July 23, 2014 archive

Your Terrorism Industrial Complex Tax Dollars at Work


Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions (.pdf)

Human Rights Watch, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

July 2014


Terrorism entails horrifying acts, often resulting in terrible losses of human life. Governments have a duty under international human rights law to take reasonable measures to protect people within their jurisdictions from acts of violence. When crimes are committed, governments also have a duty to carry out impartial investigations, to identify those responsible, and to prosecute suspects before independent courts. These obligations require ensuring fairness and due process in investigations and prosecutions, as well as humane treatment of those in custody.

However, since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, the United States government has failed to meet its international legal obligations with respect to its investigations and prosecutions of terrorism suspects, as well as its treatment of terrorism suspects in custory.

This has been true with regard to foreign terrorism suspects detained at the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most of whom are being held indefinitely without charge. And, as this report documents, it is also too often true with regard to American Muslim defendants investigated, tried, and convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in the US criminal justice system.

This report examines 27 such cases-from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement-and documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement. Since the September 11 attacks, more than 500 individuals have been prosecuted in US federal courts for terrorism or related offenses-40 cases per year on average. Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks. But many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.

Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act. According to multiple studies, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

In such instances, the government’s purpose appears to have been preventive: to root out and prosecute individuals it believes might eventually plan and carry out terrorism. To this end, it has substantially changed its approach, loosening regulations and standards governing the conduct of terrorism investigations.

While some of these cases involved foreign nationals and conduct overseas, or individuals who are not Muslim, many of the most high-profile terrorism prosecutions have focused on “homegrown” terrorist threats allegedly posed by American Muslims.

Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute found that at times, in aggressively pursuing terrorism threats before they even materialize, US law enforcement overstepped its role by effectively participating in developing terrorism plots-in at least two cases even offering the defendants money to entice them to participate in the plot.

In theory, the defendants in these cases should be able to avoid criminal liability by making a claim of “entrapment.” However, US law requires that to prove entrapment a defendant show both that the government induced him to commit the act in question and that he was not “predisposed” to commit it. This predisposition inquiry focuses attention on the defendant’s background, opinions, beliefs, and reputation-in other words, not on the crime, but on the nature of the defendant. This character inquiry makes it exceptionally difficult for a defendant to succeed in raising the entrapment defense, particularly in the terrorism context, where inflammatory stereotypes and highly charged characterizations of Islam and foreigners often prevail. Indeed, no claim of entrapment has been successful in a US federal terrorism case to date. European human rights law-instructive for interpreting internationally recognized fair trial rights-suggests that the current formulation of the US defense of entrapment may not comport with fair trial standards.

Meanwhile, the law enforcement practices described in this report have alienated the very communities the government relies on most to report possible terrorist threats and diverted resources from other, more effective ways, of responding to the threat of terrorism. Its proclaimed success in convicting alleged terrorist conspirators has come with serious and unnecessary costs to the rights of many of those prosecuted and convicted, to their families and communities, to the public, and to the rule of law. Ultimately, these costs threaten to undermine the goal of preventing and effectively prosecuting and sanctioning terrorism crimes.

Our research explored cases from a chronological and geographic cross-section of the post-September 11 terrorism prosecutions. Cases spanned the months immediately after the September 11 attacks to more recent indictments, in order to explore which trends, if any, persisted or developed over time. We also sought cases from across the United States to examine the impact of such prosecutions on various American Muslim communities and to account for regional investigative and prosecutorial differences. Cases include prosecutions for material support and conspiracy, some resulting in sentences of more than 15 years or life imprisonment.

These cases do not constitute a representative sample that would allow us to generalize about all federal prosecutions, but they raise troubling questions about the fairness and effectiveness of many of the policies, practices, and tactics employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Justice Department, and the Bureau of Prisons in terrorism cases.

In some cases, the unfairness arises from the application of certain laws, some of which Congress greatly expanded after September 11, including material support laws, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Report: All But Four Of The High-Profile Domestic Terrorism Plots In The Last Decade Were Crafted From The Ground Up By The FBI

by Tim Cushing, Tech Dirt

Wed, Jul 23rd 2014

Human Rights Watch has just published a report containing the facts needed to back up everyone’s suspicions (.pdf) that the FBI counterterrorism efforts are almost solely composed of breaking up “plots” of its own design. And the bigger and more high-profile the “bust” was, the better the chance that FBI agents laid the foundation, constructed the walls… basically did everything but allow the devised plot to reach its designed conclusion.

Of those four exceptions, two (Boston Bombing/LAX shooting) were successfully pulled off. Feeling safer with the g-men’s increased focus on preventing terrorist attacks?

Within the report is even more damning information that shows the FBI preyed on weak individuals in order to rack up “wins” in the War on Terror.

As much as the DHS and FBI have stated concerns about “radicalization” and domestic terrorism, those captured in FBI sting operations were strongly pushed in that direction by informants and undercover agents. The FBI created threats where none existed.

This sort of activity should have been treated as “own goals” by the agency and some of the more credulous press. Instead, these busts are touted as evidence of the agency’s superior skill and effort, something more closely related to extolling the prowess of someone who has just scored on an empty net.

The FBI took a man whose main hobbies were “watching cartoons” and “playing Pokemon,” a man who a forensic psychologist described (during the trial) as “highly susceptible to the suggestions of others” and fashioned him into a supposed terrorist. The planned subway bombing never happened, thanks to the FBI’s keenly-honed ability to capture terrorists it created. Arrested with the would-be subway bomber was his “co-conspirator,” a high school dropout with drug problems and clinically-diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia.

There’s nothing to celebrate about victories like these. The emphasis on creating plots just to shut them down diverts resources from actual threats — ones arising without huge amounts of FBI prompting. All this does is ensure the agency’s anti-terror funding remains intact — money that will be largely wasted on the FBI’s sting operation Ouroboros. And while the FBI plays with its terrorist dress-up dolls, the real threats will go undetected.


Ineffective and Gutless

Right-wing obstruction could have been fought: An ineffective and gutless presidency’s legacy is failure

Thomas Frank, Salon

Sunday, Jul 20, 2014 07:00 AM EST

(A)ll presidential museums are exercises in getting their subject off the hook, and for Obama loyalists looking back at his years in office, the need for blame evasion will be acute. Why, the visitors to his library will wonder, did the president do so little about rising inequality, the subject on which he gave so many rousing speeches? Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?

Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn’t do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn’t reason with them-their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls-they’d gerrymandered so many states that they couldn’t be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all-for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp-heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

But bipartisanship as an ideal must also be kept sacred, of course. And so, after visitors to the Obama Library have passed through the Gallery of Drones and the Big Data Command Center, they will be ushered into a maze-like exhibit designed to represent the president’s long, lonely, and ultimately fruitless search for consensus. The Labyrinth of the Grand Bargain, it might be called, and it will teach how the president bravely put the fundamental achievements of his party-Social Security and Medicare-on the bargaining table in exchange for higher taxes and a smaller deficit. This will be described not as a sellout of liberal principle but as a sacred quest for the Holy Grail of Washington: a bipartisan coming-together on “entitlement reform,” which every responsible D.C. professional knows to be the correct way forward.

What will the Obama library have to say about the people who recognized correctly that it was time for “Change” and who showed up at his routine campaign appearances in 2008 by the hundreds of thousands?

It will be a tricky problem. On the up side, those days before his first term began were undoubtedly Obama’s best ones. Mentioning them, however, will remind the visitor of the next stage in his true believers’ political evolution: Disillusionment. Not because their hero failed to win the Grand Bargain, but because he wanted to get it in the first place-because he seemed to believe that shoring up the D.C. consensus was the rightful object of all political idealism. The movement, in other words, won’t fit easily into the standard legacy narrative. Yet it can’t simply be deleted from the snapshot.

Perhaps there will be an architectural solution for this problem. For example, the Obama museum’s designers could make the exhibit on the movement into a kind of blind alley that physically reminds visitors of the basic doctrine of the Democratic Party’s leadership faction: that liberals have nowhere else to go.

My own preference would be to let that disillusionment run, to let it guide the entire design of the Obama museum. Disillusionment is, after all, a far more representative emotion of our times than Beltway satisfaction over the stability of some imaginary “center.” So why not memorialize it? My suggestion to the designers of the complex: That the Obama Presidential Library be designed as a kind of cenotaph, a mausoleum of hope.

Person Of Paradox

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

July 22, 2014

(O)n the issue of the economy, and the people who wrecked it and then sold off the pieces, and then, by and large, got away clean, there were some things the president could have done, and didn’t do, that lead me to believe that, on this issue, Frank is more right than he is wrong. For example, there was no reason to involve Bob Rubin in the transition team, much less to staff the Treasury Department with Rubin-esque clones. Hell, Tim Geithner didn’t have to be Treasury Secretary. There was nothing stopping the president in 2008 from appointing a tough assistant U.S. Attorney to be an assistant secretary of the Treasury tasked with vigorously investigating the causes of the economic meltdown, and whatever crimes were involved therein. The Republicans would have raised hell, but they were going to do that anyway. It’s hard to see a Democratic Congress defunding the Treasury Department, but I admit there’s no telling what mischief Max Baucus might have concocted. The president faced unprecedented opposition employing unprecedented tactics. However, “looking forward, not back” on many issues was a conscious governing strategy.

The Breakfast Club 7-23-2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Everyone’s welcome here, no special handshake required. Just check your meta at the door.

Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpg

This Day in History

On This Day In History July 23

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 23 is the 204th day of the year (205th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 161 days remaining until the end of the year.

THE GREAT COMET OF 1997. Above, the bright head of comet Hale-Bopp, called the coma, is pointed towards the Sun. The coma is composed of dust and gas, masking the solid nucleus of the comet made up of rock, dust and ice. Photo taken by Jim Young at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories Table Mountain Observatory in March 1997.

The comet was discovered in 1995 by two independent observers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, both in the United States. Hale had spent many hundreds of hours searching for comets without success, and was tracking known comets from his driveway in New Mexico when he chanced upon Hale-Bopp just after midnight. The comet had an apparent magnitude of 10.5 and lay near the globular cluster M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Hale first established that there was no other deep-sky object  near M70, and then consulted a directory of known comets, finding that none were known to be in this area of the sky. Once he had established that the object was moving relative to the background stars, he emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, the clearing house for astronomical discoveries.

Bopp did not own a telescope. He was out with friends near Stanfield, Arizona observing star clusters and galaxies when he chanced across the comet while at the eyepiece of his friend’s telescope. He realized he might have spotted something new when, like Hale, he checked his star maps to determine if any other deep-sky objects were known to be near M70, and found that there were none. He alerted the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams through a Western Union telegram. Brian Marsden, who has run the bureau since 1968, laughed, “Nobody sends telegrams anymore. I mean, by the time that telegram got here, Alan Hale had already e-mailed us three times with updated coordinates.”

The following morning, it was confirmed that this was a new comet, and it was named Comet Hale-Bopp, with the designation C/1995 O1. The discovery was announced in International Astronomical Union circular 6187.

Le Tour 2014: Stage 17, Saint-Gaudens / Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet

Le.  Tour.  De.  France.

So the story yesterday was Movistar and Astana setting a blistering pace that eventually delivered the stage win to Michael Rodgers, one of the oldest riders in the Tour and a Time Trial specialist, and protecting Vincenzo Nibali’s maillot jaune.  The defense of Nibali was a little less successful since it failed to drop either of the top 2 contenders much, but it left Tejay Van Garderen, the highest ranked U.S. rider remaining, in the dust and probably out of contention for a podium spot.  Thibaut Pinot was able to take a good chunk out of his 2 main rivals, Romain Bardet and ean-Christophe Péraud. The decisive move was up the Beyond Category Port de Balès where Rodgers and Thomas Voeckler had a minor exchange over whether Voeckler was doing his fair share of the pace setting.

On the stage it was Michael Rogers, Thomas Voeckler, Vasili Kiryenka, José Serpa, and Cyril Gautier tied at :09, Greg Van Avermaet (:13), Michal Kwiatkowski (:36), Matteo Montaguti (:50), Tom Jelte Slagter and Tony Gallopin tied at 2:11, Jan Bakelants (3:33), Florian Vachon (3:45), and Anthony Delaplace and Kévin Reza tied at 4:47.  Everyone else was more than 8 minutes behind.  In the General Classification it is Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde BelMonte (4:37), Thibaut Pinot (5:06), Jean-Christophe Péraud (6:08), Romain Bardet (6:40), Tejay Van Garderen (9:25), and Leopold Konig (9:32).  Everyone else is over 11 minutes behind.  For Points it is Peter Sagan (402), Bryan Coquard (226), Alexander Kristoff (217), Marcel Kittel (177), Mark Renshaw (153), Greg Van Avermaet (147), André Greipel (143), and Vincenzo Nibali (134).  Everyone else is 29 points behind.  In the Climbing contest it is Rafal Majka (89), Joaquim Rodriguez (88), and Vincenzo Nibali (86).  Everyone else is 25 points behind.  In Team competition it is AG2R, Belkin (26:21), and Sky (39:19).  Everybody else is about 55 minutes or more behind.  In Youth it is Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot (1:34), and  Michal Kwiatkowski (6:22).  Everybody else is 55 minutes or more behind.

In today’s 77 and a third miles from Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet there are “only” 4 climbs, 3 Category 1 and 1 Beyond Category.  The Sprint Checkpoint is early, before any real climbing.

Distance Name Length Category
Km 57.5 Col du Portillon (1 292 m) 8.3 @ 7.1% 1
Km 82.0 Col de Peyresourde (1 569 m) 13.2 @ 7% 1
Km 102.5 Col de Val Louron-Azet (1 580 m) 7.4 @ 8.3% 1
Km 124.5 Montée de Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet (1 680 m) 10.2 @ 8.3% H

The Col du Portillon and Col de Peyresourde are nothing special as far as Category 1 climbs go, but the Col de Val Louron-Azet and Montée de Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet are very steep with a little over 3 km and 4 km respectively of 10% gradient each.  The Montée de Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet is also quite long and though it flattens a little at the very end is basically an up hill finish.

Late Night Karaoke

TDS/TCR (Flaming Telepaths)


Why we don’t do I/P (without pre-approval) here.

Yup.  Always ends up like that.  Every.  single.  time.


I think I’ll spare you Nancy’s two segments, but for tonight’s guests and the real news join me below.