and Public Policy," taught by Stanley Katz, a lecturer with the rank of professor in public and international affairs; and had multiple one-on-one meetings with students during office hours. In total, about 125 students had the chance to meet with her in small, off-the-record settings to discuss her work, students' career paths and policy issues.

Magda Anchondo decided to attend the talk after being inspired by Ebadi during a lunch meeting the previous day. Anchondo, a Master in Public Affairs student, co-chairs the Gender and Policy Network at the Wilson School and her work focuses on adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

"I particularly liked her emphasis on discrimination and violence against women. I liked how she touched on it on a universal spectrum, and how she got into the crux of how it's one thing for Western governments to say that it's wrong and then to also collude with them in commercial engagements," she said. "Reproductive health has also been fraught with a lot of talk of discrimination against women in the United States and internationally, so it was good to get a more cerebral view of things that are going on rather than tackling a specific issue."

Leadership Through Mentorship program visitors this fall have included former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, who is now the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change, and Princeton alumnus David Risher, president of Worldreader, a nonprofit that aims to improve global literacy rates by providing e-readers to schools in the developing world.

The program continues in the spring semester with guests including former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, environmental economist and Harvard University professor Robert Stavins, and social justice activist Sister Simone Cambell.

A Society of Captives

By Chris Hedges --- December 8, 2014

Police and national intelligence and security agencies, which carry out wholesale surveillance against the population and serve as the corporate elite's brutal enforcers, are omnipotent by intention. They are designed to impart fear, even terror, to keep the population under control. And until the courts and the legislative bodies give us back our rights--which they have no intention of doing--things will only get worse.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's plans to launch a pilot program in New York City to place body cameras on police officers and conduct training seminars to help them reduce their adrenaline rushes and abusive language, along with the establishment of a less stringent marijuana policy, are merely cosmetic reforms. The killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island was, after all, captured on video. These proposed reforms, like those out of Washington, D.C., fail to address the underlying cause of poverty, state-sponsored murder and the obscene explosion of mass incarceration -- the rise of the corporate state and the death of our democracy. Mass acts of civil disobedience, now being carried out across the country, are the only mechanism left that offers hope for systematic legal and judicial reform. We must defy the corporate state, not work with it.

The legal system no longer functions to protect ordinary Americans. It serves our oligarchic, corporate elites. These elites have committed $26 billion in financial fraud. They loot the U.S. Treasury, escape taxation, drive down wages, break unions, pillage pension funds, gut regulation and oversight, destroy public institutions including public schools and social assistance programs, wage endless and illegal wars to swell the profits of arms merchants, and -- yes -- authorize police to murder unarmed black men.

Police and national intelligence and security agencies, which carry out wholesale surveillance against the population and serve as the corporate elite's brutal enforcers, are omnipotent by intention. They are designed to impart fear, even terror, to keep the population under control. And until the courts and the legislative bodies give us back our rights -- which they have no intention of doing -- things will only get worse for the poor and the rest of us. We live in a post-constitutional era.

Corporations have captured every major institution, including the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, and deformed them to exclusively serve the demands of the market. They have, in the process, demolished civil society. Karl Polanyi in "The Great Transformation"warned that without heavy government regulation and oversight, unfettered and unregulated capitalism degenerates into a Mafia capitalism and a Mafia political system.

A self-regulating market, Polanyi writes, turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities. This ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment. The ecosystem and human beings become objects whose worth is determined solely by the market. They are exploited until exhaustion or collapse occurs. A society that no longer recognizes that the natural world and life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves. This is what we are undergoing. Literally.

As in every totalitarian state, the first victims are the vulnerable, and in the United States this means poor people of color. In the name of the "war on drugs" or the necessity of enforcing immigration laws, those trapped in our urban internal colonies are effectively stripped of their rights. Police, who arrest some 13 million people a year -- 1.6 million of them on drug charges and half of those on marijuana counts -- were empowered by the "war on drugs" to carry out random searches and sweeps with no probable cause.

They take DNA samples from many whom they arrest to build a nationwide database that includes both the guilty and the innocent. And they charge each of the sampled arrestees $50 for DNA processing. They confiscate cash, cars, homes and other possessions based on allegations of illegal drug activity and use the proceeds to swell police budgets. They impose fines in poor neighborhoods for absurd offenses -- riding a bicycle on a sidewalk or not having an ID -- to fleece the poor or, if they cannot pay, toss them into jail.

And before deporting undocumented workers the state levels fines, often in the thousands of dollars, on those being held by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in order to empty their pockets before they are shipped out. Prisoners locked in cages often spend decades attempting to pay off thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands, in court fines from the paltry $28 a month they earn in prison jobs; the government, to make sure it gets its money, automatically deducts a percentage each month from their prison paychecks. It is a vast extortion racket run against the poor by the corporate state, which also makes sure that the interest rates of mortgages, car loans, student loans and credit card loans are set at predatory levels.

Since 1980 the United States has constructed the world's largest prison system, populated with 2.3 million inmates, 25 percent of the world's prison population. Police, to keep the system filled with bodies, have had most legal constraints on their behavior removed. They serve as judge and jury on the streets of American cities. Such expansion of police powers is "a long step down the totalitarian path," U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas warned in 1968. The police, who are often little more than predatory, armed gangs in inner-city neighborhoods, arbitrarily decide who lives, who dies and who spends years in prison. They rarely fight crime or protect the citizen. They round up human beings like cattle to meet arrest quotas, the prerequisite for receiving federal cash in the "drug war."

Because many crimes carry long mandatory sentences it is easy to intimidate defendants into "pleading out" on lesser offenses. The arrested are acutely aware they have no chance -- 97 percent of all federal cases and 94 percent of all state cases are resolved by guilty pleas rather than trials. An editorial in The New York Times said that the pressure employed by state and federal prosecutors to make defendants accept guilty pleas -- an action that often includes waiving the right to appeal to a higher court -- is "closer to coercion" than to bargaining. There are always police informants who, to reduce their own sentences, will tell a court anything demanded of them by the police. And, as we saw after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and after the killing of Garner, the word of police officers and prosecutors, whose loyalty is to the police, is law.

A Department of Defense program known as 1033, which was begun in the 1990s and which the National Defense Authorization Act allowed along with federal homeland security grants to the states, has provided $4.3 billion in military equipment to local police forces, either free or on permanent loan, the website ProPublica reported. The militarization of the police, which includes outfitting departments with heavy machine guns, ammunition magazines, night vision equipment, aircraft and armored vehicles, has effectively turned urban police, and increasingly rural police as well, into quasi-military forces of occupation.

"Police conduct up to 80,000 SWAT raids a year in the US, up from 3,000 a year in the early '80s," reporter Hanqing Chen wrote in ProPublica. The American Civil Liberties Union, in Chen's words, found that "almost 80 percent of SWAT team raids are linked to search warrants to investigate potential criminal suspects, not for high-stakes 'hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.' He went on to say, "The ACLU also noted that SWAT tactics are used disproportionately against people of color."

The bodies of the incarcerated poor fuel our system of neo-slavery. In prisons across the country, including the one in which I teach, private corporations profit from captive prison labor. The incarcerated work eight-hour days for as little as a dollar a day. Phone companies, food companies, private prisons and a host of other corporations feed like jackals off those we hold behind bars. And the lack of employment and the collapse of education and vocational training in communities across the United States are part of the design. This design -- with its built-in allure from the illegal economy, the only way for many of the poor to make a living -- ensures rates of recidivism of over 60 percent. There are millions of poor people for whom this country is little more than a vast penal colony.

Lawyer Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,"identifies what she calls a criminal "caste system." This caste system controls the lives of not only the 2.3 million people who are incarcerated but also the 4.8 million people on probation or parole. Millions more people are forced into "permanent second-class citizenship" by their criminal records, which make employment, higher education and public assistance difficult or impossible, Alexander says.

Totalitarian systems accrue to themselves omnipotent power by first targeting and demonizing a defenseless minority. Poor African-Americans, like Muslims, have been stigmatized by elites and the mass media. The state, promising to combat the "lawlessness" of the demonized minority, demands that authorities be emancipated from the constraints of the law. Arguments like this one were used to justify the "war on drugs" and the "war on terror." But once any segment of the population is stripped of equality before the law, as poor people of color and Muslims have been, once police are permitted under the law to become omnipotent, brutal and systematically oppressive tactics are invariably employed against the wider society. The corporate state has no intention of carrying out legal reforms to curb the omnipotence of its organs of internal security. They were made omnipotent on purpose.

Matt Taibbi in his book, "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap," brilliantly illustrates how poverty, in essence, has become a crime. He spent time in courts where wealthy people who had committed documented fraud amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars never had to stand trial and in city courts where the poor were called to answer for crimes that, until I read his book, I did not know existed. Standing in front of your home, he shows in one case, can be an arrestable offense.

"That's what nobody gets, that the two approaches to justice may individually make a kind of sense, but side-by-side they're a dystopia, where common city courts become factories for turning poor people into prisoners, while federal prosecutors on the white-collar beat turn into overpriced garbage men, who behind closed doors quietly dispose of the sins of the rich for a fee," Taibbi writes. "And it's evolved this way over time and for a thousand reasons, so that almost nobody is aware of the whole picture, the two worlds so separate that they're barely visible to each other. The usual political descriptors like 'unfairness' and 'injustice' don't really apply. It's more like a breakdown into madness."

Hannah Arendt warned that once any segment of the population is denied rights, the rule of law is destroyed. When laws do not apply equally to all they are treated as "rights and privileges." When the state is faced with growing instability or unrest, these "privileges" are revoked. Elites who feel increasingly threatened by the wider population do not "resist the temptation to deprive all citizens of legal status and rule them with an omnipotent police," Arendt writes.

This is what is taking place now. The corporate state and its organs of internal security are illegitimate. We are a society of captives.