The legacy of US Attorney General Eric Holder

Tom Carter

Holder’s real legacy includes providing pseudo-legal sanction for assassination of US citizens, military commissions, and incommunicado detention; shielding war criminals, corporate criminals, and Bush-era officials from prosecution; persecuting whistleblowers and journalists; targeting protesters and antiwar activists under antiterror laws; asserting unlimited executive powers; justifying government secrecy; deporting immigrants en masse; abetting the expansion of illegal domestic spying; slashing wages and benefits for workers; and infiltrating authoritarian and fascistic legal doctrines into American jurisprudence.

On Thursday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he would resign from his post in the Obama administration after six years in office. His departure was greeted with a chorus of praise in the establishment media, in which he was acclaimed as a “defender of civil rights.” Announcing Holder’s resignation, Obama said, “Through it all he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our cherished ideals as a people, and that is equal justice under the law.” At a joint press conference to announce the resignation, Obama and Holder made repeated reference to the country’s founding documents, civil rights, equal justice and so forth.

The state assassination of a US citizen foretold

Tom Carter

The Associated Press Monday published an extraordinary report based on deliberate leaks from senior US government officials announcing that the Obama administration is “wrestling with whether to kill [an unnamed US citizen] with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy.” The targeted individual is alleged to be a terrorist residing “in a country that refuses US military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him.” The media subsequently carried various reports indicating that the individual is located in Pakistan.

Monday’s revelation that the White House is once again preparing to carry out the illegal murder of an American citizen gives an entirely new and sinister meaning to President Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes we can.”

Indeed, if the government can order the state assassination of a US citizen in the name of national security, what can it not do? Concentration camps (a remedy recently justified by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia), torture, disappearances, martial law, the suspension of the Constitution—all the methods of a police state dictatorship become equally justifiable and possible.

The apparent purpose of the Obama administration’s calculated leak is to blunt popular opposition to an illegal state murder by creating a phony aura of “due process,” “transparency” and careful deliberation for a criminal operation that is steeped in secrecy, conspiracy and contempt for core constitutional principles.

The pseudo-legal arguments for a police state

Tom Carter

US District Judge William H. Pauley’s ruling in the case of ACLU v. Clapper on December 27, which sanctions dragnet NSA surveillance of the telephone records of the entire country’s population, has immense significance for democratic rights.

Although it is written by a federal judge, it is not so much a legal opinion as it is a fascist-style polemic that advocates scrapping the US Constitution and implementing a police state. The fact that a federal judge makes such arguments is a significant indication of the extent to which a pro-dictatorship consensus has developed within the highest levels of the judicial system.

The entire opening section of the opinion is a self-consciously political case for police state spying and silencing whistle-blowers. Responding to United States District Court judge Richard Leon’s decision earlier this month calling NSA surveillance “almost Orwellian,” Judge Pauley employs the argument that every dictatorship throughout history has made in one form or another: that “national security” and the threat of “terrorism” necessitate the abrogation of democratic rights.

This is nothing but a variation on the arguments made by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt that state interests, as determined by an all-powerful executive (a “fuehrer”), may warrant a “state of exception,” during which the constitution may be suspended and democratic rights trampled upon.

NSA strategy document envisions unrestrained global surveillance

Tom Carter

A top secret National Security Administration (NSA) strategy document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden envisions spying on “anyone, anytime, anywhere,” free from all legal restraints, and radical expansions in the NSA’s activities in the period of 2012-2016.

The five-page document dated February 23, 2012, which was published by the New York Times on Saturday, is entitled “SIGINT Strategy 2012-2016.” The name of the author does not appear on the document, nor is it clear who was responsible for it.

Among the document’s central themes is that the law has “not kept pace” with the NSA’s “mission.” Translated into plain English, this means that the NSA is knowingly engaged in illegal activity.

The NSA’s strategy is to remedy this situation by campaigning for what amounts to the abolition of basic constitutional rights. Existing law must be “adapted,” the document states, in order to facilitate unlimited spying. “For SIGINT [signals intelligence] to be optimally effective, legal, policy, and process authorities must be as adaptive and dynamic as the technological and operational advances we week to exploit.”

In fact, the NSA’s spying activities—as well as the activities of the numerous other government agencies engaged in domestic spying—are in flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights. This amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and provides that the government must obtain a warrant based on “probable cause” connecting a targeted person with criminal activity before a search or seizure can be carried out.

Department of Justice memo codifies spying on the press

Tom Carter

On Friday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a memorandum setting forth new “guidelines” concerning government surveillance of members of the press. “These revised guidelines will help ensure the proper balance is struck when pursuing investigations into unauthorized disclosures,” announced Attorney General Eric Holder.

Billed on the front page of the New York Times as a major reform that “would significantly narrow the circumstances under which journalists’ records could be obtained,” the memorandum actually does nothing of the kind.

The memorandum (available here) resembles Holder’s previous work on the subject of military commissions, incommunicado detention, drones, and assassination. Couched behind weasel-words, vague loopholes, and conciliatory language, the Obama administration always goes out of its way not to concede any limits on its asserted powers.

As an initial matter, the idea that an internal Department of Justice memorandum could constitute a “reform” is a sham. If the Obama administration can “self-restrict” its activities, then it can just as easily “self-expand” them.

A letter from Professor Geoffrey R. Stone, liberal advocate of a police state

Tom Carter

We invited Professor Geoffrey R. Stone to respond to the article, “Liberal advocates of a police state turn savagely against Edward Snowden,” by David North and Eric London, posted on the World Socialist Web Site on June 14 [reproduced below]. In the article, the authors condemned those erstwhile liberal commentators who had jumped on the reactionary campaign to label NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “traitor” and a “criminal.” Specifically, North and London observed that Professor Stone’s recent anti-Snowden article in the Huffington Post “advances arguments in support of authoritarian rule that totally contradict positions” he previously advanced. Professor Stone responded by email to Eric London on June 19. His letter, in its entirety, reads as follows:

“Thanks for sharing. What you seem not to understand is that situations are different and not everything is or should be on one side of the line or the other. Everything I’ve said about Snowden is perfectly consistent with everything I’ve ever said on this subject. Although I think we need a healthy distrust of our public officials, I also oppose the arrogance of a single, unelected individual who takes it upon himself, with no lawful authority or justification, to disclose properly classified information to persons unauthorized to receive it just because HE thinks the information shouldn’t be classified. The plain and simple fact is that Snowden betrayed the rule of law and the trust of the American people when he decided, without any legal authority, to disregard the judgments of the executive branch, the Congress and the judiciary in a way that put the security of the nation at risk. Even if what he did has beneficial consequences, he had no legal or moral right to do it. He is a criminal.”

The WSWS takes the opportunity presented by Professor Stone’s response to reply to his letter and explain its significance. From the first line to the last, Professor Stone’s letter confirms the WSWS’s frequent warning that the entire political establishment—including its “liberal” sections—is openly hostile to the democratic principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and in the later Civil War amendments. Professor Stone speaks for a significant section of academic intellectuals who are repudiating their previous commitment to democratic rights and advancing positions that would legitimize the establishment of a military-police dictatorship in the United States. Let us proceed to an examination of Stone’s condemnation of Edward Snowden.

The death of Ibragim Todashev

Tom Carter

Facts are stubborn things. What we know for certain is that a key witness in relation to the Boston bombings has been terminated by the state.

On May 22, Ibragim Todashev, a key witness in events related to the Boston Marathon bombings, was killed by an FBI agent in his residence in Florida. Todashev, an alleged acquaintance of bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was unarmed and in custody when he was shot as many as seven times, including once in the head.

This extraordinary event, which has been largely buried in the US media, stinks of a cover-up, deceit and criminality. Four or five completely different accounts of the killing have been presented by the government in the space of little more than a week. None of these accounts can be believed.

The Boston lockdown and the Bill of Rights

Tom Carter

SWAT team doing house-to-house searches in the Boston area

The “exigent circumstances” exception more and more resembles the “state of exception” doctrine propounded by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, pursuant to which a “national emergency” may override all existing democratic legal protections.

With the implementation of a state of military siege against the population of Boston last week, the American ruling class has crossed a historical, legal and political Rubicon. The die is cast and the sun is setting on the democratic forms of rule that have existed in the United States for the past two centuries.

What history will remember as most significant about the events in Boston will not be the bombing near the marathon’s finish line or the perpetrators or their motives. What will be remembered instead will be the unprecedented military lockdown of an entire major American city, with military vehicles in the streets and heavily armed soldiers going house to house—tromping through living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens, staring down their assault rifles at terrified, barefoot families in their pajamas.

The Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791 in the wake of the American Revolution, has provided the basic framework for bourgeois democracy as it has developed in the United States over the past 200 years. A simple comparison of the words of the Bill of Rights with the recent events in Boston—the cradle of the American Revolution—underscores the advanced stage of the historical process that is shattering centuries-old democratic forms of rule.

Obama administration blocks information request on assassination of US citizens

Tom Carter

The not so Honorable Colleen McMahon (Photo: F. Becerra)

On Wednesday, at the request of the Obama administration, US federal judge Colleen McMahon relied on expansive “national security” privileges to deny requests by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times for government records related to the assassination of US citizens.

The US government’s “targeted killing” program, initiated under the Bush administration and expanded under the Obama administration, has so far resulted in the deaths of thousands of people far from any battlefield, including at least three US citizens. The victims, as well as a great many bystanders, have been murdered without being charged with any crime and without trial or judicial review of any kind.

The Obama administration’s ongoing targeted killing program is in violation of the core historic concept of the American legal system, which is contained in the Fifth Amendment of 1791: “No person shall. .. be deprived of life. .. without due process of law.”

The issue before the court was not even the legality of this program, but the ability of the American people simply to have access to the arguments from the Obama administration to justify it.

The death of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

Tom Carter

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who spent 11 years at
Guantánamo Bay, was found dead in his cell.

"I am happy to express from this darkness and draw a true picture of the condition in which I exist. I am moving towards a dark cave and a dark life in the shadow of a dark prison. This is a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know anything except the language of power, oppression and humiliation for whoever enters it. It does not differentiate between a criminal and the innocent." ~ Guantánamo inmate Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif in a letter to his lawyer, dated December 26th, 2010

On September 10, 2012, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died in his cell at the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As of the day he died, Latif had been imprisoned at Guantánamo for 10 years, 7 months and 25 days. He was 36 years old and left behind a wife and son.

Latif died after enduring a decade of torture and abuse at the hands of the US military and intelligence agencies. His death came after a habeas corpus petition challenging his incommunicado detention was granted by a federal judge and then overturned on appeal, on the grounds of authoritarian legal doctrines promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The failure of the US legal system over the preceding decade to enforce Latif’s most basic rights underscores the collapse of centuries-old democratic legal institutions and the expanding machinery of a police state. Latif’s death constitutes a war crime that, along with the crimes against hundreds of other prisoners at Guantánamo and secret “black sites” around the world, warrants the impeachment, arrest and criminal prosecution of all of the top civilian and military officials in both administrations.

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