Some Rays Of Hope Shining Through The Darkness

Perhaps I am wrong (I always hope that I am on such matters) with regards to our democracies losing themselves beyond redemption. Just this week alone, some rays of hope have been shining brightly which leaves me to wonder if we are indeed on the road to reclaim our democratic, civil liberties and human rights values in order to hold onto them honestly and sincerely once and for all:

Case #1: Citing Weak Evidence, Judge Orders Guantanamo Detainee Freed (via C&L)

A federal judge ordered the release yesterday of a detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ruling that the government's evidence is too weak to justify the man's continued confinement.

It is the second time that U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon has ordered the release of a detainee after examining government evidence, most of it classified. Leon said that the Justice Department failed to prove that Mohammed El Gharani, 21, is an enemy combatant because it relied heavily on statements made by two other detainees whose credibility is questionable.

"A mosaic of tiles this murky reveals nothing about this petitioner with sufficient clarity" to justify his detention, Leon ruled.

Gharani, a citizen of Chad, was picked up in Pakistan and turned over to the United States in 2002. Since then, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay.

The government alleged that Gharani traveled to Afghanistan and trained at an al-Qaeda-affiliated military camp, fought in the battle of Tora Bora and was a courier for high-level al-Qaeda members.

The government also accused Gharani of belonging to a London-based al-Qaeda cell in 1998, an accusation that Leon questioned. Gharani was 11 at the time, living with immigrant parents in Saudi Arabia, his attorneys said.

(Keep reading ...)

Case #2: Former Gitmo prosecutor rips military trials, calling interrogators' practices 'despicable' (also via here)

In a declaration submitted to a Washington D.C. District Court Tuesday, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a former prosecutor in the Military Commission trial system, delivered perhaps the most blistering attack on the US military's detention program by a former member of the Pentagon's team to date.

Speaking of the man he was once tasked to prosecute, Vandeveld said prisoner Mohamed Jawad's continued detention is "something beyond a travesty," and urged that Jawad be released given a "lack of any credible evidence."

Some of this information was revealed in September 2008, after Vandeveld resigned as a prosecutor, complaining that "potentially exculpatory evidence" had "not been provided" to Jawad's defense team, and that his accidental discovery of information relating to Jawad's abuse helped convert him from a "true believer to someone who felt truly deceived."

Vandeveld's declaration today constitutes the most sustained criticism of the Bush administration's trial system for terror suspects since Col. Morris Davis, the Commission's former Chief Prosecutor, resigned in 2007. Col. Davis said he'd quit because of the politicization of the trial system, attempts to endorse the use of evidence obtained through torture, and the refusal of Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes II to accept that any planned trials could end in acquittals.

Vandeveld's statement, seen by Raw Story, explained that he joined OMC-P in May 2007, and described how, based on his civilian experience as a Senior Deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania, he initially thought that Jawad's case "appeared to be as simple as the street crimes I had prosecuted by the dozens in civilian life."

Jawad, an Afghan national, was accused of throwing a grenade at a jeep containing two US Special Forces soldiers and an Afghan interpreter while the vehicle was stuck in traffic in a marketplace in Kabul in 2002. Vandeveld said he initially thought Jawad was guilty because he'd been arrested "almost immediately" by Afghan police officers and had purportedly "freely confessed" to throwing the grenade. In addition, he'd allegedly explained that he'd "claimed sole responsibility for the attack" and "that he would repeat the attack if given the opportunity."

According to the interrogation report, US soldiers took Jawad to an operating base, where, after initial denials, he "eventually confessed to his role in the attack, this time on videotape recorded by US personnel."

But as Lt. Col. Vandeveld began to investigate the evidence in Jawad's case, he was shocked to discover that locating relevant documents was extraordinarily difficult. He said the Commissions' prosecution department was in a "state of disarray" and "lack[ed] any discernable organization." He explained that he did not "expect that potential war crimes would be presented, at least initially, in 'tidy little packages,'" such as those that would be "assembled by civilian police agencies and prosecution offices."

"The evidence, such as it was," he wrote, "remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases... or strewn throughout the prosecution offices."

As a result, Lt. Col. Vandeveld was unable to locate crucial documents, such as Jawad's videotaped confession. Although he explained that it was "difficult" for him "to accept that the US military could have failed so miserably in six years of effort," he began to doubt "the propriety" of prosecuting Jawad.

Despite these misgivings, Vandeveld said he clung to a belief that the case could be prosecuted "ethically and successfully" until May 2008, when a succession of discoveries led to his dramatic departure.

(Keep reading ...)

Case #3: Air Force Major David Frakt of the Military Commissions defends Mohammed Jawad

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(h/t Heather)
This is just horrific. I was on a conference call yesterday with the ACLU and we talked about this very case. Via email:

We focused on the cases of Omar Khadr and Mohammed Jawad, both teenagers when they were captured, and how their cases speak to the larger problem of the military commissions and why Guantanamo must be closed immediately.
Bush administration is appealing a Guantánamo military judge's decision to throw out evidence against Jawad that was tainted by torture.

Read the pdf here.

When Obama is sworn in I believe this trial is set to begin a week later. Major props goes to Air Force Major David Frakt for his work on this issue.

MADDOW: The big problem at Guantanamo is not that we locked up hundreds of people in an American-run prison in a foreign country without charges or trials or rights, the problem is that other countries won‘t help us out with that?
Joining us now is an Air Force Major David Frakt. He is defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions which administers the tribunals at Guantanamo. He is defending a young man named Mohammed Jawad. He was a teenager when he was arrested and is still at Guantanamo Bay.
MADDOW: If today‘s reports are correct that President-elect Obama is getting rid of the military tribunal system, would that put you out of a job? And, in your eyes, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
FRAKT: Absolutely, Rachel. In fact, the defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions have been trying from day one to do precisely that. That is put ourselves out of a job. My belief, I believe it is shared by my fellow co-counsel, is that this is an unfair, rigged system.
You know, we took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and we‘re doing that by serving as defense counsel and assuring that our clients are not tried in an unconstitutional system.

(Keep reading ...)

Case #4: Holder breaks with Mukasey, says ‘waterboarding is torture.’ (see also here)

In October 2007, during his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused to call waterboarding torture and to this day has not called it torture. In his confirmation hearing today, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder clearly said that he believes waterboarding is torture:

HOLDER: If you look at the history of the use of that technique, used by the Khmer Rouge, used in the Inquisition, used by the Japanese and prosecuted by us as war crimes. We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam. I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, waterboarding is torture.
In another break with Bush administration officials, Holder said other countries would be violating international law if they waterboarded U.S. citizens. Watch it:

Holder also said that the President cannot immunize officials who committed acts of torture. “No one is above the law,” he stated.
(Keep reading ...)

Case #5: The Turning Point - How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture (also via here and here)

When Vice President Dick Cheney told the Weekly Standard last week, "I think on the left wing of the Democratic Party there are some people who believe that we really tortured," he probably wasn't thinking about Susan J. Crawford, convening authority of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general, is hardly the kind of hippie moonbat Cheney would like to poke fun at. And that's why everything changed this morning when the Washington Post published a front-page interview by Bob Woodward, in which Crawford stated without equivocation that the treatment of alleged 20th Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantanamo Bay was "torture."

You're wondering how it is that Crawford's claim that the United States authorized torture (not "coercive interrogation" or "enhanced interrogation" or other "nontorturous forms of interrogation" or "abuse," but torture) changes anything. After all, the Senate armed services committee issued a report just last month pointing the finger of responsibility for the military interrogations at then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his general counsel Jim Haynes. The committee did not use the T-word, however. And Crawford is hardly the first high-ranking military official to use the word. Alberto J. Mora, former general counsel of the U.S. Navy, wrote in a letter to the Navy's inspector general: "The interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary [of Defense] should not have been authorized because some (but not all) of them, whether applied singly or in combination, could produce effects reaching the level of torture." The 84-page log of al-Qahtani's interrogation has long been a matter of public record, and there is now little dispute that the treatment it describes rose to the level of torture. As described in Torture Team, London-based clinical psychiatrist and trauma specialist Dr. Abigail Seltzer studied the log and concluded that al-Qahtani had been tortured.
It's also not an accident that Crawford is a military lawyer. From the very outset of the Bush torture regime, it was the military attorneys who warned him—if they were given a chance—that his program was illegal.
What changes as a result of Crawford expressly using the word torture? First, the administration can no longer hide behind parsing the language of the Geneva Conventions and the torture statute. Whether or not Michael Mukasey is willing to call water-boarding torture—as the president-elect did on Sunday—a reputable senior military official has put that label on conduct that is arguably not as bad and has been widespread in Afghanistan and Iraq. In her interview, Crawford acknowledges that it was "the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health that led to her conclusion. 'The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. … This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him. … It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge' to call it torture." What Crawford has done here is astounding. She has repudiated the formalistic (and perennially shifting) definitions of torture as whatever-it-is-we-don't-do. She has admitted that there is a medical and legal definition for torture and also that we have crossed the line into it.

(Keep reading ...)

And ... Case #6: Ontario judge declares secrecy law unconstitutional

A secrecy law frequently invoked by the federal government in terrorism cases has been declared unconstitutional by an Ontario Superior Court judge, amid fears a sprawling Toronto conspiracy case risks “bogging down and becoming unmanageable.”

The landmark decision strikes down a portion of the Canada Evidence Act, a controversial law passed by Parliament after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The law effectively directed debates involving government secrecy claims away from open trials and toward specialized hearings in other courts.

The 94-page ruling made Thursday affects the case of 10 Toronto men accused of a 2006 conspiracy to train as terrorists and explode truck bombs. The highly anticipated case is only incrementally moving toward trial.

Finding that justice delayed is justice denied, Mr. Justice Fletcher Dawson, of the Ontario Superior Court, ruled that trial judges like him need to be ones who ponder questions related to government secrecy, to preserve the fair-trial rights of the accused.

Otherwise, “there is a danger this case will collapse under its own weight,” said Judge Dawson, who is now weighing preliminary arguments in the case. “The risk of it bogging down and becoming unmanageable is an ongoing concern.”

The effect of the ruling will be to bring the terrorism case closer to trial – though it's still unlikely to happen in 2009. The broader implications are that police and intelligence agencies will have a much tougher time keeping sensitive information away from open trials.

Since 9/11, Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act has been invoked in just about every Canadian national-security case of note, with the federal government arguing that it needs to shield intelligence related to the Khadr family, the Maher Arar affair, and the Mohammed Momin Khawaja terrorist trial.

These concerns stem from the possible disclosure of sources and methods used by Canadian agents and also from the intelligence received from foreign partners, such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, or Britain's MI6.

The invariable effect of the law has been to take secrecy arguments away from main-stage proceedings to a secretive side stage at the Federal Court of Canada, whose judges have specialized national security training and, until now, exclusive jurisdiction of all Canada Evidence Act matters. Judges pondering the overall cases have been forced to await the outcome of protracted Federal Court legal debates to determine what information would be in play.

Observers of the Toronto terrorism-conspiracy case have long dreaded the implications of this, especially given that defence lawyers push for disclosure and the Crown tends to guard sensitive intelligence. The fear was that Section 38 would create a never-ending legal ping-pong match that no jury could ever withstand: The Crown might shut down the Superior Court trial whenever a secrecy question arose, force debates into federal and appellate courts, and then, once matters returned to Superior Court, repeat the process as often as deemed necessary by the government.

Contemplating this, Judge Dawson drew a line in the sand.

“There can be no doubt that the liberty and security interests of persons on trial in the superior courts are at stake,” the ruling reads. “… By depriving them of the opportunity to enforce their rights to disclosure and to full answer and defence in the court of competent jurisdiction, all the ingredients of a Section 7 Charter violation are established.”

He took pains to point out that this was not a dig at his colleagues at Federal Court, and said it's “mug's game” to argue over which judges are better suited to weigh secrecy. He simply said Superior Court judges are also up to the job and need to see all the evidence.

(Keep reading ...)

Rays of hope indeed. However, the battle to reclaim ourselves and our principles remain far from over. Just a few examples:

Pentagon Pushes Debunked "Returning To Terror" Hype;

61 Detainees Returning To Terror? No, Pentagon "Making Up Numbers";

Newsweek Writer’s Story Claiming That Torture Might Work Contradicts His 2006 Article Saying That It Doesn’t;

Legal manoeuvring creates uncertainty for Khadr trial;

With New Season Of 24, Right Wing Falls In Love With Torture All Over Again;

Establishment Washington unifies against (illegal spying) prosecutions;

Harper, federal lawyers at odds over Khadr trial (h/t);

Secret List of U.S. Military Bases to Replace Gitmo;

Cornyn’s Absurd Hypothetical For Holder: What If Waterboarding Were Your Only Interrogation Option?

Joe the Plumber plunges deeper: ‘Military should decide what information to give the media’;

Network VP Dismisses Military Pundits Scandal: ‘Everyone Understands’ Pentagon Spreads Propaganda;

Cheney: It ‘Always Aggravated Me’ That The NYT Won A Pulitzer For Exposing Warrantless Wiretapping;

Rove joins O'Reilly rant: Only torture will save us from terrorists;

Late Edition: Cheney Defends Waterboarding;

Bush says torture still necessary;

Scarborough: ‘That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard’ that torture doesn’t work';

O'Reilly Freaks Out Over the Thought of Holding Bush Admin Torturers Culpable;

Obama On Appointing Special Prosecutor To Investigate Bush’s Crimes: ‘We Need To Look Forward’.
The uncivilized barbarians and their savage followers are still among us, folks.

And those who would rather "forgive and forget" are nothing more than tacit enablers which keep the gates wide open to "do it all over" should we ever find any quaint justifications to do so again.

This in turn brings me to repeat one of my mantras:

For the sake of our continued existence, we must strive to forget nevermore that rationalizations supporting the use of violence - other than the need for the rightful exercise of self-defense when set upon by a genuinely clear, present and immediate danger - invariably constitute deceitful fabrications meant to conceal, disguise or justify incompetence ...

... including our very own for embracing such mendacity.
For what is the point of holding onto noble ideals and principles when those who would defile them remain unaccountable? What does this say of the actual value and sincerity of said noble ideals and principles?

Thus we are setting ourselves to repeat history - yet again.

Indeed, folks - we have a long way to go ... a very long way to go.

(Addendum: here is yet another ray of hope ... countered by this bit of remaining, persistent darkness)

(Cross-posted from APOV)


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