Saturday, October 31, 2015

How Many Americans are Swept up in NSA’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance?

The Brennan Center for Justice, joined by more than 30 other privacy and civil liberties organizations, urged Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper to determine and disclose how many Americans are swept up in NSA surveillance under a law that authorizes the agency to target foreigners overseas. Coming on the heels of the DNI’s release of a “Principles of Intelligence Transparency Implementation Plan” earlier this week, the letter challenges the Intelligence Community to put action behind its words. “Americans deserve to know the truth about so-called ‘foreign intelligence’ surveillance,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program.


Despite US Pressure, EU Parliament Clears Path For Snowden Asylum

In the face of global pressure from the United States, the European Parliament passed a resolution which may pave the way for a European Union country to grant asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. By a vote of 285 to 281, members of Parliament called on EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender.” Snowden described the development as a “game-changer” and added, “This is not a blow against the U.S. government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward.”


Friday, October 30, 2015

CIA's Torturers & Leaders Approving Their Actions Must Face The Law

Successful intelligence gathering through interrogation and other forms of human interaction by conventional means can be – and more often than not are – very successful. But, even though interrogation by less conventional methods might get glorified in popular culture – in television dramas like Law and Order: Criminal Intent, 24 and The Closer and movies like Zero Dark Thirty – torture and the mistreatment of detainees in the custody of intelligence personnel is, was and shall continue to be unethical and morally wrong. Under US law, torture and mistreatment of detainees is also very illegal. Even the most junior level intelligence officials know that this is, and has been, the case for decades.


2 Congressmen Propose Barring U.S. Prosecutors From Reading Inmates’ Emails to Lawyers

A bill introduced on Thursday by two members of Congress would bar federal prosecutors from reading emails between inmates and their lawyers, ending a practice that has angered defense lawyers and divided judges.
Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from Brooklyn, and Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia, sponsored the bill, which Mr. Jeffries said would correct an emerging inequity in the criminal justice system.
“I assume that most fair-minded prosecutors understand that our system of justice requires a dynamic where individuals are able to have the effective assistance of counsel necessary to adequately defend themselves,” Mr. Jeffries said in an interview, adding that “email is the most efficient way for an attorney to communicate with an incarcerated client.”
The New York Times reported last year that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn had alerted defendants that their emails would be monitored, a practice that was occurring in spots around the country.

Activists need to realize that most Americans actually agree with them

Revising our understanding of how much the majority agrees with us — by looking at opinion polls — helps challenge our despair, freeing energy for action.


US Senate Passes CISA, a "Cybersecurity" Bill Critics Say Will Expand Mass Surveillance

The US Senate passed the so-called Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act on Tuesday by a wide margin. The overwhelming Senate support for the bill gave little indication that concerns from tech companies, information security experts and civil liberties advocates were seriously considered.


Tribal Nations Leadership Council Meeting

This week the Department of Justice’s Office of Tribal Justice hosted the Tribal Nations Leadership Council, established in 2010 to provide the Attorney General with advice, experience, and knowledge about public safety, criminal justice, and other critical issues facing American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  The council met with Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery who described the department’s efforts to address public safety and to strengthen tribal sovereignty.  The TNLC also heard from senior leadership and staff from throughout the department’s law enforcement, grant making, and litigating components.  The TNLC provided suggestions to improve the department’s grant programs, its support for tribal youth and the implementation of special domestic violence jurisdiction in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, and expanding tribal access to federal criminal justice databases, among other topics.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Instead of Pardoning a Turkey This Year, Obama Should Free This Man

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve got a suggestion for President Barack Obama.

Instead of following the White House tradition and “pardoning“ a turkey destined for a holiday dinner table, Obama should extend that courtesy to some of the thousands of human beings caged up in America’s federal prisons.

Leonard Peltier should be one of them.


The problem of wrongful convictions must be ‘central’ to criminal justice reform efforts, warn experts

Last Thursday’s much-publicized conversation on criminal justice reform between Marshall Project editor Bill Keller and President Barack Obama failed to address “the real and hidden problems” facing our criminal justice system nationwide, according to criminal defense and civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate.

Writing in a blog post for Public Radio International and published over the weekend, Silverglate laments that by inviting only “higher-ups” to engage the President on the issue, the resulting conversation ended up being limited to discussions of macro policy instead of how those policies unfold on the ground, such as in the ways that prosecutors “routinely misuse their power.”

In addition, he explains, the reforms discussed by Keller, President Obama, US Attorney John Walsh and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck belie what he described as “a central scandal” – the fact that “a vast number of defendants are prosecuted for either (1) engaging in conduct that should not be criminalized at all, or for (2) acts that they did not commit but which a rewarded witness fingered them for.”

“These structural defects of the criminal justice system will continue to result in over-incarceration of our innocent fellow citizens, even if all of the reforms discussed at Keller’s White House extravaganza come to pass,” he continues. “The reforms mentioned at the panel – reduction of long sentences, the targeting of only the “worst-of-the-worst,” an increase in federal community policing grants – will only put a dent in the problem.”

Among the growing criminal justice tragedies that the panel ignored, warns Silverglate, is the “toxic plea bargaining culture” that has developed throughout the country, particularly in the guise of government cooperation in exchange for lower sentences.

“Endowed with the immense power of imposing long prison sentences, a prosecutor can single-handedly get a defendant to say almost anything about almost anybody,” adds the author. “Such witnesses, as the saying goes, will ‘not only sing, but compose.’ Many an innocent defendant has gone to prison for decades based on such bought testimony of dubious accuracy.”

That, in fact, was the case with Innocence Project client and exoneree Lewis Fogle, who had his conviction for the 1976 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl thrown out by a judge in September. Fogle spent 34 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was convicted largely on the testimony of three jail house informants who claimed that he confessed to them while incarcerated. 

“Making wrongful conviction and innocence-related issues central to the criminal justice reform conversation is an important way to highlight the issues plaguing the larger criminal system, from racial inequity to the plea system,” noted Rebecca Brown, the Innocence Project’s Director of Policy. “This is especially true if we plan to tackle and resolve the problems affecting criminal justice in any meaningful way.”

- See more at:

Edward Snowden Weighs In On CISA: “It’s A Surveillance Bill.”

[On November 27], NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden joined Fight for the Future’s Q&A session on reddit to weigh in on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA,) the controversial “cybersecurity” bill that is expected to see a vote on the Senate floor this afternoon. “CISA isn't a cybersecurity bill,” Snowden wrote in the reddit “IAmA” thread, “It's not going to stop any attacks. It's not going to make us any safer. It's a surveillance bill. What it allows is for the companies you interact with every day -- visibly, like Facebook, or invisibly, like AT&T -- to indiscriminately share private records about your interactions and activities with the government.”

Note:  The Senate approved CISA when the vote came to the floor.


Urgent Call to World Leaders to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change

World leaders can no longer ignore the warnings. The upcoming COP21 climate meeting in Paris is their last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change. They must deliver a comprehensive, just and legally binding global climate agreement.


Hillary Clinton Comes Out Against Abolishing the Death Penalty

Hillary Rodham Clinton had planned to focus her remarks Wednesday at a Politics and Eggs breakfast in Manchester, N.H., in support of the politically fraught, if somewhat arcane, issue of the Export-Import Bank and how it helps small businesses in the United States.
But a voter’s question about the death penalty pushed Mrs. Clinton to confront the heated issue for the first time in the Democratic nominating contest.
Asked her position on capital punishment, Mrs. Clinton said she did not support abolishing the death penalty, but she did encourage the federal government to rethink it.
“We have a lot of evidence now that the death penalty has been too frequently applied, and too often in a discriminatory way,” she said. “So I think we have to take a hard look at it.”
Mrs. Clinton added, “I do not favor abolishing it, however, because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Congressman says J. Edgar Hoover was the “opposite of justice,” wants name off FBI headquarters

There are a litany of problems with the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is why the FBI has spent more than a decade pushing for a new headquarters.

A congressman overseeing the bureau puts the building’s name at the top of the list.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced legislation last week that would strip the name of the agency’s longtime former director from the building. Hoover was among the most famous and powerful federal officials during his 37-year reign atop the FBI, but his aggressive and warrentless surveillance of civil rights leaders has since been well-chronicled.


Prosecution Of Police Killings Highest In Decade

The number of U.S. police officers charged in fatal shootings has hit the highest level in a decade in 2015, new research shows, driven by greater scrutiny over use of deadly force. Public outrage over the deaths of black men at the hands of police in New York, Missouri and elsewhere have spurred prosecutions. Police body cameras and bystanders' videos also have helped bring cases, but even with the upturn, only a small percentage of police killings result in charges, lawyers and analysts say. A dozen officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter this year resulting from shootings, up from an average of about five a year from 2005 to 2014, said Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminology at Ohio's Bowling Green State University.


Activists Accuse Facebook Of Lobbying For CISA

Facebook Incorporated is once again facing criticism from internet freedom and privacy advocates, this time for deception on their lobbying activities related to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA). CISA is the latest iteration of a long legislative effort by the government and various corporate interests to destroy legal privacy protections for internet users. Previous versions of CISA such as SOPA and PIPA were ultimately defeated in Congress after public outrage and opposition from an alliance of powerful tech firms scared politicians off.


Stop Fukushima Freeways

The Stop Fukushima Freeways Campaign shows the perils of the massive and unnecessary radioactive waste transportation that would occur across the U.S. if the moribund and scientifically-indefensible Yucca Mountain, Nevada waste dump were to be revived. Such large-scale transport would also occur if, as some in Congress advocate, a "centralized interim storage" site for high-level radioactive waste were created. In that case, the waste would either have to move twice (once to the interim site, and then to a permanent site), thus doubling the risks, or the "interim" site would become a de facto permanent waste dump--without going through the necessary scientific characterization. The solution to the radioactive waste problem begins with ending its generation as quickly as possible.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lawyers’ guild pushes Obama to grant clemency to jailed Native American advocate

The National Lawyers Guild is pushing President Barack Obama to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a 71-year-old Native American activist serving time in federal prison after being found guilty of killing two FBI agents in the 1970s. Simone Del Rosario has the latest.

Guidebook for 21st Century Policing

In December 2014, President Barack Obama appointed a task force on 21st century policing charged with identifying best practices and offering recommendations on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. To inform its work, the task force facilitated seven listening sessions, hearing testimony from 140 witnesses and reviewing volumes of written testimony, and submitted its final report to the President in May 2015. This implementation guide is a companion to the task force report. It is a tool that provides guidance on implementing the task force's 59 recommendations and 92 action items and serves as a resource for law enforcement, local government, community members, and other stakeholders interested in concrete examples of ways to turn the task force recommendations into action.


Locked Up

What is it like to live life behind bars? We hear from prisoners trying to manage their health, stay in touch with family and care for those who are dying.

Greenland Is Melting Away

For years, scientists have studied the impact of the planet’s warming on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. But while researchers have satellite images to track the icebergs that break off, and have created models to simulate the thawing, they have little on-the-ground information and so have trouble predicting precisely how fast sea levels will rise.

Their research could yield valuable information to help scientists figure out how rapidly sea levels will rise in the 21st century, and thus how people in coastal areas from New York to Bangladesh could plan for the change.


Too many behind bars

THE FEDERAL Bureau of Prisons will release 6,000 inmates locked up for nonviolent drug crimes at the end of the month. If a bipartisan group of senators gets its way, that will be just the beginning. On Thursday, the group pushed a criminal justice reform bill through the Judiciary Committee that backers say would reduce the federal prison population by tens of thousands. 

All of this is progress. But even if the bill passes, the number of people in prison in the United States would still be astoundingly high.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would adjust mandatory minimum sentences, with a focus on reducing penalties for nonviolent drug crimes. Only “serious” drug felonies and violent crimes would trigger enhanced mandatory sentences of 25, 20 or 15 years. Judges would have more leeway to excuse offenders from mandatory sentences, but not if they had prior violent or drug trafficking convictions. Judges would also be able to offer leniency if they found that “prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant’s criminal history and danger of recidivism .” The bill retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act, which removed the difference between sentences for crack and powder cocaine. That would help people in prison under old rules that are now widely regarded as unfair.

The bill demands that federal prisons assess each prisoner for his or her risk of reoffending and continually update these assessments. Prison programs would aim to reduce recidivism and would offer rewards for successful completion. Prisoners who complete the programs and are judged to present a limited reoffending risk would be eligible to serve parts of their sentences in pre-release custody at home or in a halfway house.

These are good ideas that should reduce the severity and expense of federal incarceration without sacrificing public safety. The ideologically diverse group of senators who negotiated the package — Cory Booker (D-N.J.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) — deserves credit for striking a bargain that has a good shot at passing Congress.

Even if this bill took full effect, however, the U.S. prison population would remain far higher than that of most other nations. About half of federal offenders are incarcerated on drug crimes, but the vast majority of prisoners are in state, not federal, prisons, where the proportion of drug offenders is significantly lower. So even if states adopted similar reforms focusing on nonviolent drug offenders, the effect would be limited. FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder calculates that if the United States released all drug offenders from federal and state prisons, the country would still have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world — by a significant margin. Reducing that is not as simple as letting a few pot smokers out of jail.


Political Lies About Police Brutality

Video recordings of police officers battering or even murdering unarmed black citizens have validated longstanding complaints by African-Americans and changed the way the country views the issue of police brutality. Police officers who might once have felt free to arrest or assault black citizens for no cause and explain it away later have been put on notice that the truth could be revealed by a cellphone video posted on the Internet.  This kind of public scrutiny is all to the good, given the damage police brutality has done to African-American communities for generations and the corrosive effect it has on the broader society. Yet the peeling away of secrecy on these indisputably unconstitutional practices is now being challenged by politicians who want to soft-pedal or even ignore police misconduct while attacking the people who expose it or raise their voices in protest against it. This trend is like something straight out of Orwell.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — the increasingly desperate presidential candidate who is going nowhere fast — took this posture on Sunday when he accused President Obama of encouraging “lawlessness” and violence against police officers by acknowledging that the country needed to take both police brutality and the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement seriously.
The president is absolutely right. This movement focuses on the irrefutable fact that black citizens are far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police. The more the country ignores that truth, the greater the civic discord that will flow from it.
The recent remarks of James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were not as racially poisonous as Mr. Christie’s, but they were no less incendiary. In a speech at the University of Chicago Law School on Friday, Mr. Comey said that heightened scrutiny of police behavior — and fear of appearing in “viral videos” — was leading officers to avoid confrontations with suspects. This, he said, may have contributed to an increase in crime.

There is no data suggesting such an effect, and certainly Mr. Comey has none. But his suggestion plays into the right-wing view that holding the police to constitutional standards endangers the public. Justice Department officials who have made a top priority of prosecuting police departments for civil rights violations — and who dispute that heightened scrutiny of the police drives up crime — were understandably angry at Mr. Comey’s speculations.



White House Disagrees With F.B.I. Chief on Scrutiny as a Cause of Crime

WASHINGTON — The White House said Monday that it did not agree with the assertion last week by the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, that additional scrutiny of law enforcement in the past year may have made police officers less aggressive, leading to a rise in violent crime in some cities.
“The evidence we have seen so far doesn’t support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said in response to a question about Mr. Comey at his daily briefing. “In fact, you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that’s not what’s taking place.”
In a speech at the University of Chicago on Friday, the F.B.I. director said there might be many factors — like cheaper drugs and easier access to guns — that had spawned an increase in crime. But none of them were as convincing to him as the notion that officers were afraid to get out of their patrol cars and deal directly with people on the street because the officers were afraid their interactions would be caught on video.
Mr. Comey acknowledged there was no data to back it up, but he said law enforcement leaders and officers had told him it was affecting policing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Soft Evidence Behind the Hard Rhetoric of ‘Deterrence’

...Today, the conversation about deterrence has become far more contested, because of the social and fiscal costs of mass incarceration. In October, the Justice Department announced it would free 6,000 nonviolent drug offenders who were behind bars, often because of the mandatory minimum sentences that Congress was eager to pass in Gramm’s day. Freeing prisoners has for decades been seen as politically perilous, but now there is increasing bipartisan agreement that lengthy sentences are used too fre­quently. Perhaps the country has hit a limit for ratcheting up punishment in the name of deterrence.
As it turns out, deterrence was not originally intended as an argument for harsh punishment. ‘‘Deter’’ comes from the Latin for ‘‘to frighten or discourage from.’’ ‘‘Deterrent’’ first appeared in English in 1829, in a book about punishment by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism. He believed that a law’s success could be measured by whether ‘‘the desired effect is produced by the employment of the least possible suffering.” Punishment should be swift, certain and severe enough to achieve deterrence — but not more severe than necessary.

Court Orders DOJ To Stop Prosecuting Legal Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

In a huge victory for the medical marijuana industry in California, a federal court on Monday ruled that the Department of Justice (DOJ) violated the law when it misused an amendment in last year's federal spending bill to prosecute legal dispensaries in the state. Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court in northern California handed down a biting decision chastising the DOJ for its twisted interpretation of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the department or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from taking legal action against suppliers in compliance with state regulations.


RiseUpOctober STOP Police Terror! Begins Thursday

"No More Stolen Lives: Say Their Names" will bring together some 40 families from across the U.S. who’ve lost loved ones to police violence. They will be joined by prominent voices of conscience in love, remembrance, and defiance to say THIS MUST STOP!” "No More Stolen Lives: Say Their Names" begins RiseUpOctober -- three days of mass resistance and acts of conscience to STOP Police Terror! and draw a line throughout society: "Which Side Are You On? Three days aimed at nothing less than changing “the whole social landscape to the point where more people take initiative and make it unmistakably clear that they refuse to live in a society that sanctions this outrage,” as actor Mark Ruffalo put it in a support statement.


Why the Police Want Prison Reform

“We need less incarceration, not more, to keep all Americans safe.”
Criminal justice reform groups have been saying this for years. This time the source is unexpected: More than 130 of the nation’s top law-enforcement officials, including big-city police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and attorneys general, have joined the call to end to the harsh, counterproductive practices and policies that have driven America’s devastating prison boom, destroyed communities and written off an entire generation of young men of color.

Snowden lashes out at US government for keeping drone program secret

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and one of the top lawyers for the U.S. intelligence community, Robert Litt, gave back-to-back speeches at an academic gathering that addressed major controversies over government surveillance, basic privacy protections and freedom of information. But the most revealing exchanges during their talks centered on new leaks about the U.S. drone program, made possible by an unknown whistleblower.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Inside the secret world of the Communications Management Units

Inside the secret world of the Communications Management Units, where prisoners are isolated from the outside world in what inmates call a “secret prison for terrorists” within the federal system. No one outside of the Bureau of Prisons knows precisely which prisoners are kept in CMUs, or why, or what it takes to be removed from this level of confinement. Here is journalist Will Potter, back from a rare visit inside the units, chronicling in a speech what life is like for the mostly-Muslim prisoners.


Congress Prepares to Deliver (a Little) Criminal Justice Reform

Speaking on the record, campaigners for criminal justice reform describe the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 — the version given the best chance of passing Congress this year — as "historic," a "major breakthrough," “a game-changer.” The head of a left-right reform coalition called the measure, introduced by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, "monumental." Monday’s pro forma committee hearing on the bill was, as one observer put it, a love-in.
Speaking on background, many advocates are more likely to use words like “very modest,” “disappointing,” and “pretty weak tea.” One of the most ardent conservative advocates of reform calls the Grassley bill “a joke” and “a sham.”

Homan Square revealed: how Chicago police 'disappeared' 7,000 people

Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal. From August 2004 to June 2015, nearly 6,000 of those held at the facility were black, which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population. But only 68 of those held were allowed access to attorneys or a public notice of their whereabouts, internal police records show.


Police Leaders Join Call to Cut Prison Rosters

More than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs — including some of the most prominent law enforcement officials in the country — are adding their clout to the movement to reduce the nation’s incarceration rate.

Asserting that “too many people are behind bars that don’t belong there,” the officials plan to announce on Wednesday that they have formed a group to push for alternatives to arrests, reducing the number of criminal laws and ending mandatory minimum prison sentences. Members of the group are scheduled to meet Thursday with President Obama.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

IACHR Concludes Visit to Florida, Louisiana and Missouri, United States

Press Release 118/15


IACHR Concludes Visit to Florida, Louisiana and Missouri, United States


October 16, 2015

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conducted a working visit to the United States from September 21-25, 2015, in order to receive information on racial discrimination and poverty.  The President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Racial Discrimination, Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, led the delegation.

Through its monitoring work in the United States, the Commission has consistently received information of concern related to the persistent problem of structural discrimination and racial disparities in all actions and processes within the criminal justice system in the United States, and in the intervention of law enforcement authorities, and in particular the police.  These issues have been very prominent in the United States media between 2012-2015 due to the high profile deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Lamar Scott and Freddie Gray. The information available to the Commission indicates that racial discrimination in policing and in the criminal justice system is symptomatic of a wider social problem and context of racism in the United States.

Consequently, the Commission decided to prepare a report on the use of police force against African-Americans in the United States and in relation to its human rights implications, and to pursue an on-site visit comparing the current situation in several locations.  The Inter-American Commission also decided this year to begin a process to prepare its first thematic report on human rights and poverty. In that sense, the findings of this visit will also be incorporated in a hemispheric report currently being prepared by the Commission analyzing human rights issues related to poverty; a problem intimately connected with the situation of marginalization, discrimination, and exclusion frequently faced by African-Americans in the United States.

Accordingly, the Commission visited the localities of Ferguson, St. Louis, New Orleans, Sanford, Orlando, and Miami between September 21 and 25, 2015. The Commission shares some initial observations below based on the information gathered during the visit. 

St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri

The delegation visited Missouri and the localities of Ferguson and St. Louis on Thursday, September 24th and 25th.  Before its visit, as its consistent practice, the Commission requested meetings with several government authorities in Ferguson including Mayor James Knowles III; the Ferguson City Council Members; Chief of Police John Belmar; and Prosecutor Robert McCullough. Regrettably these meetings were not granted. The delegation did meet with several of the members of the Ferguson Commission, an independent committee created by Executive Order to study the underlying social and economic causes underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, including Reverend Starky Wilson, Co-Chair, and Felicia Puliam and Brittany Packnett; Senator Maria Nicole Chappelle-Nadal; and Professors Brendan Roediger, Roger Goldman, and Anders Walker.  The Commission also held a general forum and individual meetings with civil society organizations, activists, students, and members of academia at St. Louis University School of Law.

In addition, the delegation visited the memorial created by Michael Brown in Canfield, Ferguson. The Commission expresses its gratitude to the Canfield Watchmen, who facilitated and supported the delegation’s visit to Ferguson.

During the meetings held in Missouri, the legacy and long-lasting impact of the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 and the non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson on November 24, 2014, became evident to the delegation.  Both events have sparked outrage and unrest in Ferguson and alarming claims of institutional racism in the daily conduct of the police. Moreover, there has been strong public criticism of the police response to this crisis, including the excessive use of tear gas and violence against African-Americans as a control strategy, even during peaceful protests, the arbitrary detention of protesters, and the disrespect of places identified as safe-houses, including places of worship, during protests.  The delegation received a particularly disturbing account from several witnesses of different races alluding to how the police in Ferguson deliberated bypassed white protestors to focus engagement with excessive force on those African-American.  All of these police actions have further alienated the community affected.  Those who participated in protests indicated to the delegation that “the police treat us like roaches”.

The delegation was also informed of the level of mistrust of the Ferguson community in the police and in the government authorities.  Particularly emblematic was information received regarding the disrespect afforded to the Michael Brown memorial in Canfield, including allegations pertaining to the stealing of teddy bears, flowers, and other of the memorabilia.  A cross-cutting theme in the narrative of the persons interviewed was the lack of efforts from the police to reach out and develop constructive relationships with the African-American and low-income communities.   These problems are aggravated and intimately connected with the militarization of the police, the lack of convictions for most police abuses which are reported, the over-representation of African-Americans in the prison system and the precarious conditions in prisons, the over-criminalization of offenses, and the racial disparities in the justice system.  Most of those interviewed referred to a “culture of protecting the police department, no matter what they do”.

The Commission also received information of concern related to the link between the funding of the police and the court system, and how this often results in disproportionate policing against African-Americans, in particular for traffic offenses.  This in turn is exacerbated by the deep poverty experienced by the African-American community in Missouri.  Another layer of complexity is the geographic peculiarity of Missouri with self-governing principalities, which means that African-Americans can be repeatedly arrested for the same offence.

New Orleans, Louisiana

On Wednesday, September 23rd, the delegation met with several public officials in the City of New Orleans, including Ursula Price from the Office of the Inspector General; Daniel Cazevana, Chief of Staff of the New Orleans Police Department; Arlinda Westbrook, Deputy Chief of the Public Integrity Bureau; Zach Butterworth, Director of Federal Relations from the Office of Major Mitchell J. Landrieu; Sharonda Williams, City Attorney; and Suchitra Satpahi, Director of State and International Relations.   The Commission also held a meeting with several victims and civil society organizations at the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at the Louisiana University School of Law.

During its meetings with government authorities, the Commission was informed that 90% of those arrested by the police in New Orleans are African-American men under the age of 30.  However, African-American men only make up for 30% of the complaints presented before the authorities for police abuses, since most low-income persons do not trust that the authorities will grant them a remedy for human rights abuses, and the process is filled with fines and fees.  The delegation also received reports of several cases of police excessive use of force against African-American juveniles and how such juveniles tend to be treated as adults in the justice system.  Reference was made to a “generational problem” with the police and the racist treatment of African-Americans.  The delegation was also informed of problems with sexual assault investigations, since many police officers do not believe in non-violent rape, which evidences the need for better training on how to properly do the intake of these complaints.

The delegation was informed in general in New Orleans of the need to change the culture of the use of excessive police force (described as “over-policing”), to strengthen accountability mechanisms and transparency in investigations.  The use of measures such as body cameras was also put forward as a possible mechanism to curtail perceived abuses. During its visit to New Orleans, the delegation received several testimonies from mothers of males who are incarcerated and in dire detention conditions, including barriers to access needed medical services.  The problem of mass incarceration of African-Americans in general was underscored.

Orlando and Sanford, Florida

On Tuesday, September 22, 2015, the Commission traveled to the City of Orlando where it held meetings with Chief of Police John Mina, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Brooks, and Lieutenant Vincent Ogburn.   The delegation also traveled to the City of Sanford and met with Mayor Jeff Triplett, Chief of Police Cecil Smith, Senior Project Manager Andrew Thomas, and Norton N. Bonaparte Jr., Sanford City Manager.  The Commission also held a general forum with civil society organizations, activists, victims, and academics in Florida A&M College of Law.    During its meeting with the administration and police authorities of the City of Orlando, the delegation was informed of several policies adopted to prevent incidents of excessive use of police force, learning from the challenges faced by other US jurisdictions with these cases and a renewed national discourse on how policing should be conducted.   Among the most noteworthy are a comprehensive policy to prevent racial profiling, efforts to build trust and relationships with the communities they police, measures to increase access to information on the cases that are being investigated, the finding of alternatives to arrests, and steps to follow-up with the recommendations issued by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. 

In the City of Sanford, public officials informed the delegation of the steps taken to respond to the aftermath of the death of Trayvon Martin in February 26, 2012, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. They described a community which felt excluded and compelled to protest, and needed a close conversation with the government authorities of how to move forward and prevent a similar tragedy in the future.  They communicated how the members of the community needed spaces to voice concerns peacefully over racial discrimination issues and bias, to be listened to by the government authorities, and how they created several opportunities to do so.  Special reference was made to the Blue Ribbon Panel which was asked to take a look at the Police Department’s policies and procedures regarding community relations including suggestions of how to improve these.  In the meeting with non-state actors, the Blue Ribbon Panel was also mentioned as a good practice in strengthening the relationship between the community and the police, by setting aside seats for civil society organizations, and for the community to participate.

During its meeting with non-state actors in Orlando, the Commission was informed of continued and enduring problems relating to race and law enforcement in Orlando and Sanford.  For example, the delegation was informed about problems of mass incarceration and voter disenfranchisement affecting African-Americans because of convictions, which deeply limits the full exercise of the democratic and citizenship rights of these communities. Such convictions themselves are suspect because of structural racism.  The delegation also received information on the problem of bicycle stops by the police, the high number of traffic tickets received by African-Americans, and how this problem affects in particular children from low-income neighborhoods.  The delegation also received the testimony of a young African-American law student who gave testimony that he had been stopped by the police about thirty times in his lifetime based on his race and his appearance.  Many of the persons affected are afraid to report these arbitrary stops before the authorities, in particular if they have committed offenses in the past.  Those interviewed claimed that the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division should investigate these problems. The Commission also received information of problems faced by Haitian and Hispanic immigrants, including language barriers to obtain basic services and the lack of identity documents, and how this situation makes them vulnerable to police abuses.

Miami, Florida

The visit of the Commission began in Miami, Florida on Monday, September 21st, where it held meetings with Mayor Tomas Regalado, Chief of Police Rodolfo Llanes and several high level members of the police force, and Carlos Martinez, Public Defender for Miami-Dade County.  The Commission also held a general forum with a vast number of civil society organizations, activists, and victims, and their family members at the St. Thomas University School of Law.   During its meetings, the Commission received information related to a number of efforts undertaken by government authorities to prevent and respond to police abuses and racial profiling disproportionately affecting the African-American community. These included steps to ensure that the police force mirrors the communities they are serving, the creation of a Civilian Investigative Panel, different kinds of police trainings sponsored by the universities in Florida, and initiatives to build trust with the communities that are policed.  The Public Defender also informed the Commission of trainings offered to the police on the long-term effects of arrests on the persons affected.  Further, the Commission received information on how the media coverage afforded to the cases of police violence against African-Americans in the United States in recent years has promoted local reflection of how to do better policing and prevent incidents of arbitrary use of force.

Notwithstanding this information, the delegation did receive accounts of cases of the excessive use of force by the police in different areas in Miami which have resulted in death and severe injuries, and about the fact that these cases do not usually result in police convictions. For example, the Commission met with the parents of Israel Hernandez Jr., an 18 year old who was killed by the Miami Beach Police in 2013 through the use of a taser gun in his chest, while unarmed and painting graffiti.  The delegation also received information on how race and poverty are key determinants in the number of arrests a person receives, with a profound effect on their life plan and socio-economic status, and in the processing of these cases by the justice system. African-Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented in the prison system in Miami and the problems of over-criminalization and racial profiling were mentioned frequently; the delegation also received reports of the frequent denial of counsel in misdemeanor cases.  Most of those interviewed in civil society communicated a concern over the lack of sensitivity of the police in their interaction with the persons who compose the communities that they police.   Other concerns were raised during meetings of factors which serve to solidify the current state situation of marginalization, exclusion, and poverty of the African-American community in Miami, including displacement in housing, racial discrimination in schools and in access to basic health care, restrictions to the right to vote to those convicted and imprisoned, police violence against those who engage in the defense of human rights, and the inconsistent and discriminatory application of Stand Your Ground Laws, legitimizing a “shoot first” mindset based on perceptions and prejudices.


The information collected in this visit reveals the need for both the federal and state governments, respectively, to undertake steps with due diligence and without delay to address the context which fuels forms of structural discrimination and disparate treatment against African-Americans and racial minorities in the United States. This is vital for the full exercise of citizenship by African-Americas and to foster a more inclusive democracy in the United States.  The meetings held confirmed the wide problem of racism and racial discrimination in the United States and how the excessive use of force in policing, as well as the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, are a reflection of this alarming human rights situation.  The historic discrimination faced by African-Americas, and their frequent, structural situation of poverty, serves as the backbone for many of the problems shared during the visit concerning police abuses, the overrepresentation of African-Americans in the arrests and prison system, and in the unequal access to justice.

The Commission recognizes the efforts promoted by state officials and police departments interviewed to prevent police abuses and to promote a more diverse police force more reflective of the communities they serve.   It is clear, though, that there needs to be more initiatives undertaken to strengthen police relations with their communities and to build trust, to increase the training offered to police officers on issues such as racial profiling, as well as measures to guarantee that police officers are duly investigated and held accountable when abuses occur.  Several calls were made during the visit for more independent mechanisms to investigate police abuses and measures to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the existing ones.  Measures also need to be undertaken by the government authorities to grant reparations to the victims and their family members when incidents of police abuse occur, and initiatives to transform the discriminatory culture and prejudices which fuel this cycle of violence.  There also needs to be more research on alternative approaches to over-criminalization and arrests, especially for minor crimes, considering the negative impact of a criminal record in the life plan of the persons affected.  The ways in which the enduring situation of poverty of many African-American and other ethnic minorities face, exacerbates their disproportionate abuse and treatment in the hands of the criminal justice system and the police, which in turn aborts efforts to overcome such poverty.

The Commission also underscores that the protection against arbitrary deprivations of the right to life applies to the entire state structure, including the actions of its police officers, during times of both peace and unrest.  The use of force by the police must be guided by the principle of exceptionality and only used when other methods have been exhausted and failed. The Commission also underscores the need to safeguard the basic human rights of protesters, including their rights to life and to their physical and psychological integrity.  The government – both at the federal and state levels - is also responsible for establishing legal avenues and a system which is independent and impartial in its investigations of police abuses, which achieves convictions when appropriate.  The problem of impunity fosters an environment where police violence and abuses are tolerated and expected and serves to sustain disparate treatment.

The Commission notes that while human rights violations are occurring at the local level, it is the obligation of the federal government to intervene to ensure and protect human rights. This obligation is enshrined in international law and reflected in the U.S. Constitutional Protections.
The Commission also considers important that both federal and state authorities collaborate closely to prevent and properly respond to the frequent use of force against African-Americans in the US, and to address the systemic discrimination and socioeconomic situation which increases the risk of these incidents.  Finally, the Commission underscores the need for the United States to adopt steps to comply with the recommendations issued by various international bodies on this issue, including the United Nations Human Rights, Racial Discrimination and Torture Committees, and the Universal Periodic Review, as well as the recommendations issued by federal and state bodies oriented to improve policing in this sphere.

The Commission would like to thank the government of the United States for their support with this visit.  The Commission also expresses its profound gratitude to Nicole Lee, Meena Jagannath, Professor Bill Quigley, Professor Chrissy Cerniglia Brown, Professor Justin Hansford, Mark Timmerman, Cade Bauer-Showers, Kathryn Redmond, Ericka Simpson Connor, Ilana Friedman, Nahal Zamani, and Wade McMullen for their support and advice in the organization of meetings.  The Commission is finally grateful to St. Thomas University Law School, the Florida A & M Faculty of Law, the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and St. Louis University Law School for hosting meetings with non-state actors. The Commission finally expresses its gratitude to the European Union and France for the financial contributions which made this visit possible. 

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Contact info: 
MarĂ­a Isabel Rivero | IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel. (1) 202 370 9001

Facebook Will Now Tell You When the Government Hacks Your Account — Here's Why

Facebook announced Friday that it will notify users when a government is trying to hack their account, offering an option to up security settings if a state-sponsored intrusion is suspected — but the social giant won't reveal how it knows.

The announcement, posted to Facebook Notes by chief security officer Alex Stamos, detailed that under "strong suspicion" that the government is attempting to hack a specific account, Facebook will send the user a warning that prompts them to upgrade to a two-step login process, in which the user must enter a security code sent to their phone before logging in.


Seismic rupture in the Internet‏

This is the week. Congress is about to create a seismic rupture in the Internet.
CISA is coming up for final vote sometime today or tomorrow. If it passes, we'll be more vulnerable to hacks as companies shift responsibility for preventing them away to the government. Companies will continue to leave the door open for thieves to get your information, including your bank information and Social Security number. On top of that, all your data will be automatically shared with 7 government agencies, including the NSA and local police.
They're trying to ignore that millions of people have already called on Congress to stop CISA. And, that they have no business passing it.
The other side wants us to get sick of taking action. They want to wear us down until we give up. We can't give up at this final juncture. The Intelligence Committee, full of the Congresspeople who take the most money from the Defense Industry, is hell bent on passing a “cybersecurity” bill in some form. They don't care what it does or says, even if it means creating more vulnerabilities across the Internet and breaking it.
This is corruption. The Defense industry cares about profit as much as the next industry. But, their pockets are very, very deep. They've bought out politicians to do their bidding. That's why it's convenient that Congress doesn't understand the Internet and doesn't know how to address cyber hacks.
Instead of making sure companies use good security, Congress is convinced they should install a massive surveillance law to watch for hacks. Even security experts have roundly condemned the bill for its ineffectiveness, but Congress is so corrupted they don't care or don't understand that it won't work.
Just a few month ago, things were looking really grim. It seemed almost certain that CISA would pass, but since then we've unleashed a huge can of whoopass and our campaigns have led to nearly every major tech company in the U.S. speaking out to oppose this bill. Trade groups that represent Google, Facebook, Amazon, Sprint have come out against CISA. Twitter, Yelp, Wikipedia came out opposed too, thanks to you and all the grassroots pressure.
We've done all this work because surveillance is the defining issue in our digital age.
We're in a moment when our data and privacy have become currency. Governments and corporations are fighting over what to do with it, how to pass laws that let them reap profit and power off of it, even when it's abusive, criminal, or unconstitutional.
We have to make the line in the sand clear. Our data must be protected and can't be used against us.
Thanks for all you do,

Tiff, Jeff, Evan, Donny, Charlie, and the rest of the team at Fight for the Future

This is about the Internet’s future

Encryption is the basis for all privacy and security online. If your phone or laptop gets stolen, encryption is the only thing protecting your photos and personal information.

Without encryption, your credit card numbers, passwords and online accounts would be accessible to anyone. Encryption is also the only hope that leaders, activists, and journalists have for protection from government spies. It’s that big a deal.
But now, governments are threatening to ban it. Why? Because encryption makes some locks so strong, even governments can’t open them – and that lack of control freaks governments out.
Even if we wanted the FBI or local police to be able to access any seized iPhone or encrypted message in an emergency, there’s another problem: you can’t have it both ways. If the government gets a special backdoor, it’s only a matter of time before criminals figure it out, and then we’re all vulnerable. Even worse, just the process of adding the backdoor brings huge new complexities and more opportunities for mistakes – mistakes that attackers can exploit.
The worst part is, most people in government either don’t understand this or they pretend not to. They want the instant backdoor access AND the security encryption provides.
This is why we’re so worried about this. Even well-meaning politicians could make a disastrous mistake here, out of simple ignorance.
This is about the basic integrity of our bank accounts. It’s about protecting people from the pain of having their private photos spilled onto the Internet. But it goes even farther than that...
This past summer, my stomach turned as I read1 about vulnerabilities in over 500,000 cars (!)that let hackers disable engines and brakes, remotely, anonymously, over the cellphone network. Security researchers are barely able to keep us safe as it is; a ban on strong encryption all but guarantees catastrophic attacks.

Defending encryption has become a matter of life and death. Can you sign this petition now, to defend our basic safety in the digital age?
And there’s one more thing. This may not be important to all of you, but it’s pretty important to us. A few years back, a pretty incredible new innovation came along. It’s called “the blockchain” and it lets engineers build decentralized, free-and-open-source alternatives to centralized corporate monoliths like Paypal, Facebook, Google, Uber, or eBay. That really matters.2
But if governments ban encryption, blockchain technology (which depends on cryptography) would become impossible or illegal. The brilliant young people working on replacing Google or Facebook with something we all control could be thrown in jail, just for building a better Internet.
That’s the dark future that scares me most of all. And I want to do everything I can to prevent it from happening. But we need your help. Can you sign?
Thank you for everything you do,
– Holmes Wilson and the whole Fight for the Future team.

P.S. If this issue is important for you as it is for us, please chip in $5 right now. Not many funders get how big a deal defending crypto is, so Fight for the Future’s ability to do its best work on this issue is in your hands. That said, if you’d like to be involved in funding a larger project, or know someone who might be, be in touch. 


Monday, October 19, 2015

WARRIOR The Life of Leonard Peltier

This is the definitive feature documentary about American Indian activist, Leonard Peltier. His story is told within the context of the American Indian Movement, the US federal government, and the multi national companies interested in mining the land in South Dakota.

Produced and directed by Suzie Baer. 1992

For more information about Leonard Peltier please contact

For more information about the film / posters contact Suzie Baer at

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Neil Young Launches Conservation-Themed Website

Neil Young has launched a new website,, with the aim of motivating people toward global conservation. The site offers information on earth ecology, banning GMOs, the future of farming, climate change and social causes, among other topics. Taking inspiration from the "Village" of activist organizations that have been traveling with Young on his current tour, the site's motto is, "It takes a village to keep the free world rockin'."


Prisoners' Families Organize to Resist Incarceration and Its Costs

Incarceration takes an immense financial and emotional toll on relatives of prisoners, particularly on women family members. Increasingly, many women are organizing with others to challenge these high costs and fight the laws that fuel mass incarceration.


Snowden and Ellsberg Hail Leak of Drone Documents from New Whistleblower

“The report the Intercept story references is an internal classified document,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Linda Rojas. “As a matter of policy we don’t comment on the details of classified reports.”


Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say

Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. Michael Brown. Each killing raises a disturbing question: Would any of these people have been killed by police officers if they had been white?
I have no special insight into the psychology of police officers or into the complicated forensics involved in such cases. Answering this question in any single situation can be difficult and divisive. Two outside experts this month concluded, for example, that the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who was carrying a toy gun, was a “reasonable” if tragic response. That will hardly be the last word on the subject.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Too Late To Save Over 400 Cities From Rising Seas

An alarming new study has found that, no matter what we do to fight climate change, it is already too late for more than 400 U.S. cities — including Miami and New Orleans — which will be overcome by rising sea levels caused by anthropogenic climate change. Under a worst-case scenario, New York could be unlivable by the year 2085. Most of the population in those cities live within five feet of the current high tide line. "Some of this could happen as early as next century," said lead author Ben Strauss, vice president for sea level and climate impacts at Climate Central, a nonprofit climate news organization with offices in New York and Princeton, New Jersey.