US Supreme Court rules Ashcroft can't be held responsible in case of detention and abuse of innocent Muslim-American

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The Supreme Court ruled today that former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued over his role in the arrest of an innocent American citizen, a Muslim man who was never charged with a crime. From the Associated Press:

By a 5-3 vote, the court said Ashcroft did not violate the constitutional rights of Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested in 2003 under a federal law intended to make sure witnesses testify in criminal proceedings. Al-Kidd claimed in a federal lawsuit that the arrest and detention violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

He was held for 16 days, during which he was strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes.

The ACLU's response to the ruling is here.

Photo: REUTERS. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks to the National Rifle Association's 'Celebration of American Values Conference' in Washington, September 21, 2007.

Egypt: general confirms "virginity checks" forced on female protesters by military

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Via CNN and other sources today, the revolting news that a senior Egyptian general admits so-called "virginity checks" (presumably, forcible examination of the hymen) were performed on women arrested in at least one demonstration this spring. Previously, military authorities denied it. Now, an Egyptian general who asked not to be identified defends the practice—wait for it—as a protective measure for the women's own good.

As noted previously on Boing Boing, Amnesty International reported and condemned news of this systematic sexual abuse by military agents back in March. At the time, women were at the forefront of the historic Tahrir Square protests that overthrew the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. And Amnesty International was told then by a group of women protesters "that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to 'virginity checks' and threatened with prostitution charges."

With that in mind, here's a snip from Shahira Amin's report today for CNN:

The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general said. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."

The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were (virgins)."

...and if you're not a virgin, it's not rape, anyway. But more to the point: these so-called "virginity checks" are nothing less than a form of rape.

As a human biology note, not that it would make this horrific form of militarized sexual abuse any more justified, and not that it was the point of those perpetrating the abuse: examining the hymen is not an accurate way to determine virginity. This is a myth.

And a personal observation? My god, but these women out at the protests in Egypt, knowing that these are the sort of barbaric risks they face, are strong, strong human beings.

(PHOTO: Egyptian soldiers stand behind veiled women opposition supporters at Tahrir Square in Cairo in February, 2011; roughly the same period during which reports of this form of sexual abuse by military began to emerge. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic.)

US Senate and House vote to extend Patriot Act provisions; Obama expected to sign

Update, 751pm ET: The House has approved a 4-year USA PATRIOT act extension, 250-153.


The US Senate voted today to extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act which were scheduled to expire tonight at midnight. The measure is now before the House for debate, and is scheduled to complete its work tonight. Civil liberties advocates charge that the provisions, in particular portions related to electronic surveillance and wiretapping, are a violation of the Constitution. If Congress approves the extension, it goes before President Obama, who is currently in Europe. Reuters reports that White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says the President will use "the autopen to sign" the bill quickly into law. The autopen is a machine that replicates his signature.

One of the three provisions, Section 206 of the Patriot Act, provides for roving wiretap surveillance of targets who try to thwart Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance. Without such roving wiretap authority, investigators would be forced to seek a new court order each time they need to change the location, phone or computer that needs to be monitored.

Another provision, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allows the FBI to apply to the FISA court to issue orders granting the government access to any tangible items in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and clandestine intelligence cases.

The third provision, Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004, closes a loophole that could allow individual terrorists not affiliated with specific organizations to slip through the cracks of FISA surveillance. Law enforcement officials refer to it as the "lone wolf" provision.

More at CNN.com.

Ratko Mladic, "God of Genocide," arrested

(PHOTOS / REUTERS. At left, in 1993: Bosnian Serb army Commander General Ratko Mladic (L) salutes.)

The self-proclaimed “God of genocide” in Srebrenica, the Serbian ethnic general Ratko Mladic was arrested today in a small village eighty kilometers from Belgrade.

Read the rest

Australian journalist arrested for reporting facebook security breach

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Ben Grubb, a journalist in Australia, was arrested after writing a story about a security expert's demonstration of vulnerabilities on social media sites including Facebook. Two police officers showed up at his office, and interrogated him.

The officers were polite and there was even an amusing interlude when the female officer's iPhone rang, disrupting her recording of our conversations, and I gave Coultis some advice about how to set the iPhone to avoid further interruptions.

They seemed to treat me like a technical expert, and sought my explanation of what Heinrich had done. I felt like they were trying to get me to admit that his actions were illegal. I told them it was not my job to decide that - after all, I was only reporting on the matter. It's their job to decide whether what he demonstrated was against the law.

About half an hour into the questioning, Coultis left the room to liaise briefly with other officers. When he returned, he said: "What we're going to have to do, I'm afraid, Ben, is we're going to be taking possession of your iPad."

Rule number one, by the way, should this ever happen to you? Don't talk, other than to your lawyer.

Grubb's story: privacy, news and the strong arm of the law (Ben Grubb, in The Age)

A related story here in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(via Submitterator, thanks darkl and Clovis)

Nobody expects the Spanish revolution: photos from "Real Democracy" protests in Spain

300559476.jpg Photo by @acampadasol (web), who has been photographing the protests in in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, where some ten thousand demonstrators have gathered to demand jobs, economic equality, and "real democracy." The demonstrations throughout Spain, ahead of the country's upcoming elections, have been compared to various popular uprisings in the Middle East. Global Voices, CBS, AP, Periodismo Humano. Spain's El Pais newspaper, as one might expect, has extensive coverage (photos, video). US-based and English-language outlets, not so much yet.

Below, video shot of thousands of protesters in Madrid today by "eloyente" for periodismohumano.com.

Read the rest

US Supreme Court rules warrantless search is okay when cops smell pot smoke

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"Police do not need a search warrant to knock on a suspected drug dealer's door and then kick it down when a suspicious bustling noise is heard from the other side, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1."—Wired News. More: WaPo, Time, Boston Globe, LA Times, NPR.

Guatemala: 27 massacred, decapitated in Petén by paramilitary drug gang Los Zetas (UPDATED)

Written in the blood from a victim’s severed leg, in Spanish: “What’s up, Otto Salguero, you bastard? We are going to find you and behead you, too.

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Blackwater founder Erik Prince building American-led army of revolution-crushing mercenaries in UAE

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Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater (now rebranded "Xe") is building a stealth, American-led mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates "with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom." The business plan, at least in part, appears to be to help autocratic regimes crush popular democratic uprisings—a response to "Arab Spring." Oh, this will turn out well. Snip from the New York Times' exclusive:

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its crowded labor camps or democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year. The U.A.E.'s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country's biggest foe, the former employees said.

Read the rest

Belarus: opposition presidential candidate sentenced to 5 years hard labor

Andrei Sannikov, a candidate in Belarus's December 2010 presidential elections, was today sentenced to five years in prison. Index on Censorship:
20110413-sannikov9.jpg Sannikov claimed during the trial that he had been tortured, denied access to legal representation and that KGB officers threatened to kill his wife, journalist Irina Khalip, and three year-old son, Danil.

In a post-election clampdown on the country's opposition, seven of the nine presidential candidates who stood against President Alexander Lukashenko were arrested. Ales Mikhalevic, another candidate, fled the country after also accusing the KGB of torture. Index on Censorship is part of a coalition of NGOs supporting a private prosecution of President Lukashenko.

Sannikov claims that prisoners at "The Amerikanka", an infamous KGB jail in Minsk, were being psychologically conditioned to violence in an echo of the Soviet-era tactic. Prisoners were shown anti-Semitic films such as Russia With A Knife In Its Back, clips of Chechen rebels being decapitated and the dismembering of children's corpses.

Read (or listen to) the final speech Sannikov gave before the verdict.

Read the rest

John McCain: Torture is bad, un-American, and didn't help the US find Osama bin Laden

Holy crap, it's the end of days: the things coming out of John McCain's mouth are making sense to me. The Republican senator from Arizona has an eloquent op-ed in the Washington Post today, which had me fist-pumping the air all the way down:
Osama bin Laden's welcome death has ignited debate over whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are a justifiable means for gathering intelligence.

Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.

Peace Corps volunteers speak out against "gross mismanagement of sexual assault complaints"

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A growing number of ex-Peace Corps volunteers are speaking out via blogs and in news interviews about having survived rape and other forms of sexual assault while assigned overseas. They say the agency ignored their concerns for safety or requests for relocation, and tried to blame rape victims for their attacks. Their stories, and support from families and advocates, are drawing attention from lawmakers and promises of reform from the agency.

One of the women whose story is receiving renewed attention is Kate Puzey (shown in the photo at left). The Peace Corps volunteer was murdered in Benin, apparently by a contractor for the agency she was attempting to anonymously report for the rape of girls at the village school. As I blogged in 2009, I was in Benin, pretty close to that village, the same day she was killed. I remember our local friends from that region expressing horror and sadness at her murder. But we didn't know the backstory yet. More on her case follows.

The Peace Corps 2010 budget: $400 million, government funding, your tax dollars at work. The current director today apologized for the agency's poor response to victims, and specifically the Puzey case.

First: In today's New York Times, an article about the volunteers who are speaking out on sexual assault:

In going public, they are exposing an ugly sliver of life in the Peace Corps: the dangers that volunteers face in far-flung corners of the world and the inconsistent -- and, some say, callous -- treatment they receive when they become crime victims.
From 2000 to 2009, an average of 22 Peace Corps women each year reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape, according to the agency's own records. During that period a total of over 1,000 volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes.

Read the rest

Dalai Lama receives human rights award from Amnesty International


[iPhone snapshot above: Xeni Jardin; illustration inset, Shepard Fairey.]

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a “Shine a Light on Human Rights” award from Amnesty International.

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Lara Logan of CBS News, on surviving sexual assault.

"There are a lot of women who experience these kinds of things as journalists and they don't want it to stop their job because they do it for the same reasons as me - they are committed to what they do. They are not adrenaline junkies you know, they're not glory hounds, they do it because they believe in being journalists."—Lara Logan, speaking for the first time about the sexual assault she survived while covering the popular uprising in Egypt. (CBS News)

Controversy over publication of Gitmo teen rape victim ID'd in Wikileaks dump

The Daily Telegraph this week published 759 of the leaked Guantánamo files from WikiLeaks, which had not been redacted. One document they published today "includes the full name of a boy detained at Guantánamo who, according to the file, was raped at the age of 15, just prior to being transferred to the camp."

The boy was never charged with any crime. US forces captured him in Afghanistan just days after he'd reportedly been sexually assaulted and kidnapped by a group of 11 Afghan men, in a village near his family's home. The US military brought the boy to Guantánamo Bay as a prisoner "because of his possible knowledge of Taliban resistance efforts and local leaders." They held him as a prisoner there for more than a year, despite knowing he was innocent.

The Telegraph seems to take the same position as Wikileaks: the public has a right to know the fullest array of facts exposing the horror and human rights abuses at Gitmo. Other publications, like the Guardian (which was not a direct recipient from Wikileaks, after finding itself more or less at odds with Julian Assange) published the boy's Guantánamo file, but blacked out details of his sexual assault. More at journalism.co.uk.

(Via Greg Mitchell at The Nation)