Workers Vanguard No. 897
31 August 2007
From NSA Wiretapping to Death Row Speedup
Republicans, Democrats Step Up War on Our Rights
Protest Padilla Conviction! Free All the Detainees!
AUGUST 27—The resignation today of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was quickly cheered by Democrats in Congress who had for months been calling for his resignation. Gonzales had pursued the White House quest for ever-greater repressive powers with such maniacal and deceitful purpose that he made his predecessor, John Ashcroft, a religious nut and fan of the Confederate slavocracy, look almost reasonable. But Gonzales resignation in no way signals a slowing of the governments assault on democratic rights.
In the past several weeks, the Bush administration, with the complicity of the Democratic-controlled Congress, has instituted a series of measures in the name of the war on terror that represent a further ominous rollback of the rights of the population. On August 5, President Bush signed legislation that would allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor telephone calls and e-mail messages of U.S. citizens—without a court warrant—as long as there is a reasonable belief that one party in the conversation is not in the U.S. Then it was revealed that the government had approved a plan to grant police forces wide access to military spy satellites in order to carry out domestic surveillance.
To top it off, it was made known that the Justice Department was preparing regulations under the renewed USA Patriot Act giving the Attorney General new authority over death penalty cases, including the power to greatly shorten the time that condemned inmates have to appeal their convictions to federal courts. Illustrating the broad reach of the states war on terror, Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen charged in 2002 as an unlawful enemy combatant, now faces a possible life sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy charges in criminal court despite the lack of concrete evidence of any plot or criminal act on his part.
The September 11 attacks gave the U.S. rulers the pretext to put in place repressive measures that they had long sought. And this program has been carried out by both the Democratic and Republican parties of capital and with the imprimatur of a pliant judiciary. The measures include a vast government program aiming at nothing less than spying on the whole population. For years, the NSA, in collusion with some major telecommunications companies, executed warrantless wiretaps allowing the Feds to data mine millions of phone and Internet communications records. A huge pool of personal data has been amassed enabling fishing expeditions for terrorist suspects.
Since the existence of Bushs surveillance program became widely known almost two years ago, Democratic politicians have been up in arms over the fact that it bypassed special courts set up by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Billed by liberals as a barrier to NSA/CIA domestic spying, the FISA courts are actually rubber stamps that have almost never refused a request for a wiretap warrant. By signing legislation allowing warrantless wiretaps, Bush countered the criticism that his actions were illegal through the simple expedient of
legalizing them. Congress even went further in the law than Bush had requested. Henceforth, the FISA court will not review specific applications but only the broad wiretap procedures used by the government. After months of hearings, subpoenas and other posturing, Democratic leaders in the Senate and House let the new law sail through committees and put up virtually no resistance to its passage.
The NSAs invasion of privacy can carry drastic consequences. Today, if you are singled out and labeled a terrorist based on classified evidence, the government claims the right to disappear you as an unlawful enemy combatant with no legal recourse. The war on terror has greatly accelerated the drive toward unfettered power by the executive branch. As it has for many decades, much of the constitutional power originally vested in Congress is increasingly being transferred to the presidency. This corresponds to the needs of U.S. imperialism, relying on its overwhelming military might, to assert itself as cop of the world, as seen today in the ongoing murderous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, its provocations against Iran and in many other ways.
Frame-ups, spying, infiltration and terror are part of the everyday workings of government in the U.S., whether under Democratic or Republican administrations. The veneer of democracy is meant to cover the reality of the capitalist state—consisting at its core of the cops, courts, prisons and armed forces—as an apparatus of violence designed to protect capitalist profits and rule against the exploited and the oppressed, and to defend the bourgeoisies interests against its foreign rivals.
A statement by the Spartacist League/U.S. Political Bureau issued the day after the September 11 attacks warned that the most immediate targets of the forces of repression will be any and all people of Near Eastern descent (printed in WV No. 764, 14 September 2001). The statement explained that the more fundamental purpose of the anti-terror campaign is to intimidate and constrain the multiracial working class from any social struggle. As the SL has stressed since the onset of the war on terror, what the capitalist rulers get away with will largely depend on the level of social struggle. The rulers of this decaying capitalist society are plenty dangerous. But they are also dependent on the labor of the working class for their profits. If mobilized independently of the capitalist political parties and at the head of all the oppressed, the many-millioned proletariat would be a powerful force in defense of its own interests and of the rights of immigrants, black people and others under attack by the bourgeoisie.
Jose Padilla: Abducted, Tortured, Framed Up
The sinister web of the war on terror is exemplified by the ordeal of Jose Padilla, who was summarily stripped of elementary rights of citizenship. Padillas show trial in Florida ended on August 16 with the jury finding him and co-defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi guilty of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas and other charges. The case against Padilla and his co-defendants was a blatant frame-up from beginning to end. In what was supposedly a murder conspiracy case, federal prosecutors presented no evidence that the defendants had plotted to commit murder—or any other violent act. Instead, the vaguest correlation that could be inferred between Al Qaeda and any defendant—such as favorable statements by Hassoun and Jayyousi regarding a televised interview with Osama bin Laden—was depicted as participation in the conspiracy.
Padilla was seized in May 2002 at Chicagos OHare airport and held as a material witness. One month later, he was declared an unlawful enemy combatant and disappeared into a Navy brig in South Carolina, where he had no way to challenge his imprisonment, no contact with his family and—for almost two years—no access to lawyers. While in the brig, Padilla was tortured by being subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, shackled in stress positions, drugged and deprived of sleep to break his will and force him to provide incriminating evidence about himself and others. Two psychiatrists and a psychologist who conducted detailed examinations of Padilla on behalf of his defense team say his treatment in the brig left him with severe mental disabilities; all three say he may never recover. One former military interrogator told the Christian Science Monitor (14 August): If he is not profoundly psychologically disturbed from that experience then he is a stronger man than me.
In concluding a powerful three-part series detailing Padillas ordeal, the Christian Science Monitor (15 August) wrote: US treatment of Padilla shows the inclination to do anything to break the silence of a suspected terrorist, even [if] it means violating such basic citizen rights as protection against self-incrimination and harsh interrogation, as well as the right to a trial. In short, the US military used terror—Padilla had little or no human contact for more than three years—to fight terror.
When the Bush administration finally brought criminal charges against Padilla in November 2005, it was to avoid a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court on his unlawful enemy combatant designation. The previous year, in the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and held without charges as an unlawful enemy combatant, the Court had ruled that Hamdi must have a fair opportunity to challenge the governments case. At that same time, the Supreme Court refused to hear Padillas case on the pretext that his habeas corpus petition had been filed in the wrong court. The judge in the recent Miami trial barred both sides from even mentioning Padillas military detention, insuring that the legality of his detention, abuse and denial of due process would continue to be sidestepped by the courts.
Padillas conviction underlines how conspiracy prosecutions provide legal cover for repression of the governments political opponents when the state can find no evidence of criminal activity. As law professor Peter Margulies noted in reference to Padillas case, the conspiracy charge basically allows someone to be found guilty for something that is one step away from a thought crime (New York Times, 18 August). The early trade unions in this country were outlawed as criminal conspiracies. Leftists and union organizers were imprisoned in the U.S. on charges of conspiracy for opposing both World Wars I and II. Such prosecutions continue to this day, as seen in the frame-up of radical attorney Lynne Stewart (see Outrage! Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar Convicted, WV No. 842, 18 February 2005).
The government succeeded in making Padillas name virtually synonymous in the public mind with dirty bomber by repeatedly accusing him of having planned to set off a radioactive bomb on U.S. soil. Yet when it came time to put Padilla on trial, the governments case made no mention of a bomb, dirty or otherwise. This was not least due to the fact that the people who fingered Padilla had themselves been tortured by U.S. authorities and made no secret of that fact.
Practically the entire case against Padilla rested on what the prosecution called a data form allegedly representing his attempt to be admitted to an Afghan mujahedin training camp. But the data form bears no mention of Al Qaeda and does not even have Padillas name on it. Prosecutors were allowed to blatantly inflame the jury by playing a seven-minute television interview with bin Laden—a device also used in the Lynne Stewart trial—in which he called for jihad against the U.S., even though there was no evidence that Padilla had even seen the clip. Despite the lack of any evidence, the jury took only a little more than a day to reach a verdict. Showing that the fix was in, they walked into court on the eve of the July 4 holiday dressed in outfits such that the rows in the jury box were colored red, white and blue! Free Padilla, Hassoun and Jayyousi!
As the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee argued in an amici curiae brief filed on behalf of Padilla in July 2003:
The war against terrorism is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality. It is a political crusade conducted in the name of ridding society of a perceived evil. It is no more a war in a military sense than war against cancer, war against obesity or a war against immorality. Like the war against communism and the war against drugs, this war is a pretext to increase the states police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population. The Executives declaration that its war against terrorism forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents for life from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents. Like them, the Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing.
In Britain, where preventive detention is sanctioned by law, Labour Party prime minister Gordon Brown has sought to double to 56 days the time that detainees can be held without charge. The Bush administration has sought to affirm the governments right to impose preventive detention for life by declaring someone an unlawful enemy combatant—or by accusing him of conspiracy. Adam Liptak in the New York Times (18 August) pointed out that while criminal prosecutions concern an alleged crime already committed, conspiracy prosecutions tend to focus on the future—to stopping supposedly dangerous people from completing their plans. He noted: The weaker the evidence of conspiracy is, the more such a prosecution can look like a request for judicially sanctioned preventive detentions.
Although civil libertarians protested Padillas detention without charge, there was no significant public outcry, observed the Christian Science Monitor. That was not an accident. The Bush administrations evisceration of constitutional rights has been largely supported by the Democrats, whose opposition to the White House gang is based on their claim to be better suited to pursue the war on terror. As opposed to the Anybody but Bush swamp of liberals and so-called leftists who seek to pressure the Democrats to fight all the way to the White House in 2008, we understand that the system of capitalist imperialism has been and will continue to be enforced by barbaric measures of repression until it is swept away through proletarian revolution.
Down With the Racist Death Penalty!
The new Justice Department regulations giving the Attorney General power to speed up executions hark back to the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed by Clinton. That law implemented the previous speedup on death row by gutting the right of federal habeas corpus appeals for those sentenced to death in the state courts. It also set up a system in which states could use fast track procedures enabling them to carry out death sentences more speedily and with fewer opportunities for appeal, as long as they could attest that they provided adequate representation for capital defendants. In fact, in a number of cases federal courts ruled that states were not doing enough to ensure that defendants had adequate counsel.
In last years reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the job of deciding whether states were providing condemned inmates with decent lawyers was moved from federal judges to the Attorney General. The Patriot Act reauthorization passed Congress with the support of a number of key Democrats, including Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As law professor Eric Freedman put it, since the states were not providing competent defense representation in capital cases, Congress decided to solve the problem by the simple device of having the attorney general announce that it did not exist (New York Times, 20 August).
This move to speed up executions comes at a time when ever more death row inmates are being exonerated by DNA evidence and public opinion has shifted away from previous overwhelming support for the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the number of executions fell from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 53 last year. Several states have halted executions in recent months because of legal challenges to the use of lethal injection.
The death penalty stands at the pinnacle of the capitalist states arsenal of repression. And in the U.S., this barbaric institution is a legacy of black chattel slavery, the lynch rope made legal. Squarely in the capitalist rulers sights today is death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Panther Party spokesman in his youth and later a MOVE supporter and award-winning journalist, who was framed up and convicted of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to die explicitly for his political beliefs. The forces of racist law and order represented by both the Democratic and Republican parties want to see Mumia dead or locked away in prison for life because they see in him the spectre of black revolt, a voice of defiant opposition to the oppression of black people that is a cornerstone of American capitalism. Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!
War on Terror Targets Everyone
It is not only federal agencies but local police forces whose powers have expanded as part of the war on terror. What used to be red squads have resurfaced in many cities under different names as part of a broad attempt to intimidate and suppress political dissent.
In addition, under the banner of homeland security, military and intelligence agencies are implementing changes that cross a well-established line, drawn by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, prohibiting military forces from conducting law enforcement on U.S. soil. This was exemplified in 2002 by the Pentagons creation of the Northern Command, a military branch charged with coordinating operations in the U.S. against terrorism and other threats on the homeland. The administrations plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving police the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings, extends this danger.
Another domestic police project using military technology is a mapping data inventory of 133 cities being carried out by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Reporting on this project several years ago, military analyst William Arkin wrote: A national spatial data infrastructure will be created down to the house level. Intelligence analysts speak of one day being able to identify individual occupants, as well as their national background and political affiliations (Los Angeles Times, 23 November 2003).
There is an inherent tendency of the ruling class—a tiny class of exploiters who produce nothing but reap trillions in profit out of the sweat and blood of working people and who wreak death and destruction around the world—to tighten the screws on the workers and oppressed. Continuing to build up the forces of domestic repression, which the capitalists have long deployed against the brutally oppressed black masses and other minorities, is crucial to maintaining their class rule. None of the rights and gains that working people hold dear will be secure as long as the capitalists hold power. Our purpose is to build the workers party necessary to lead the proletarian socialist revolution that smashes the murderous capitalist state and replaces it with a workers state, where those who labor rule.