Category Archives: freedom

op-ed:Welcome To The New America, Police State

The United States of America was founded on freedoms and rights. Freedoms of speech and religion, the right to pursue happiness. The right to privacy in your own home. Somewhere along the lines in the past decade something has gone terribly wrong.

The Merriam-Webster definition of a police state is as follows: a political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures.

The Urban Dictionary says it is a country where the police watch what you do and try to control your life. Where there’s cameras in town centres and on public transport. Where you can be arrested because of something you said to a friend about the leaders of your country. Where police stop and search people for no reason. Where you can be detained without charge or trial. Where the state plants bugs with impunity. Where protesters have to get police permits, and where police regularly attack protesters.

It has been revealed that the United States government issued a subpoena to Amazon.com to obtain the identities of customers who brought their books from the site. It’s not the first time the citizens of the U.S. have faced this kind of personal invasion by the government. The Patriot Act of 2001 allows for the government and FBI to gain access to business records, medical records, educational records and library records, including stored electronic data and communications.

The Amazon deal was blocked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker.

“Well-founded or not, rumors of an Orwellian federal criminal investigation into the reading habits of Amazon’s customers could frighten countless potential customers into canceling planned online book purchases.”

The United States government is already listening in on its citizens calls, both domestic and international. Your emails can be tapped. There is no longer the right of citizens to have a search warrant before Big Brother comes knocking because they don’t bother to knock, they sneak in the back door while you chat on the phone. But it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone because they may act up about it.

Speaking of acting up if you don’t have a [url=http://media.www.michigandaily.com/media/storage/paper851/news/2002/10/02/Opinion/A.Permit.We.Protest-1412692.shtml t=_blank]permit then you could be in trouble. The issuing of permits to protest took place quickly after 9/11. Getting arrested if you protest the war in Iraq should seem insane to Americans but it happens all the time. Speakers are hauled off before they can let their opinions heard. War Vets are handcuffed and hauled away for protesting the new war on Veteran’s Day.

What is most frightening about these acts? The American people have been silent. They haven’t caused an uproar as their freedoms flee into the government’s hands.

We have a government who is the only one in the world that has dropped nuclear weapons on civilians going after oil rich countries because they have an idea that there are weapons of mass destruction. Or was that claim simply used to make it seem okay to invade a country after the U.N. said no? Iran is the next target.

“The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention,” the panel found.

Living in a police state means that the police don’t have to have a reason to arrest you. Wait a minute, that hasn’t happened in the United States to their citizens! Wrong. Jose Padilla was held for months without charges before his trial. Yaser Esam Hamdi was held for three years without charges. Maher Hawash is another.

These little pieces of the puzzle of freedom that go missing may not seem like much in the beginning. But as each piece is removed it stands the chance of being lost. As each piece is lost the overall puzzle changes its image.

When freedoms slowly and quietly are removed the landscape of a country changes. When you relook at the definitions again for police state do you see a new puzzle starting to become complete?


op-ed: Freedom Of The Press Is Not Always The American Way

Iraqi Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been in prison for over 19 months. The U.S. military plans to seek a criminal case against Hussein but have not disclosed evidence or even the actual charges against the man.

According to Harper’s Magazine, “the order to arrest Hussein came from very high up, and the reason for the arrest was unmistakable: he was the man who took those damned photographs!”

Iraq- AP was notified on Sunday Nov. 18, 2007 that Hussein’s case would be brought into the Iraqi justice system as early as November 29, 2007.

“This is a poor example _ and not the first of its kind _ of the way our government honors the democratic principles and values it says it wants to share with the Iraqi people,” AP President and CEO Tom Curley wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

When Hussein and his lawyer enter the court they will enter it “blindly” with no idea what evidence or charges are being thrown to the photographer. Military officials have refused to disclose the content of the complaint against the man to anyone, including AP who has repeatedly requested it.

A native of Fallujah the 36 year old photograph was part of the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team in 2005. He has been detained in Ramadi since April 12, 2006.

“In the 19 months since he was picked up, Bilal has not been charged with any crime, although the military has sent out a flurry of ever-changing claims. Every claim we’ve checked out has proved to be false, overblown or microscopic in significance,” said Curley.

The military has alleged that Hussein has ties to terrorist groups. That is something that the AP has delved into coming up empty handed. What they did note though was that he was a working photo journalist covering a war that perhaps the United States government doesn’t want their citizens to know all the sordid details. He didn’t take nice fluffy pictures, he was covering a bloody brutal war. Could he have been simply to good at his job?

“We believe Bilal’s crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man,” Curley wrote.

U.S. officials have accused him of providing false ID to a sniper seeking to evade U.S. forces, of having bomb making equipment and that he took photos that were in sync with insurgent blasts. Not one of these accusations have been found to have merit when researched by the AP.

“The best evidence of how Hussein conducted himself as a journalist working for AP is the extensive photographic record,” Gardephe wrote. “There is no evidence — in nearly a thousand photographs taken over the 20-month period — that his activities ever strayed from those of a legitimate journalist.”

The military has refused to answer questions posed to them by Hussein’s attorney Paul Gardephe. Gardephe has also revealed that Hussein was interrogated without his lawyer present for the first time in over 16 months recently. He presumes that this was to gain some evidence to be used against the man.

“How is Gardephe to defend Bilal? This affair makes a mockery of the democratic principles of justice and the rule of law that the United States says it is trying to help Iraq establish,” Curley wrote.

Before Hussein was imprisoned he covered Fallujah or in Ramadi. The photos he took were often ones that higher ups would have preferred to remain unseen. He was able to move in and out of dangerous areas because he lived that terrain for all of his life. He had the ability to gain a press coverage that perhaps some of the West will never be able to.

Hussein had been working at a mobile phone shop when AP picked him up as a photographer. He was first hired as a translator and driver. Within months of that assignment he was taking professional quality pictures, including one of insurgents engaged with coalition forces that was part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photography entry last year.

Going into journalism in Iraq is not a wise career move. Journalists are killed or imprisoned at the drop of a hat. His family has had to flee their bullet riddled home. He once had to ditch his valuable camera gear to run for his life.

His photos were not always printed. They showed things that are too graphic for most people to view. They showed war. They showed how children reacted to war. The AP has investigated this journalist quite thoroughly. He is one of their own. Their reports on him show a dedicated man who wanted the truth to be shown.

“Hussein’s interrogators have repeatedly alluded to the photographs he took as the basis for his incarceration,” the report said. “Interrogators have focused, in particular, on several photographs taken shortly before his arrest showing Iraqi children playing with the torn-off leg of an injured U.S. or Iraqi soldier.”

The report quoted one interrogator as saying to Hussein: “Do you know what would happen if these photos were shown in the U.S.? There would be huge demonstrations

In prison he’s a marked man. He worked for a Western news service. He’s been labeled as an enemy by the U.S. military. He’s in an impossible position that had he never lifted a camera he wouldn’t have been.

Did he know terrorists? Chances are pretty high that he did. He grew up with them, went to school and mosque with some of them probably. That doesn’t mean that he is a terrorist. It doesn’t mean that he followed the same path. It does mean he would have been able though to get photos a little more easily. Gain their trust so that the world could see what is going on. Be a better journalist.

It always means that if someone doesn’t want real stories told then it’s better to get him out of the way.

“At present, Hussein is being held in a judicial limbo with the U.S. military changing their accusations against him each time they are disproved,” Fritz said.

IPI calls on the U.S. military to release him or try him or show good cause before an independent court as to why they cannot do so.”

Until this happens, Hussein, in the eyes of the international community, will “remain an innocent AP photographer enduring what appears to be a long and unjust imprisonment,” Fritz said.

Freedom of the press? It’s becoming more freedom (if you hush about what shouldn’t be out there) of the press.

Video link
to U.S. plans case against AP photographer.


Dalai Lama May Pick His Own Successor

The Dalai Lama fearing that the Chinese government may try to influence the succession process is thinking about picking his own successor. The man who was as a child named Lhamo Thondup does not want the role of Dalai Lama to be ruled by the government.

Generally when a Dalai Lama dies senior Tibetan Buddhist officials guided by their dreams and signs identify a child to succeed him. The Dalai Lama though is fearful that Beijing may take over the process is trying to decide what’s best for his people, the current method or one in which he would pick out the child who would become the next in line.

“If the Tibetan people want to keep the Dalai Lama system, one of the possibilities I have been considering with my aides is to select the next Dalai Lama while I’m alive,” he told the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun during a visit to Japan.

“If China selected my successor after my death, the people of Tibet would not support him as there would be no Tibetan heart in him,” he said.

Dalai Lama is now 72 years old and though in good health needs to be concerned of his age and the way China is now trying to control the Tibetan people.

In 1950 China invaded Tibet and claims sovereignty over the country. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet 17 March disguised as a common soldier. He was joined at the Kyichu river by his family members and the rest of his entourage. Since reaching India he has resided there

China is not pleased by his involvement in politics. When he picked a six year old boy as Panchen Lama the Chinese government intervened by detaining the child and selecting a replacement who was loyal to the Chinese rule.

Beijing has denounced the Dalai Lama’s many journeys. He has visited the United States, Germany, Canada and most recently Japan.

According the the Chinese government they believe that he should only have a religious role and not a political one.

Buddhists believe that the current Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of those before him. He was found after a search party of High Lamas located him as a child. He had been born on 6 July 1935 close to the time that the previous Dalai Lama had passed away. As a young child he was able to identify relics that had belonged to his predecessor including his prayer beads.

The Dalai Lama has said that if he were reborn it would not be in any country that is not free which sadly includes his native Tibet.


Your Chocolate Bar May Have Been Made With The Use Of A Child Slave

When you take a sweet taste of chocolate do you consider how it is made? More importantly who works in the plantations? 43 per cent of the world’s cocoa is produced in the Ivory Coast of Africa. Those plantations enslave children to do the work.

In the Ivory Coast there is an estimated 10,000 child slaves. A total of 100,000 children work in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast. It’s difficult to identify how many are slaves as they labour beside their parents. Adding to the confusion on the number of slaves is the fact children in large numbers go to work in the plantations to escape the poverty of Mali. The Salvation Army’s anti-slavery co-ordination Captain Danielle Strickland says that it’s the responsibility of the chocolate manufacturers to make sure that their company is not using cocoa paste obtained by child slavery.

Nestle, Cadbury Schweppes and Mars Confectionery are all manufacturers that can not confirm if their chocolate is free trade. That Kit Kat bar that you enjoy may have cocoa paste harvested by a child slave.

TheAge.com reports:

“Given that Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) produces 43 per cent of the world’s cocoa you could say there is a 43 per cent chance your favourite chocolate bar has some beans produced by child slaves,” Strickland said. “There is no doubt the issue is complex, but if you are producing something you have a responsibility to find out what you are buying.”

US Congress drafted legislature in which the chocolate manufacturing industry agreed to a voluntary protocol to end abusive and forced child labour on cocoa farms by July 2005. Little though has changed.

TheAge.com reports:

“The cocoa companies trumpeted a few pilot programs, but continue to purchase and reap profits from child labour cocoa,” the US-based International Labor Rights Fund reports. “These child workers labour for long, punishing hours, using dangerous tools and facing frequent exposure to dangerous pesticides as they travel great distances in the gruelling heat. “Those who labour as slaves must also suffer frequent beatings and other cruel treatment.”

The Ivory Coast government has pledged to reform its cocoa sector by March 2008.

The only way to be sure that the chocolate that you enjoy is not made from these type of plantations is by looking at the label. If the chocolate doesn’t have a Fair trade label you may be adding to the problem without realizing it. 


Peace Activists Refused Entry At Canadian Border

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Six different speakers were slated to speak October 25 on Canada’s Parliament Hill as a member of a panel called “Peacebuilders Without Borders. Two of the six couldn’t show up, one in jail and the other barred entry into the country.

The problems didn’t just start for peace activists Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright in late October. The first sign of trouble was in early October when they tried to cross the border at Buffalo-Niagara Falls Bridge.

When Benjamin and Ann Wright who is against the Iraq War tried to enter into Canada on October 5 they were denied access at the border. Benjamin was informed of the crime that denied her entry.

“In my case, the border guard pulled up a file showing that I had been arrested at the US Mission to the UN where, on International Women’s Day, a group of us had tried to deliver a peace petition signed by 152,000 women around the world,” says Benjamin. “For this, the Canadians labeled me a criminal and refused to allow me in the country.”

They do have a slew of arrests between them, all are for non- violent war protests. The pair had been on route to Toronto Stop the War Coalition to protest the Iraq War.

“These are not terrorists; why do we have to protect Canadians from them?” said Ms. Olivia Chow, who represents the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina. “We should not be allowing the FBI or Mr. Bush to dictate our entry policy.”

So what happened this time though? Both Benjamin and Rice have been in and out of Canada with no problems in the past. This time though the pair have been added to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database. Their combined crimes have always been misdemeanours which generally would not get them on the NCIC. The pair have travel all over the world speaking out against war.

“The FBI’s placing of peace activists on an international criminal database is blatant political intimidation of US citizens opposed to Bush administration policies,” says Colonel Wright, who was also Deputy US Ambassador in four countries. “The Canadian government should certainly not accept this FBI database as the criteria for entering the country.”

“This is outrageous. I’m appealing to Canadians not to treat peaceful activists like common criminals,” Ms. Benjamin said.

“I travel all over the world on a regular basis and Canada is the first country to use the NCIC to keep out people like us,” said the veteran activist and founding director of Global Exchange, an international social justice movement.

Medea Benjamin may not be able to come to Canada for a year. She was slated to speak on October 25 on Parliament Hill as one of six members of a panel called “Peacebuilders Without Borders: Challenging the Post-9/11 Canada-US Security Agenda.” On October 24 Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink Women for Peace and Global Exchange, was arrested for the crime of holding up two fingers in the form of a peace sign during the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified on Iraq, Iran and Israel-Palestinian issues.

The House hearing started with Codepink member Desiree Fairooz holding up red painted hands to Rice and shouting, “The blood of millions of Iraqis is on your hands.” Capital police were right on that, promptly removing her from the House. Shortly after that two other Codepink members were arrested just for being in the room. An hour after those two arrests Medea and a male Codepinker were arrested for no reason. Four of the five remained in jail overnight, Medea being one of those. She missed the trip to Ottawa because of it.

Ann Wright though was on her way to speak. She had her invitation from Ottawa. Being as she was one of the speakers, there shouldn’t be a problem this time to get across the border. Right? Wrong. The letter from Parliament didn’t mean diddly to Immigration Services. After four hours of of interrogation she has been banned for one year and sent back on the first flight to Washington D.C. She also has to do the following:

The officer said that to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) for entry for a specific event on a specific date, I must provide to a Canadian Embassy or consulate the arresting officer’s report, court transcripts and court documents for each of the convictions and an official document describing the termination of sentences, a police certificate issued within the last three months by the FBI, police certificates from places I have lived in the past ten years (that includes Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia), a letter acknowledging my convictions from three respected members of the community (the respected members that I will ask to write a letter all been convicted of similar “offenses”) and a completed 18 page “criminal rehabilitation” packet.

That by the way is the standard procudere for those denied entry. It takes several months for it to be completely processed.


Whistle Blowers Are Not Protected By The Laws That Are Written For Them

Big business sometimes has big skeletons in their closet. They are not fond of those who shake off the dust and reveal problems that can cost big bucks. Government can also be considered big business when it comes to whistle blowers.

The liberal government of Canada introduced Bill C-25 in March 2004. It has been called the whistle blower legislation. The bill came out of the sponsorship scandal that parts of the government are still attempting to recover from. The auditor general at that time blew the lid on $100 million in bogus payments to several Quebec advertising firms that didn’t work to earn the money.

The United States is no exception to whistle blowers. The Bush government has used the term of terrorist when it comes to those who try to alert the public on wrongdoings.

Teresa Chambers is just one of those who has been labeled a terrorist. Hired in 2002 to the position of chief of the United States Park Police she was fired when she raised concerns about crime in the nation’s parks. She tried to regain her job by using the legal system meant to protect those who alert the public. The government lawyers fought back against this whistle blower and associated her with terrorists. At this time Chambers is still fighting to get her job back.

It’s not just the Bush government. Clinton’s administration also fought against those who tried to warn against problems in the government structure. Bogdan Dzakovic was an undercover security agent with the FAA. He spoke out on how the airport security was weak in the nation. That was three years prior to 9/11. Dzakovic didn’t lose his job but has been passed over time and again for promotions. Instead of using his talent to spot flaws that would help national security he has been hidden away consigned to data entry duties for the Transportation Security Administration.

They aren’t the only ones who have tried to alert others on security problems, fraud or corruption that happens in the
government. Every year hundreds of federal workers try to blow their whistle only to be stopped. There are laws that have been written to protect those who step up to the plate and try to make a real change but those laws rarely do what they were meant to.

Salon spent six months investigating federal whistle blowing only to find out that those who make a stand generally are silenced quickly. By doing the right thing federal employees face agency managers and White House goons whose job is to silence the lambs. 97 percent of the time whistle blowers lose their cases when it comes to federal wrongdoing. In the end those who should be considered heroes in the government end up looking at their careers going up in smoke.

Legal experts and lawmakers know that the system is in shambles. Reform is needed to protect those who speak out. Congress in fact has been working on strengthening the system but there’s a huge problem looming ahead. Reform solutions are aiming to be voted on in the Senate and if all indications stay the path it will pass, but….Bush will veto. Why? According to the Bush White House among other things its criticisms a risk to national security.

“Whistle-blowers are treated like a skunk at a picnic, and there’s no excuse for it,” Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, said after being provided with details of the CIR/Salon investigation. Grassley has long sought stronger whistle-blower protections and is backing the new legislation toward reform. “It’s whistle-blowers who can help us truly understand problems at government agencies. They stick their necks out to speak the truth. They don’t take the easy way out.”

“It’s imperative that there are whistle-blower protections for civil servants when they see something that is wrong,” said Lynn Jennings, an attorney who served during the Clinton administration as general counsel for the special whistle-blower court, known as the Merit Systems Protection Board. “They need to know that if they speak out they are going to be protected. Ultimately, it is to save lives, to save money, to save the integrity of the federal government.”

A Little History Lesson

In the United States modern whistle blowing can be traced to the US Senate in April 1951. A junior senator from California proposed a new law that would protect employees from having to be yes men for administration policies. That senator was Richard Nixon and his law became stalled. It may have remained in the shadows forever had it not been for a little break-in down at a hotel named Watergate. How the past can come back to kick you in the bum.

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was passed on the heels of the Watergate scandal. The new law created the Merit Systems Protection Board. The government knew that those who spoke out faced retaliation and this system would protect them.

Except it has never worked. Those who brave the waters speaking out lose their cases time and again.

Some Of The Victims

Joseph D. Whitson Jr. works from a basement and had his job duties stripped because he spoke out about superiors falsifying drug results. Those false reports were from the Air Force. Nothing like drugged out pilots flying to protect a country.

Vernie Gee, Sr. got written up for fighting after being beaten up. He had alerted others about tainted meat in the US food supply and bribes from slaughterhouses going to inspectors.

George Randall Taylor ended up being forced into a psychiatric hospital after he exposed rapes going on at a Navy base in Bermuda.

Remember Teresa Chambers? She had to put up with used condoms being put on her car and her office door was pepper sprayed.

Why would these tactics be happening? Simple. The powers that be want those who use their voice to give up. Quit. Look for other employment.

“One of the great tricks in whistle-blowing is to get rid of someone for a reason that doesn’t seem like it was for whistle-blowing,” said Fred Alford, a professor of government at the University of Maryland. “You do all the things you can to get someone to quit, to get them enraged, to get them to act out. Then you can fire them.”

Conclusion

The role of the whistle blower in the United States federal government should be looked upon with proud instead of finding ways to keep problems in the dark. The government has used courtrooms and terror type tactics to silence those who speak out. Bush is helping to keep those who could be helping the public safety quiet by letting it be known that he will veto new legislation that would protect whistleblowers.

But the Bush administration has vigorously opposed stronger whistle-blower protections. In a confidential e-mail from 2006, obtained by CIR and Salon, the White House registered strong objections to a congressional committee that was reviewing a similar law to protect whistle-blowers drawn up last year, saying the “excessively over broad definition of whistle blowing … forbids using any common sense.” And President Bush has said he will veto the new legislation moving through Congress, saying in a two-page Statement of Administration Policy that the new law would “increase the number of frivolous complaints and waste resources” and could “compromise national security.”

The message that is being sent out is that it is pointless to try to fix any problems. They are best left to be swept under the carpet so no one is the wiser.


Op-Ed: Burma’s Writers Are In Danger Of Prison

What would happen if the government put a stop to poetry. If your written words expressing how you feel could make you an outlaw, would you continue to write about your way of life?

If the ink that flowed through your pen gave a defiant message would you be willing to live in a jail cell?

In Burma that is the reality for those who make marks on paper that the government deems defiant. And yet they write on. In cells, in exile, using brick powder for ink they script words of meaning.

Win Naing and Zargana are both being held in Burma. Zargana is a well known comedian. His cutting wit often targets the very issues that are current. Those issues are also expected to be censored.

“He’s very inventive,” says Htein Lin, an artist who himself served six-and-a-half years in prison (on false charges) and who now, having married a former British ambassador to Burma, lives in London. Htein Lin has been a close friend of Zargana’s ever since the older man awarded him first prize at a comedy competition, 23 years ago. “Zargana’s jokes always reflect current conditions in the country and are new and up to date. Other comedians just repeat old jokes,” he adds.

In Burma the military authorities know the power of words. That is why they seek to silence them.

In a country that has a higher education system than most around it though silence of the writers doesn’t happen. They just write in secret, their words reaching out to those who crave the knowledge that pen and paper bring.

International PEN, the global writer’s association, has a Writers in Prison Committee. Led by Sara Whyatt the committee is working to have nine writers released from prison. Their terms range from seven to 21 years.

Poets Aung Than and Zeya Aung were sentenced to 19 years a piece for the writing “anti-government poems”. The person who printed their poems received 14 years and their distributor was given seven.

Writers getting longer terms than killers in the United States is insane.

U Win Tin was sentenced to 20 years 18 years ago. He was the editor-in-chief for a newspaper called Hanthawaddy. His crime was running too many articles critical of the regime. At 77 years of age he still writes in his cell using a piece of bamboo for his pen and ink from the brick powder of his cell’s wall. He has suffered greatly during the past 18 years; two heart attacks, lost most of his teeth, and is suffering from diabetes, spondylitis, and a hernia. Still he writes.

I pose a question to you in the journalism world, if your home was replaced by a cell, your pen crushed in front of you, your keyboard tossed away would you still write?