Summer 2012 News
What if, instead of joining the Army, Bradley Manning had gone to Penn State?
Chances are, he wouldn’t have witnessed or heard about Jerry Sandusky abusing young boys... but if he had, he wouldn't have remained silent. He would not have covered up a crime out of some misguided sense of institutional loyalty. He wouldn’t have worried about the repercussions. He would have exposed the truth.
It's always taken extraordinary courage to blow the whistle, and the Obama Administration has come down hard on the few who have dared. Now Congress is getting into the act. Under the guise of going after leaks, the Senate is poised to pass a bill that attacks free press and whistleblowers. Read more here...
FWIW: The Law is on OUR Side
Homes Raided in Northwest
Summer 2012 NEWS
With a cell phone in the hands of virtually everyone, photography has become a powerful tool for oversight and accountability, shining a light on unjust or illegitimate police practices. Recently, that’s been especially true for protesters experiencing heavy-handed or brutal police repression. That police don't like this new power is quite clear, as evidenced by the many reports of police intimidation, harassment and arrests of photographers, often accompanied by the seizure and destruction of pictures and videos.
But, it is absolutely legal to film police in public in every state of the Union, a fact that many police officers either don’t understand, or choose to ignore. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't arrest you anyway, and illegally delete what you have recorded. A few months ago, Clark Stoeckley was walking through Penn Station in New York City and came across Metropolitan Transit Authority police carrying automatic weapons. He snapped their picture on his cell phone and was immediately arrested. He reports that the MTA cops told him they felt threatened by his cell phone, which, they said, could have been a phone gun. He was charged with “engaging in threatening behavior.”
More insidious perhaps than the police who arrest you for taking pictures, are the ones who don’t. Instead, your legal act of taking a picture could land you on a terror watch list without you ever knowing about it. That’s because a national initiative called “Suspicious Activity Reporting” encourages or requires police to collect information about a long list of legal activities that are considered “suspicious,” including taking pictures (either of police, other security personnel or facilities, buildings or infrastructure).
But here’s a new twist: your local police could just get really annoyed with you, and decide to stick your face on a precinct “Wanted” poster.
The law is clearly on the side of photographers, but lack of training, oversight and/or clear policies means that police continue to violate the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of individuals recording the police. The Department of Justice set forth specific policy recommendations in a May, 2012 guidance issued to the Baltimore, Maryland Police Department. Policies should:
- affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity
- clarify that police are prohibited from: interfering with recording; blocking or obstructing recording devices; threatening or discouraging people from recording; search or seizure of recording devices without a warrant; deleting recordings
- clarify that criticizing the police or the police activity or even yelling obscenities at the police are lawful, and not to be considered “interfering with police activities”
It’s a familiar story: dozens of police and FBI agents dressed in paramilitary gear and carrying assault rifles staged a pre-dawn raid on several activist homes, and subpoenas are issued to activists to appear before a federal grand jury. On July 27, the targets were homes in Seattle, Olympia and Portland, and the search warrant listed “Anti-government or anarchist literature or material” among the items to be seized. The FBI says the raids were in response to “ongoing violent crime,” but the search warrant is more specific, listing “destruction of government property” and “interstate travel with intent to riot.”
The grand jury is scheduled for August 2, and all legal documents are sealed, so we don’t have the complete story. But we do know that the targeted activists are involved in the Occupy movement, and local activists suspect it has something to do with the May Day protests in Seattle, where commercial and federal property were damaged.
Arresting people who engage in vandalism is one thing, but a pre-dawn raid by dozens of heavily armed police searching for political literature feeds into the narrative that protesters are far more dangerous than they are.
Vermont: On July 29, environmental activists gathered in Burlington Vermont outside an international conference of politicians from New England and Canada. Hours of peaceful protest ended with police firing pepper balls on protesters at close-range to clear the streets. No arrests were made, and no one was seriously injured, but the disproportionate response was unjustified.
A few days before the protest, the FBI paid a visit to the home of one of the organizers to question him about the upcoming protests. “I think it really highlights the lack of transparency and tolerance for dissent that surrounds conferences such as these… That we, as organizers expected police investigation underscores how participation is discouraged,” commented one organizer.
West Virginia: Mountain-top removal protests drew angry counter demonstrators who physically threatened protesters, but police turned a blind eye. Instead they arrested a journalist for taking pictures, and 20 demonstrators for trespassing in a civil disobedience action. Arrests were expected, but bail has been set at an unconstitutionally high $25,000.
According to an 8 month long study by law clinics at NYU and other top law schools, the NYPD abused Occupy protestors and violated their rights by using excessive force including pushing, shoving, dragging, hitting, punching and kicking, as well as batons, pepper spray and using horses and scooters as weapons against protesters. The 195 page report, Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street also documents the delay and denial of medical care, obstruction of press and legal observers, surveillance of lawful First Amendment activities and much more. The report is here.
Bradley Manning is the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking thousands of State Department cables and the video “Collateral Murder,” which shows a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down 11 unarmed civilians, including children. The leaked information exposes war crimes and human rights abuses that admittedly do make the United States look less than honorable, but in order to hold criminals accountable, you have to expose the crime.
Sadly, it isn’t the soldiers who fired on unarmed children who are being held accountable and, it isn’t the State Department officials who engaged in bribery or otherwise bent the rules who are on trial. It’s Bradley Manning. He’s already spent two years in jail, including 10 months in solitary confinement (against military protocol). He faces life in prison.
Manning sought to expose the truth and is paying a steep price. He isn’t the only whistleblower suffering the consequences of telling the truth to the American people, or even trying to alert Congress and following what are considered the “proper channels.” surveillance, but the members of Congress and others with whom they communicated. Unfortunately, that rarely works. Consider the case of six scientists at the Food and Drug Administration who were fired for raising concerns to their supervisors and to Congress
about FDA approval of medical devices that exposed patients to excessive radiation. Although they raised those concerns through proper channels, the FDA targeted not only the scientists for surveillance, but the members of Congress and others with whom they communicated.
President Obama came into office promising to protect whistleblowers, but instead he has investigated and prosecuted more than any other administration. The scope of government wrongdoing exposed by whistleblowers over the last several years is mind-blowing: warrantless wiretaps, massive surveillance and data retention, threats to public health, war crimes… not to mention torture, extrajudicial killings and more. But rather than investigate these egregious crimes, Congress has decided to go after whistleblowers.
Last month, upon learning that President Obama personally checks off on the list of people to assassinate in drone strikes, members of Senate expressed their outrage and sprung into action with uncharacteristic speed… to ban leaks, not assassinations. The Senate Intelligence Committee has included anti-leak provisions in the 2013 Intelligence Authorization Bill that will both punish whistleblowers and cut off the flow of information from the government to the media. It would revoke a government employee’s pension benefits if the head of their agency determines they have leaked classified information, allowing for no exception for disclosures that reveal illegal conduct or waste, and providing no avenue for recourse for the employee. The bill also prohibits all but the highest-level officials from speaking with the press about “classified intelligence activities,” and puts other restrictions on disclosing information to the media.
In short, the bill is both anti-Free Press and anti-whistleblower. Defending Dissent Foundation joined over a dozen other open government groups on a letter asking the Senate to oppose the bill.