Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens (3)

"Homosexuality is a grave sin!"
In August 2006 during the annual Christopher Street Parade, a German hotel keeper in Munich had equipped a so-called popemobile with a puppet of the pope. The puppet of pope Benedikt XVI had blue-red make-up and a green condom in his hand; the scene was garnished with banners containing earlier quotations of the pope: “Homosexual relationships are deeply unmoral” and “We have to encounter homosexuals with mercy” and the like. The happening took place during a kind of euphoria in German mass media due to the upcoming visit of the German (in fact Bavarian born) pope, producing headlines such as “We are Pope”. Accordingly, the popemobile showed a banner “Are we Pope?”, referring to homosexuals. A priest, who had watched the scene, (some say he was a member of the notorious Society of Saint Pius X), called the police who immediately ordered the carriage to be taken off the road on the grounds that the pope had been insulted as gay (!) (Why would a gay insult someone as gay?) Later, the owner of the popemobile received a complaint for having denigrated a foreign head of state and slandered a religious confession. The charge was dismissed. The hotel keeper in return filed a lawsuit against the police for having curtailed his right for freedom of expression and art as well as the right of assembly. Bavarian higher administrative court dropped down the case in the first instance. Only the second try in 2009 was successful. Finally, since March 8, 2010, it is again legally permitted in catholic Bavaria to poke fun at the pope.

Three days before the pope's visit in Germany, September 2006, performance artist Wolfram P. Kastner dressed up as Papal Nuncio and Georg Ledig dressed up as Hitler went arm in arm walking through the inner city of Munich. Before the arrival of the honored son of the German Free State of Bavaria, Kastner and his co-partner wanted to remind people of the tight relationships between the Nazi party and the Vatican. Kastner reports that they were led to the next police station under the pretense of “finding a common clarification of how to choose practicable a way”. His costume was confiscated as “averting danger in respect to public order and safety”. When Kastner complained and told the police that they should rather concentrate on real dangers for the public and that their actions rather look like the actions of a police state than those of a democracy, one of the officers remarked “a little bit of a police state won't hurt”.

Kastner's report (in German) can be read here

In fact, for the Bavarian law 2 (!) citizens having a conversation on the street are enough to constitute an assembly, if the conversation is addressed to the public. If, as in the mentioned case, 2 citizens are performing a silent protest (or only one is speaking), this is not an assembly (see FAQ to the Bavarian Assembly Law)

About the same time, September 14, 2006, a street on the route of the popemobile through the small town of Freising, Bavaria: under a window a banner “DISCRIMINATION, DENIAL, … CHURCH – NO THANK YOU! The author of the banner was staying in the house with his mother and another person when two policemen entered the flat without permission and destroyed the banner, after getting rough and injuring the arm of the owner. No explanation from the police, except “executing an order” and, informally, “that the pope drops by in Freising every few centuries and so this should be well received in the public”. The attacked man went a long way to defend his rights but was not successful finally: the German Constitutional Court dropped down the case on a technicality. (-->whole documentation of the case in German language, including original documents)

That much on the unconditional love of the Bavarian police for “their” pope, Josef Ratzinger. One could fill books with cases of curtailing citizens' assembly in Germany, alone in the last decade. German blogs are chock full of complaints about the “surveillance state” or the “police state Germany” and one may concede the Germans some degree of sensibility towards “a little bit of a police state” - 65 years after the Nazi regime and about 20 years after the Stasi.

Some of these stories of German surveillance measures are almost too irresistible to keep back. Here's another goody (once described as the highlight on the journey to Absurdistan):

Bavarian leather trousers
Another vague concept in German Jurisdiction that is open to free interpretation by the executive authorities. According to German law it is unclear whether famous Bavarian leather trousers may be seen as “body armor” or just the usual traditional clothing, since leather has a cushioning and isolating effect (in respect to electric shocks).

The truly highlights of German government's terrorist hysteria appeared when it came to prepare three critic-free receptions for George W. Bush in Berlin (2002), Mainz and Wiesbaden (2005) and Stralsund (2006). This is to be discussed in a later post.

Back to Naomi Wolf's The End of America – Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. In Chapter 7 she only leaves a small part for:

        3.   Curtailing Citizens' Assembly

Dictators fear the power of mass movements and try to restrict assemblies therefore. Wolf gives examples from Mussolini's Italy, Mexico, Pinochet's Chile. Examples of the strength built up by marching in a mass:

“It is masses of people united who brought down the Berlin Wall; stood up to Chinese tanks; and overwhelmed a dictator in the Philippines. Massed citizens ended Jim Crow laws and brought the war in Vietnam to a close. It is so simple a tool, but so powerful.”

The only recent example of curtailing the freedom of assembly given by Wolf is that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration banning protesters from the Great Lawn in New York's Central Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Eventually the case was settled in 2008 by ordering the city “to pay damages to civil rights and anti-war organizations for discriminatorily denying them the right to hold a demonstration on the Great Lawn”.

One might be surprised that only one example is offered. The freedom of assembly seems to be the one of the best protected rights in the U.S. (?)

Two more examples from Europe, the first of the effectiveness of mass protests, the second concerning another try to restrict the freedom of assembly:
This possibly may not happen in London where Parliamentarians don't like to be disturbed by the masses and therefore banned any protests at close range since 2005 – thereby creating their own critic-free zone: see “How Parliament passed the Statute Law banning the right of Legitimate Protest within sight of itself and the Government”.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens (2)

Part 2 of Naomi Wolf's 6th principle on how to destroy a democracy.

Naomi Wolf's initial citation comes from the United States Constitution: the Fourth Amendment:

She emphasizes the historical role of the amendment which lies in the firsthand experience of the colonial Americans of “how abusively authorities [British Crown tax agents] could use the power of a blanket warrant to break into their homes and seize private papers […] rip up their trunks and cabinets […] and haul off their goods – even if they weren't hiding anything that they should have paid taxes on”. Wolf further notes that “the Fourth Amendment specifically rejects vague general warrants” as given by Bush's USA PATRIOT Act and that “most of us don't fully understand the details of the debate over the Bush administration's efforts to avoid getting a legal warrant for each time that it reads our e-mails, opens our mail, and listens in on our phone calls – or enters our homes unbeknownst to us”.
The only examples she offers is Brandon Mayfield, an American lawyer erroneously accused by the FBI to have left his fingerprints on evidence of the Madrid train bombings 2004. The FBI had bungled a fingerprint match, see Washington Post: $2 Million Will Be Paid For Wrongful Arrest After Madrid Attack!

The so-called Patriot Act can be read here:

(end of summary)

Justice Robert H. Jackson (chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials) once during a trial put the importance of these rights aptly, after quoting the Fourth Amendment:

“These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to know that the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police. But the right to be secure against searches and seizures is one of the most difficult to protect. Since the officers are themselves the chief invaders, there is no enforcement outside of court.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens (1)

This is the 6th of 10 steps to destroy a democracy as discussed in Naomi Wolf's The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. The chapter (Nr 7) is divided into 3 parts, the first one being summarized here and equipped with links, additional information and some neutral remarks (discussion follows in later posts).

Wolf starts the theme with talking about her own experiences at U.S. airports:

“In 2002, I began to notice that almost every time I sought to board a domestic airline flight, I was called aside by the Transportation Security Administration and given a more thorough search. When this was happening on nine flights out of ten, I asked the officials about the special search. They told me that the search was due to the quadruple 'S' that routinely came up on my boarding pass.
There are several reasons why one might receive a quadruple 'S' on one's boarding pass if one doesn't fit a terrorist profile: buying a ticket at the last minute, for instance, or paying in cash. But those circumstances didn't apply to me. I kept asking, but not getting real answers.
This stepped-up search became so routine as I traveled that companions who were flying with me began to simply say, "I'll meet you at the gate," even before we got through the security line.
On yet another preboarding search, I asked yet again. The TSA agent searching me, a young woman, said pleasantly, "You're on the list."
"The list?" I asked. "What list?" Her supervisor abruptly ended our exchange, took over from her, and then moved me on.”

The psychological effect of the action – even if performed on a respectable citizen – is one of feeling small, vulnerable and intimidation face to face with the authorities:

“When you are physically detained by armed agents because of something that you said or wrote, it has an impact. On the one hand, during these heightened searches of my luggage, I knew I was a very small fish in a very big pond. On the other hand, you get it right away that the state is tracking your journeys, can redirect you physically, and can have armed men and women, who may or may not answer your questions, search and release you.”

Some of Wolf's further examples of persons stopped at U.S. airports for being on the No-Fly-List:

Washington Post: “Hundreds Report Watch-List Trials

“Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon, American peace activists, tried to check in at the San Francisco airport for a trip to Boston in August 2002. Airport personnel who said that these middle-aged women were on the "master list" called the police and notified the FBI. At least twenty other peace activists are confirmed to be on the list: A 74-year-old Catholic nun who works for peace was detained in Milwaukee; Nancy Oden, a leader of the Green Party, was prevented from flying from Maine to Chicago.” [Wolf's examples from here].

“Free speech advocates are on the list: King Downing of the ACLU was detained in the Boston airport in 2003. David Fathi, also of the ACLU, was detained as well. Scholars who defend the Constitution are on the list: in 2007, Professor Walter F. Murphy, emeritus of Princeton, one of the nation's foremost Constitutional scholars, who had recently spoken critically of Bush's assault on the Constitution, was detained for being on a "watch list." A TSA official confirmed informally that it was probably because Murphy had criticized the President and warned him that his luggage would be ransacked.”

Further examples:
Members/staff of foreign government or international regulatory body

Since the No-Fly List contains only names and some meager additional data like birth dates, it is not surprising that among the “stopped” passengers there were children, nuns or such having a garden name like 'Robert Johnson' (used by some alleged terror suspect). The list also contained the names of dead persons, including the majority of the alleged 9/11 hijackers and Saddam Hussein. As a highlight (after the release of Wolf's book, Nelson Mandela found his name on the list.

Trouble at the airport is one thing. Wolf goes on by mentioning fears of future misuse this kind of secret lists as for instance with job applications. Heavier implications follow if people are arrested based on this list – or even tortured. Wolf mentions Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was arrested 2002 at the Kennedy Airport and, after two weeks, deported to Syria (remember Robert Baer!) where he was kept for more than a year and tortured.

“The Canadian government pursued a two-year investigation and concluded that it had all been a terrible mistake -- Arar actually had no ties to terrorists whatsoever. Canadians were so appalled by this miscarriage of justice that the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police resigned. After he was released with his government's help, Arar, emboldened perhaps by living in a working North American democracy, sued the U.S. government.
The Bush administration refused to concede that it had been wrong; refused to provide documents or witnesses to the Canadian investigators; and finally announced in January 2007 that they had "secret information" that justified keeping Arar on the list.”

Click here to learn details from Mr. Arar's website.

As a case of an American citizen being subject to an intense investigation the severe case of army chaplain James Y. Yee is summarized by Wolf. Yee was finally released and all accusations were dropped.

Wolf also mentions that

“ The United States has recently been refusing visas to various respected Muslim scholars from universities such as Oxford -- scholars with no ties whatsoever to terrorists -- because they have been critical of U.S. policy. This has happened before in America: in the 1950s the FBI confiscated the passports of intellectuals and journalists who had been critical of anticommunist witch hunts.”

Wolf does not give an example for Muslim scientists being refused visa for criticizing the U.S. government. But she goes on by quoting from William L. Shirer's Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 on how the Nazis performed an airport search. She mentions that about 36% of all Germans living under the Nazi regime said that they had been arrested, interrogated, and released. A similar tactics applied by Pinochet in Chile's slums:

“Every so often the military would enter a slum, arrest people in random sweeps, keep them behind bars briefly, and then let them go. The only real reason was to intimidate the population.”

Naomi Wolf finally puts forward the following – from her point of view - rather rhetorical question:

“Are the cases we hear of Americans being caught up in detention, searches, and releases merely Homeland Security or TSA zealotry? Or are the stories effective PR about a new reality? Fascist propagandists target individuals, detain and release them, and then publicize the stories. Could all these [mentioned above] be victims not of simple clumsiness but, rather, examples of the fact that perfectly ordinary Americans can now get entangled in the increasingly punitive apparatus of the state?”
(end of summary)

While in the U.S. spooky TSA and other governmental authorities are still on their way to “strengthening America”, the European Court of Human Rights is already back-paddling: see “Stop and search powers illegal, European court rules. Judges in Strasbourg say UK powers under Terrorism Act 2000 violate convention on human rights.