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

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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

Mladic sheltered there with a relative, and lived under a false name. For years on end he hid like a house-mouse, and was arrested with a similar meekness.

Old, docile, with one hand crippled, the formerly ferocious warlord lived peaceably and invisibly in a house that had been searched repeatedly by the Serbian police. This long-wanted war criminal and exceedingly successful fugitive from justice had a 10 million euro award on his head.

And yet, recent polls say that, despite the suffering and ignominy he brought them, 51 percent of Serbian citizens would not have given him up to the international war tribunal in the Hague. No, not for any money. Serbian stubbornness has gone beyond the period of Mladic's bloodstained hero-worship. Nowadays the Serbs have grown indifferent to Mladic while actively resenting the European Union, whose economic disorders have made Serbian life miserable.

And yet it appears that somebody did betray Mladic for the reward: someone among his circle of close friends. Some years ago, an entire group of people, who were all accused of actively sheltering Mladic, were released from a Serbian court through lack of evidence.

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Australian journalist arrested for reporting facebook security breach

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) Read the rest

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

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

"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. Read the rest

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. —Sincerely, Z200." Guatemalan media reports Otto Salguero is the owner of the ranch where at least 27 workers were killed, 26 of whom were decapitated, yesterday. Salguero is believed to be linked to the drug trade, and in conflict with the Zetas.

Update, 10:45pm PT: Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has declared a state of martial law in the Péten region, in response to Sunday's massacre.

On a cattle ranch in the northern Petén region of Guatemala yesterday, at least 27 agricultural workers were murdered, 26 of whom were decapitated, after dozens of armed commandos (reported numbers vary between 30 and 200) stormed the ranch and demanded to know where owner Otto Salguero was. Guatemalan authorities say none of the victims were involved in drug trafficking, all were innocent laborers, none knew where the ranch owner was. Among the confirmed victims: two women and two children. One man is reported to have survived by pretending to be dead after the attackers stabbed him in the stomach. He told a reporter the killing began around 7 pm Saturday, and ended around 3 am Sunday. He escaped two hours later, badly wounded, encountering a pile of human heads along the way.

Another survivor, possibly the only other survivor, was a pregnant mother. According to various reports, the armed men let her go because her little girl was screaming so loudly. Read the rest

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

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.

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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:
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.

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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.

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

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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. My notes from the event follow.

He accepted the award with characteristic humility and good humor, saying, "I am just a single monk; no more, no less," later adding for the Amnesty volunteers and human rights advocates assembled, "Your work is good. Please continue."

Addressing the crowd before the spiritual leader spoke, Amnesty International's U.S. executive director Larry Cox said the award honored the fact that he has "tirelessly and peacefully defended the rights of people everywhere" for over 50 years. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization's own founding.

The Dalai Lama took questions from Amnesty volunteers for more than an hour, and spoke of the imperative to protect those who are engaged in human rights work, as well as the need for freedom of information and expression in Tibet, China, and around the world.

Speaking through a translator, he described a Tibetan concept of generosity that encompasses not only material goods or comfort to those in need, "but also protection from fear."

"Individuals in some ways have more power than governments; the individuals, the artists, the activists who are compelled to change society—we must protect them."

Despite the white stubble he pointed to on his shaved head, the 76-year-old monk said he was optimistic that he would witness Tibetan "reunion" and peace with China in his lifetime. Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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) Read the rest

China says Tibetan Buddhist monks "disrupt social order," forces "patriotic re-education" camps after suicide protest

Click for large. In this file photo from 2007, Tibetan monks debate Buddhist philosophy at the Kirti Monastary. (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause)

Today, the government of China for the first time confirmed a crackdown by authorities at Kirti monastery (Kirti Gompa) in Sichuan province, but would not comment on reports by human rights groups that two monks at the monastery were murdered by armed government agents. Some 2,500 monks live at the monastery. Founded in 1472, it is considered a very important site in Tibetan Buddhism.

"In recent days, a small number of monks in Kirti Monastery in Aba county, Sichuan have disrupted social order and disobeyed Tibetan Buddhist rules," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. They have "disrupted local normal order, defamed the image of Tibetan Buddhism and harmed the feelings of Buddhist followers."

According to the US-based International Campaign for Tibet, unrest in the Chinese region erupted in March when a young monk set himself on fire and died in an apparent anti-government protest. On Thursday last week, paramilitary police raided the monastery and took away more than 300 monks. Authorities also started a re-education programme at Kirti, the group said.

Police also beat a group of laypeople who had been standing vigil outside the monastery, leading to the deaths of two Tibetans aged in their sixties, ICT said. "People had their arms and legs broken, one old woman had her leg broken in three places, and cloth was stuffed in their mouths to stifle their screams," an exiled Kirti monk was quoted as saying by the rights group.

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Creepy handwritten notes of CIA psychologist who helped design US torture techniques for terror detainees

Above: One of the items identified as notes produced by the infamous Dr. Bruce Jessen, a psychologist whose work was used to design the so-called "Enhanced interrogation techniques Program," which amounted to torture of "war on terror" detainees in custody of the CIA and Department of Defense. Truth-out.org published these a few weeks ago, but the Wikileaks dump of secret US documents on Guantánamo provide good reason to revisit. Dr. Jessen created this work as part of a US Air Force Survival Training study. You can download his handwritten and typed notes here in PDF, and a portion here in .zip. Read the rest

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