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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Gitmo’s last Briton freed, but questions remain over 14-year detention

Analysis: Shaker Aamer was never charged or put on trial; supporters say his torture claims demand an inquiry

During Shaker Aamer’s near decade-and-a-half of incarceration at Guantanamo Bay — which has finally ended, some eight years after he was originally recommended for release — the British resident was never put on trial for any crime, nor was he ever charged.
As such, the 46-year-old — who arrived in the U.K. on Friday after being flown from the controversial detention center — should not feel compelled to clear his name; no evidence has even been presented against him in any court and experts Al Jazeera spoke to believe no such evidence ever existed to warrant his lengthy detention.
Instead, the daunting task in front of him will be to rebuild a life snatched away from him in 2001, and re-familiarize himself with his wife, and children who have had to grow up without him — including one he has never met.
But his release is unlikely to provide a final full stop to his case. Serious questions remain over the circumstances of his detention and why he was for so long denied repatriation to the U.K. despite — if taken at face value — the long protestations of the British government of his imprisonment.
Supporters of Aamer want an inquiry into his case and his release may throw a fresh spotlight on conditions at Guantanamo and CIA torture, in particular claims by Aamer that its use against a Libyan national — in the presence of U.K. secret service agents — resulted in the since discredited information linking Saddam Hussein with Al-Qaeda, used as justification for the Iraq war.
The U.K.’s Metropolitan Police told Al Jazeera that an investigation into allegations of torture is still open, but declined to give details. “There are ongoing inquiries,” a Scotland Yard spokesperson said, adding: “We are not going to confirm who we may or may not be speaking to as part of those inquiries.”
Lawyers for Aamer told Al Jazeera that police officers had visited Guantanamo and met with their client prior to his release. “He complied with a Met [Metropolitan Police] inquiry in Guantanamo and talked about British complicity in torture and he thinks that those involved were low down the chain — Shaker very much doesn’t want to see people go to jail,” said Clive Stafford Smith, Aamer’s lawyer and director of legal rights charity Reprieve.
“He does, however, want a truth and reconciliation inquiry and will push for that,” Stafford Smith added.
To date, successive British governments have appeared reluctant to see such public scrutiny of the role of its intelligence services in Guantanamo detentions. An inquiry launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 to investigate claims that the British MI5 and MI6 intelligence agencies aided CIA renditions was shelved two years later amid criticism that it lacked transparency. The previous government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried unsuccessfully to censor claims of British complicity in torture made by former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohammad.
When asked about Aamer’s situation, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said that they could not comment on “any individual case of repatriation.” Procedures involving former Guantanamo detainees are made on a case-by-case basis, and it isn’t known if the U.K. authorities will hold Aamer on his return.
But a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Friday that there was no plans to further detain the Saudi-born U.K. resident on his return.
For Aamer, his immediate concerns will include adapting to life outside a cell after so long.
“When I do get back the first thing I want is a cup of coffee,” he recently told the BBC in a letter sent from Guantanamo.
But for many of Aamer’s supporters the first priority will be getting him much-needed medical care. His years behind bars and involvement in lengthy periods of hunger striking have left him physically and mentally frail. “Shaker really isn’t very well. We have set up a private clinic to check him out. He fears he has prostate cancer and has mental health issues he would like to deal with,” Stafford Smith said.
Then will come the challenge of rebuilding relationships with family members he has had no contact with for 14 years. “It is going to be hard on him. We are talking about four children the youngest of which wasn’t born until after he was incarcerated. He hasn’t had anyone call him ‘daddy’ for 14 years,” Stafford Smith said.
Moazzam Begg understands some of what Aamer will have to go through, having himself been held at Guantanamo for three years before being repatriated to the U.K. in 2005.
“The challenges he faces are going to be very difficult and very different from my own experiences. I was there for three years, he has been there for 14,” said Begg. “He will need immediate medical care and lots and lots of time to rebuild his life. It will be almost impossible for him.”
Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in early 2002 after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, having been picked up months earlier by the Afghan Northern Alliance and handed over to the U.S.
Supporters have always maintained that he was volunteering for a charity at the time of his abduction. But leaked files show that the U.S., initially at least and based on testimony by tortured prisoners, believed that he was a “close associate” of Osama bin Laden, with “connections to several other senior extremist members” of Al-Qaeda.
Aamer’s supporters say the alleged confession came after he was tortured at the Bagram air base by U.S. agents and in the presence of British intelligence.
“He has so much to say that will rock governments and make accountable both the American and British government,” Begg said.
Potentially the most damaging of Aamer’s claims is that he was present during the interrogation of Libyan Ibn Al Sheikh Al-Libi in late 2001. Libi gave testimony linking the Iraq government of Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda. He was later rendered to Egypt and tortured into giving a fuller account of how Iraq had been training Al-Qaeda to use chemical weapons. It was those details that went on to form part of the justification of the war in Iraq and if true, Aamer’s account could be deeply embarrassing for the U.S. and British intelligence services.
Stafford Smith described Libi as the “elephant in the room” when talking about Aamer’s 14-year detention. “If that was the reason why he wasn’t released for so long, then that is a big deal.”
Some experts have even suggested that members of the U.K. intelligence services lobbied against Aamer’s release, possibly for this reason. The British government denies this claim.
But even so, the official line from Downing Street — that it has long demanded Aamer’s repatriation and raised the issue at regular intervals with high-level U.S officials — has been questioned.
In 2013, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall inquired into Aamer’s status with the U.S. Department of Defense. An email seen by Al Jazeera sent from Udall’s chief of staff Michael Collins to Medea Benjamin — co-founder of the advocacy group Code Pink — stated that Pentagon officials told the senator that the “U.K. is not exactly in a rush to get him.”
Richard Barrett, who led the U.N.’s Al-Qaeda monitoring team and is a former British secret service officer, said the hold-up seemed to be from the U.S. side.
“If you look at the U.K. government’s position, it has been consistent throughout: They want him home.”
Barrett said he did not believe that British intelligence officers were involved in torture, but that Aamer’s allegations should nonetheless be investigated.
He added that there appeared to be “no evidence” on Aamer to warrant his detention, especially for so long.
Instead, he attributed Aamer’s years at Guantanamo to “extremely bad luck.”
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Barrett said.
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NYPD Undercover "Converted" To Islam To Spy On Brooklyn College Students


NYPD Undercover "Converted" To Islam To Spy On Brooklyn College Students

by Aviva Stahl in News on Oct 29, 2015 2:58 pm
On the leafy Midwood campus of Brooklyn College, a lecture at the school’s Islamic Society had just ended when a woman stood up and asked to take the Shahada, the Muslim testimony of faith.
Nobody knew the woman with light skin and dark hair, who appeared to be in her twenties. In a voice that lilted up at the end of each sentence, she began professing her new beliefs. “Melike Ser” or “Mel,” was not a student and had no apparent connections to the school, but the students embraced her anyway, excited about her conversion.
This past April, four years after Mel’s public act of faith, two Queens residents, Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, were arrested and charged with allegedly planning to build a bomb. The US Justice Department issued a release stating that the women were linked to members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State, and revealed that a Detective from the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau was heavily involved in bringing the women to justice.
Among the ISO members, some of whom ran in the same social circles as Velentzas and Siddiqui, the arrests set off a chain of frantic text messages, phone calls, and Facebook posts: “Mel” wasn’t “Mel.” She was an undercover cop.
Three Brooklyn College graduates who had been close to the undercover officer told Gothamist of the intimate ties she developed with Muslim students, her presence during some of the most private moments of their lives, and the fear they endured when they learned her true identity.
“I felt violated,” said Jehan, 30, who met Mel years ago in the Brooklyn College ISO prayer room. (At their request, Gothamist has used pseudonyms for all the women interviewed.)
“You trust someone, you talk to them. And they were just gathering information about your community.”
While little is known about the case against Velentzas and Siddiqui, including how and why the NYPD came to involve an undercover officer in the alleged plot, it appears that Mel made an aggressive effort to befriend and surveil law-abiding Muslims years before she ever met her alleged targets, and did so at least up until December of 2014, eight months after the de Blasio administration pledged to stop the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of innocent Muslims.
“Muslim New Yorkers are still fighting for basic human rights,” the Mayor said at a Ramadan dinner at Gracie Mansion in July of last year. “We recently shut down the Demographics Unit at NYPD, which conducted surveillance on Muslim New Yorkers. Because it’s unfair to single out people on the sole basis of their religion.”
Two individuals with close knowledge of Velentzas and Siddiqui’s case confirmed that Mel is the undercover officer identified in the criminal complaint.
Ramzi Kassem is a professor at CUNY School of Law and also directs the school’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project, which provides legal advice to New Yorkers affected by counterterrorism practices.
“For an undercover to be seeded in a community for that long without a specific target raises some deeply troubling questions about the direction of policing in our city,” he said. “Casting blanket suspicion on entire communities does not square with most New Yorkers’ understanding of the police’s role in our democratic and open society.”
Jehan has lived in New York City for 25 years. “I grew up here. To have this happen because of your religion, or your political views, it's scary. You feel alienated. And you don’t feel like this is your home.”
At first, Mel seemed warm and friendly, if a bit eager. “She was very nice, very charming,” said Shereen, who studied psychology at Brooklyn College and now works as a psychotherapist. “She wanted to do everything with us.”
Mel told the ISO women that she was a recent Rutgers College graduate who had grown up in Queens. She said that she was of Turkish descent and had been born into a Muslim but non-practicing family.
The women active in Brooklyn College’s Islamic Society were diverse. They majored in women’s studies, psychology, pre-med and political science, hung out with friends, crushed on boys, and nurtured their newfound political consciousness. They were coming of age in a city scarred by 9/11, and although their Muslim identity did not define them, it shaped their everyday lives.
But they knew their behavior was being scrutinized by the authorities. After 9/11, both the NYPD and the FBI revamped their approach to terrorism investigations and began operating under a policy of preventive prosecution [PDF]. In an internal document from 2007 [PDF], the NYPD identified particular indicators of radicalization—“wearing traditional Islamic clothing,” giving up drinking or smoking, and “becoming involved in social activism.” In the NYPD’s model of measuring threats, which have since been broadly criticized, young people were a key target.
Shereen, then 25, and a close friend, Faizah, were responsible for introducing new converts like Mel to the basic tenets of Islam. One day in early April 2011, Mel asked Faizah to meet her on campus. “Faizah told me afterward that Mel asked her some strange questions, like, ‘What is all this about jihad?’” Shereen recalled. “And asking about people who do suicide bombing.”
For Shereen and Faizah, Mel’s questions were a red flag. They suspected she was digging for information on the political beliefs of ISO members, possibly even pressing them to make incriminating statements.
At the time, Brooklyn College’s ISO was known for adhering to a particularly conservative interpretation of Islam. The group was segregated on the basis of gender, and the men and women did not spend time together socially. Mel was surrounding herself with women who covered their faces and wore long robes, but she did not even wear a hijab. Her religious practices did not seem to change, at least in the initial years the women knew her, and Mel never mentioned struggling with her new dual identity, a common experience for converts of any faith.
It was as though Mel’s decision to take the shahada, and the time she spent amongst much more observant Muslim women, had no affect on her or her religious practice. Soon some ISO members began to doubt that her conversion was genuine.
Mel was also always available to attend events and social gatherings, regardless of the time of day or the day of the week. “She would mention how she works full time,” said Rumaysa, 24, “and so then it got me thinking, is she working at these events?”
In August 2011, about half a year after Mel appeared at Brooklyn College, the AP began publishing a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles documenting the NYPD’s spying in Muslim communities.
One month later, NYPD Confidential reported that an undercover cop had been sent to spy on Muslim students at Brooklyn College, despite a 1992 memorandum of understanding [PDF] that barred New York City police from entering CUNY campuses without permission.
After the NYPD Confidential story broke, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould denied that the administration had known about the undercover officer [PDF], and condemned “the alleged intrusion of the NYPD into campus life.”
Muslim students continued to believe they were being watched. They decided to seek legal advice to discuss their concerns about Mel. In October, Shereen and another student approached Diala Shamas, who at the time was a lawyer at the CLEAR project at CUNY Law. The organization had recently facilitated a workshop for the Brooklyn College Muslim group about informants.
  "Women at Brooklyn College shared their suspicions with us," Shamas recalled. "Unfortunately, this happens a lot. CLEAR receives concerns about potential informants or undercovers, and we can rarely help definitively confirm their suspicions. We do advise people to stay away from someone who makes them feel uncomfortable."
The students also tried to do their own digging. In February 2012, Rumaysa searched online to try to find out if Melike Ser was who she said she was.
“I tried Googling any combination [of her name] that could possibly bring up even a picture of her,” she said. “But nothing showed up, absolutely nothing.”
Without a way to corroborate their suspicions, the women decided to stay silent. “We just said, no, maybe that’s just how [Mel] is,” recalled Shereen. “Maybe we’re just too paranoid.”
It was also a question of faith. Backbiting without proof is strongly frowned upon in Islam, as is shunning a convert.
Mel continued to immerse herself in the student community, attending Islamic education classes, social gatherings, and trips to museums and the aquarium.
Shereen says Mel attending at least two bridal showers for ISO women, one of which was held in a Brooklyn College event space: "Mel shows up with this huge cake that she carried on the train."
In time, she was privy to some of the most intimate moments of the women’s lives, once even attending a wedding as a bridesmaid of a fellow ISO member.
By 2014, the Brooklyn College women had graduated, but the former students still encountered Mel around the city— at NYU, John Jay College, the MAS Youth Center, the Muslim Community Center in Sunset Park, Masjid Al-Farooq on Atlantic Avenue, and the Brooklyn Islamic Center in Mapleton, where Mel was last seen on December 30 of last year. When the women saw Mel, they generally tried to avoid her.
Just a few months later, Velentzas and Siddiqui were arrested. The NYPD and FBI were broadly praised for their apparent success in foiling a homegrown terrorist plot. In an interview on FOX's “The Kelly File,” New York Congressman Peter King called on Americans to “wake up and realize that we have to put political correctness aside … there are … too many people like this across the country.”
“These were two very, very dangerous individuals, these two women,” King said.
Four propane gas tanks, as well as instructions for how to turn them into explosive devices, are said to have been found in Siddiqui’s home, and according to the criminal complaint, the two women had in-depth conversations with the undercover officer about their violent aspirations.
The complaint details how the women read up on and took notes on various different ways to build bombs, and browsed Home Depot for potential ingredients. Velentzas allegedly openly praised the 9/11 attacks and had a photograph of Bin Laden as the background on her phone; Asia Siddiqui, meanwhile, was supposedly “close” with Samir Khan, the Pakistani-American editor of al-Qaeda's English-language Inspire magazine.
“The way to read an indictment like the one in this case, is with a great deal of skepticism,” says attorney Gideon Orion Oliver.
Oliver was co-counsel for Ahmed Ferhani, who was also prosecuted for terrorism after an NYPD undercover sting. In December 2012, Ferhani pled guilty to five-terrorism related offenses and one hate crime charge, and is currently serving ten years in prison.
According to Oliver, in the Ferhani case and many others, the undercover officers develop “really profound and predatory” relationships with their targets, building emotionally intimate and even familial ties over the course of many months or years.
“The government and the undercover officers have significant roles in manufacturing what they then characterize as the defendants’ plots,” he said.
The case of the Newburgh Four—one of the most commonly cited examples of "entrapment" in the War on Terror—underscores the manipulative tactics sometimes used by informants and undercover cops to secure arrests. David Williams, one of the Newburgh Four co-defendants, said the FBI informant promised him the money he needed to pay for his younger brother’s liver transplant if Williams participated in the plot.
Jose Pimentel was accused to trying to build a pipe bomb in 2011, and repeatedly smoked marijuana with his government informant, who was with him “virtually every step of the plot.” The federal government, citing Pimentel's mental state (he had allegedly tried to circumcise himself) and the NYPD undercover's involvement declined to pursue charges against Pimentel.
According to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report that documented patterns of rights violations in terrorism prosecutions, “the government—often acting through informants—is actively involved in developing [terrorism plots], persuading and sometimes pressuring the target to participate, and providing the resources to carry it out.”
In Velentzas and Siddiqui’s case, the undercover officer established a friendship with at least one of the women as early as 2013, according to the criminal complaint.
The two women are not alleged to have been in the process of planning a specific attack, and according to the criminal complaint, Velentzas repeatedly stated she would not want to harm any “regular” people, instead targeting police or military personnel.
The NYPD undercover allegedly observed Velentzas pull a knife from her bra to demonstrate to Siddiqui how to stab people, then remarked, “Why can’t be [sic] some real bad bitches?”
Velentzas later said, according to the complaint, “if [the government] was to put all the information about the three of us together, we legitimately, to these people, look like a cell.”
At one point, the complaint states that the undercover officer downloaded and printed out The Anarchist Cookbook for the two women, even bookmarking the section that outlined how to build fertilizer bombs.
Within a few days of the arrests, Shereen and other Brooklyn College graduates—who said they ran the same social circles as Velentzas and Siddiqui but did not know them personally—learned the name of the officer in the case and realized their longstanding suspicions about Mel were correct.
Neither Velentzas nor Siddiqui attended Brooklyn College. None of the women interviewed knew how or when the pair had met Mel.
A protective order in place since July prohibits the defendants’ legal team from releasing the officer's assumed name. The protective order also covers any discovery in the case, which may leave the public in the dark about the undercover’s role in the alleged offenses and her apparent infiltration of Muslim communities.
Lawyers for Velentzas and Siddiqui declined to comment for this story, citing "the existing protective order and other constraints."
For Shereen, finding out induced a kind of trauma, and it changed her. “For three days I couldn’t eat, sleep,” Shereen told Gothamist. “I covered all the cameras on my phone.”
Assistant Vice President Jason Carey said that Brooklyn College had not been notified of any undercover activity on campus.
“Our number one priority is the security of our campus and we do not condone any activity that could harm our students and faculty,” he said in an email. According to the communications office, however, Brooklyn College has never asked the NYPD for more details on the alleged placement of cops on campus or demanded an end to the practice.
A set of rules called the Handschu Guidelines prohibit the NYPD from spying on political or religious organizations without specific information linking the group to a crime.
“There is no doubt that the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, Counterterrorism Bureau, and other aspects are engaging in sweeping investigations at unprecedented levels of communities ‘demographically’ targeted by the NYPD through its ‘Muslim Surveillance’ and other similar programs,” Oliver said.
He added, “What practical constraints Handschu imposes on the NYPD in any of those investigations is a very big open question given the NYPD’s total lack of transparency about the lengths its agents go to in these cases.”
Martin Stolar is one of the original plaintiffs’ attorneys in the ongoing Handschu v. Special Services Division lawsuit, which challenges the city’s surveillance of and investigations into political and religious groups.
Stolar says that the NYPD’s spying on Brooklyn College students was only legal under Handschu if there was reasonable suspicion that a member had intent to commit a crime. If a participant in the ISO had sent an email expressing their desires to plan an attack, for example, and infiltrating the ISO was the best way to investigate the individual’s potential criminal behavior, Handschu would permit the placement of an undercover inside the group. 
“If there was no criminal predicate but just curiosity or a desire to scout out Muslim students, there is a violation,” he said.
In addition to facing ongoing lawsuits for violating Handschu during counter-terrorism investigations, the NYPD was also questioned for its potentially illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matters protesters.
The NYPD’s press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Mel appeared at Brooklyn College before the extent of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims was revealed, and remained a constant presence at least until the beginning of this year—so the revelations about her identity also suggest that little has changed on the ground when it comes to the policing of Muslim communities, despite promises by the new administration to the contrary.
Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office, wrote in an email that "The NYPD only carries out terrorism investigations into specific individuals or suspected terrorist organization—not communities, not religions.
"These investigations into specific individuals are carried out under a layered oversight regimen. Investigations by the NYPD Intelligence Bureau follow the Handschu guidelines in accordance with a federal court ruling. Both the Mayor and Commissioner Bratton are committed to keeping crime low, preventing terrorism and hate crimes. With that comes the obligation to police fairly and constitutionally. We will never waiver from that commitment."
A 2011 Mother Jones investigation established that in addition to the undercover police or FBI officers assigned to infiltrate Muslim communities, there are about 15,000 FBI informants planted around the US, many of whom have the same task. In some sense, what makes the experiences of the Brooklyn College students most unusual is not that they were spied on, but that they found out about it—that their paranoia was warranted.
“There are a few of us who trust each other, and that’s good that we have each other—some don’t even have that,” said Shereen. “But in the back of all our minds, there’s always that suspicion, that either, you are [a spy], or you think I’m one.
“We’re acting like criminals, even though we haven’t done anything.”
Aviva Stahl is a Brooklyn-based journalist who primarily writes about prisons, especially the experiences of terrorism suspects and LGBTQ people behind bars. Follow her @stahlidarity.
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Thursday, 29 October 2015

Representing the Golden State of California, Congressman Darrell Issa is Featured on AJC Radio's Spotlight on Capitol Hill, Where A Just Cause Puts the Spotlight on Members of Congress and Their Legislation

Source: A Just Cause

October 29, 2015 12:03 ET

Representing the Golden State of California, Congressman Darrell Issa is Featured on AJC Radio's Spotlight on Capitol Hill, Where A Just Cause Puts the Spotlight on Members of Congress and Their Legislation

Spotlight on Capitol Hill Gives Listeners an In-Depth Look at Initiatives and the Legislative Agendas of Our Elected Officials in Washington, D.C., Says Advocacy Group, A Just Cause

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - October 29, 2015) - Advocacy group, A Just Cause, announces today that the Thursday, October 29, 2015 segment of AJC Radio's, "Spotlight on Capitol Hill" will be shining the spotlight on Congressman Darrell Issa. (www.AJCRadio.com, 8-10 PM ET).
"Everyone on Capitol Hill is talking about AJC Radio's segment, Spotlight on Capitol Hill," says Lamont Banks, A Just Cause Executive Director. "We've done spotlights on members of Congress in the House and Senate to include: Congressman Charles Rangel (D - NY), Senator Charles Schumer (D - NY), Congressman Cedric Richmond (D - LA), Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D - NY), Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D - CA), Senator Orrin Hatch (R - UT), Congresswoman Judy Chu (D - CA), Congressman GK Butterfield (D - NC), Senator Patrick Leahy (D - VT), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R - WI), Senator Mike Lee (R - UT), Congressman Henry C. "Hank" Johnson Jr. (D - GA)," adds Banks. "America is literally bombarded with negative information spewed out by the media on a daily basis. Many only hear about a member of Congress who's at the center of a scandal, but not on AJC Radio. We won't leave our listeners wondering, what on earth are they doing in Washington? We're here to let America know about the good things our leaders are fighting for, not only for their state and district, but for America as a whole," concludes Banks.
"We've met with and interviewed other notable representatives that stir things up in Washington D.C., but are not currently serving in Congress as well. We invite everyone to listen in as AJC Radio pays tribute to our elected officials and their many accomplishments during their public service. Spotlight on Capitol Hill gets to the heart of the issues our legislators are concerned about, as we share their views on the current condition of, and future plans for, our country. AJC Radio hosts look forward to recognizing Congressman Darrell Issa's pursuit of Government Accountability, Financial Reform, and Education to name a few," says Lisa Stewart, A Just Cause.
Congressman Darrell Issa and his wife Kathy live in Vista, CA. "They have one son, William, and celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in 2010. As a senior in high school, Issa enlisted in the United States Army. Through his Army service, he received an ROTC scholarship and graduated with a degree in business from Sienna Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. Upon graduation, Issa was commissioned as an Army officer, and ultimately obtained the rank of captain. He completed his active-duty military service in 1980 and turned his interests to the private sector."
"As a Congressman and leader in California grassroots politics, Issa has championed the cause of smart, efficient government, and has pushed legislation to balance the federal budget and promote transparency across the federal bureaucracy... In 2008. Issa stood by his instincts as a businessman and opposed giving a blank-check bailout to Wall Street -- he voted against all bailouts during the financial crisis. As a fiscal conservative committed firmly to low taxes and free markets, Issa has opposed the rise of out-of-control government spending and fought tirelessly for the responsible, transparent use of taxpayer dollars." (http://issa.house.gov/about/about-darrell).
"The "middle class" and poor of our society continually absorb the impact of this country's injustices, and suffer the greatest burden and loss. In this regard, Congressman Issa takes a stand and holds strong to ideals that better serve the American people. He is concerned about the future of our country and the problems impacting the American people, and our spotlight on Congressman Issa is sure to grab our listener's attention," suggests Banks.
As for Technology and Commerce, the Congressman said, "America is built on freedom and innovation. Today, technology and the Internet have impacted the American economy by transforming ideas into jobs and opportunities into success. As a Congressman, one of my top priorities is to promote greater growth and innovation across America to secure and strengthen our technology sector." (http://issa.house.gov/the-issues/technology).
Congressman Issa said the following concerning Government Accountability, "Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent, that the government they fund is efficient, effective, and really at work for them. My job as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to help Americans secure these rights. Our solemn responsibility is to hold government accountable to you, the taxpayers, because you have a right to know what you're getting from the government. Oversight Committee members and I will work tirelessly, in partnership with citizen-watchdogs, to bring light to the hidden parts of government and reform the federal bureaucracy so that it better serves the American people." (http://issa.house.gov/the-issues/government-oversight).
Congressman Issa sums up his views on education as follows: "Decisions on education should lie with our parents, teachers and communities - not faceless and unaccountable Washington bureaucrats. Parents are best equipped to make choices for their children's education. The ability to choose between a public and private education is a demonstration of the freedoms our country affords to all. It is in our country's best interest to promote parental choice and encourage involvement in their children's education. Additionally, I have supported legislation to increase state flexibility in complying with federal education rules so teachers and schools spend fewer resources complying with mandates and more time teaching." (http://issa.house.gov/the-issues/education).
Please join in on the discussion as AJC Radio hosts delve deeper into the initiatives of Congressman Darrell Issa and his efforts to pass legislation to defend Small Business & Jobs, Financial Reform and Taxes, Defense and Veterans, Technology and Commerce, Energy and Environment, Homeland Security, Education, Health Care, and Housing. "We do everything within our power to share as much information as possible about the members of Congress even though we may not have the opportunity to always bring our listeners a live one-on-one interview," concludes Banks.
For more info on AJC Radio programming -- including program archives -- visit www.AJCRadio.com. Follow the channel on Twitter @AJCRadio. AJC Radio, "Bringing the Message of Justice Around the World," airs Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8-10 PM ET.
AJC Radio is an Internet radio presentation produced by the advocacy group, A Just Cause (www.a-justcause.com). The program is designed to bring to the American people a variety of discussions in relation to our criminal justice system, our legislators and their initiatives as well as a plethora of issues that expose a flawed system -- just to name a few, wrongful convictions, judicial misconduct, and mass incarceration across the U.S. The show provides emotional, as well as entertaining dialogue on issues that may be controversial to some. AJC Radio promises to deliver open discussions no matter how controversial those topics may be with the objective of making the show unique, cutting edge, and intriguing to all listeners. AJC Radio is committed to bring the message of justice around the world.

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The response to ‘George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine’


October 28, 2015

The response to ‘George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine’

“This is an important event for the Palestinian prisoner.” – Dr. Sari Nussibeh
“We have to reinforce solidarity with freedom-minded people all around the world.” – Issa Qaraka
“The Abu Jihad center does solidarity work movements for liberation.” – Dr. Fayed Abu Al-Hajj
The Abu Jihad museum at Al Quds University is hosting an international exhibition titled “George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine,” which opened Oct. 20, 2015. It is the first international exhibit of this center for prisoner movement affairs located in the Abu Dis village of Jerusalem. The exhibition links the Palestinian prisoner struggle with the struggles of other political prisoners around the world. It aims to raise international awareness about the reality of prisoners in general and what the Israeli Occupation State is doing to harass Palestinian prisoners in particular.
The ceremonial opening of the exhibition was preceded by a symposium focused on George Jackson, the Black revolutionary prisoner of North America, and his connection to Palestinian struggles, Palestinian writers and Palestinian prisoners. His belief in the Palestinian right to self-determination, a strong belief shared by his comrades, was a central topic of discussion.
Speakers included Dr. Fayed Abu Al-Hajj, the head of the Abu Jihad center, and Dr. Issa Qaraka, the head of the Committee of Prisoner Affairs. Also speaking were Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer (Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association), and Greg Thomas, a political activist and university professor visiting Palestine from the United States.
The launch was attended by ex-prisoners themselves, as well as Dr. Sari Nussibeh, a member of the Al Quds University Board of Trustees; Dr. Imad Abu-Kishki, the current president of the University; and Radi Al-Jarai, the deputy minister of the Ministry of Prisoners and a lecturer at Al Quds University, not to mention a range of political activists and representatives from human rights organizations and prisoner organizations. Many media outlets were on hand to cover both the opening and the symposium.

The Abu Jihad museum at Al Quds University is hosting an international exhibition titled “George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine,” which opened Oct. 20, 2015.

The exhibition generated a tremendously positive reaction, collectively confirming the importance of continuing to link people and activists who call for freedom and liberation on a worldwide level.
Dr. Sari Nussibeh expressed his appreciation for the Abu Jihad center’s enormous efforts in bringing this exhibition to fruition. He pointed out that Al Quds University, from its initial decision to house the Abu Jihad center on campus, always wanted to make it an active organization in terms of forging international connections with political and human rights movements enacting human liberation.
Nussibeh explained that enabling Palestinians to experience an exhibit on the life of a prison activist incarcerated in America is very important for the Palestinian prisoner as well as American public opinion on the matter of prisoners and imprisonment, and asserted that he will be happy to see such activity continue.
In his turn, Dr. Fayed Abu Al-Hajj expressed his sincere happiness about being able to mount such an exhibition, saying: “We, as the Abu Jihad center and the Al Quds University family, consider the hosting of this event to be like a Palestinian wedding. It is a coming together for the Palestinian people, the female prisoners as well as the male prisoners – not only the Palestinians and the Arabs, but also for prisoners all around the world.
“We are honored to host this historic exhibition that bears the name of one of the great Black freedom fighters in America, to honor his legacy as he spent his life defending the ethics of liberty and being active against oppression, injustice and exploitation.
“This exhibition will be a cornerstone of the Abu Jihad center as we practice the vision of Dr. Nussibeh. He is the one who made it possible for us to reach this stage of the center’s work, a stage in which we are able to communicate with the rest of the world, support them in their causes, and win them over to stand up for our cause.”
He pointed out that the Palestinian people know the scale of the injustice and racism befalling Black brothers and sisters in the United States. “In this regard we remind the people of the whole world, including the people of the United States, that our people are facing racism, injustice and abuse in all its forms at the hands of the Israeli occupation state. And we demand that people stand firm in the face of continued occupation and apply pressure on their government to end their support for the occupation state.”

“We are honored to host this historic exhibition that bears the name of one of the great Black freedom fighters in America, to honor his legacy as he spent his life defending the ethics of liberty and being active against oppression, injustice and exploitation.”

Abu Al-Hajj also elaborated on the fighting life of George Jackson, saying that Jackson was just like a thousand Palestinian political prisoners. “He taught himself from within his prison cell. He joined the Black Panthers, which was active in confronting racism in the United States. And we have occasion to remember their struggle, especially when we feel the racism, oppression and abuse has reached a peak.”
He also highlighted the importance of practicing solidarity between popular struggles, as this provides moral support for Palestinian prisoners who are caged in Israeli dungeons. “And let’s remember the moment after Jackson’s assassination, when the prison guards told his mother, ‘We killed one of your sons last year, and we killed yet another one of your sons today. Pretty soon you’ll have no more sons left.’ She replied, ‘I have sons all over the world wherever people are fighting for freedom.’ It is amazing how many Palestinian mothers have repeated these very words, especially when their loved ones fall into the clutches of the Israeli prisons.”
On another note, Abu Al-Hajj remarked that the Abu Jihad center is very active in networking with the international liberation movements, including those in South Africa, reporting that when the vice president of South Africa visited the center, he was astonished by the quantity of materials in the museum and the cultural and literary reservoir of the Palestinian political prisoners.

The voice of freedom is one

On behalf of Al Quds University, Dr. Imad Abu Kishek congratulated the Abu Jihad center on this great achievement, affirming that Al Quds prioritizes the issues of prisoners because they relate to such a broad swath of Palestinian society. He added further that the existence of the center’s exhibition featuring Jackson’s political struggle is also beneficial to a wide range of students and activists.
“It moves us to look at the prisoners from a wider lens and to relate our struggles to the struggles of other people who also suffer injustice and discrimination.” He hopes that Abu Jihad center will continue to host exhibitions hailing from different areas that support the Palestinian cause.
Dr. Issa Qaraka thanked the center and the university for their efforts in hosting the exhibition and the opening symposium, “especially at this time when our sons are rising up in the face of Israeli state oppression, racism and injustice.” In this regard, he pointed out that the face of oppression and injustice is one and the voice of freedom is also one, “internationally, everywhere.” “This is what unites strugglers all around the world.”
He added that Jackson was killed in prison, just like the Palestinian Abrahim Al-Raii was killed in his Israeli prison cell. “The cell in which Jackson lived under so much oppression and injustice is the same cell in which thousands of male and female Palestinian prisoners are suffering. They are suffering from injustice, the denial of rights and attempted murder.
“Just as Jackson was offered bad food on a daily basis, thousands of Palestinian prisoners are offered bad food. Just as Jackson was forbidden books and such, our female and male Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli dungeons are daily denied literature, letters and educational materials.

“The cell in which Jackson lived under so much oppression and injustice is the same cell in which thousands of male and female Palestinian prisoners are suffering. They are suffering from injustice, the denial of rights and attempted murder.”

“It is not even so strange to find a poem in Jackson’s cell that was written by the Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim, titled ‘Enemy of the Sun.’ That poem united freedom-minded people of the world. All the systematic killing and oppression carried out by the Israeli government are just manifestations of other systems that were used against many other oppressed peoples.
“This is what guides us and strengthens our solidarity with all the freedom-minded people of the world and with the struggles of those who are on the road to freedom and justice. We consider the USA to be the father of all the oppression and injustice that befalls our people, as the USA fertilizes and bolsters the Israeli occupation state.”
Qaraka also pointed out that “Israel” is considered an Apartheid state by all the world’s experts on the subject. “Look at what’s happening now in the city of Jerusalem and what happened earlier with the building the Apartheid separation wall. Look at the ideology of racism that is constantly fed to the Israeli youth.
“Look at the legal decisions of the Israeli courts. The settlers commit crimes against Palestinian families with impunity, while our sons are being sentenced to tens of years in prison for any reaction to the violence of the Israeli army and the settlers.”
“Let us not forget the denial of our most basic rights in these courts. On this matter, Jackson had ‘put his finger on the wound,’ the Palestinian wound that continues to bleed. It is important to recognize that what makes his experience so exemplary is that he politically educated and re-socialized himself in the prison, taking inspiration from the steadfastness of Palestinian prisoners like Samih al-Qasim.
“And I believe the real reason for killing him was that he drank from the ethics of liberation and the defense of human rights.” He concluded, “We as Palestinian people bring to life the legacy of all the freedom fighters of the world through this display of Jackson’s life.”

“We as Palestinian people bring to life the legacy of all the freedom fighters of the world through this display of Jackson’s life.”

Sahar Francis was also thankful that Abu Jihad has organized this exhibit, stating that it is very important to deepen and empower the relationship between the Palestinian revolution and freedom fighters internationally. She focused on solidarity that has already been forged between many organizations, especially those that challenge prisons, policies against political activists, and the many companies that facilitate and profit from the “security” complex of the U.S. and Israeli prison systems.
Most notable here is “G4S,” the British multinational “security” company that is the world’s largest such company. “We recently learned that Bill Gates was supporting them and is investing in them. In response, we activists applied abundant pressure on him to withdraw his investment. And we succeeded.”
She added that this is proof that we can do much more when we work in partnership with international organizations. “It is necessary to network with other struggles. Then we will bring to justice all the companies that violate international law.”
Francis observed that the Israeli occupation state is benefiting from every method of oppression and exploitation that has been practiced by other governments in their attempts to destroy Palestinian society. “As we see in multiple situations and scenarios, arrest or detention is an aim in and of itself for the Israeli occupation state, which operates in exactly the same manner in the United States of America.
“An example of this is in the schools – whenever a Black student violates any kind of rule, he or she will be subjected to the worst punishment, which may entail actual imprisonment, which may then lead to denial of social services, which may further lead to denial of employment or work. This is exactly what Israel is doing by targeting school kids.
“Another example is what recently passed in the Israeli Parliament, a law that allows the force-feeding of prisoners, as practiced by the United States government in Guantanamo. All of this compels us to continue cooperation with the freedom-minded people of the world.”
The U.S.-based scholar and activist Greg Thomas presented his sincere thanks to Abu Jihad center, represented by the director, Dr. Fayed Abu Al-Hajj, whose full support led to the successful hosting of this exhibition. Thomas emphasized that the center powerfully represents the ongoing and historical struggles of the Palestinian people.
Thomas explained that many international activists regularly celebrate the legacy of George Jackson, and that Abu Jihad center, as an institution that genuinely appreciates the role of prisoners as thinkers and militants, is perhaps the best place to host an exhibition on this great revolutionary fighter for freedom.
He added that Jackson was an enemy of colonialism, racism and capitalism. He said Jackson became a legend inside the prisons and outside of them. A revolutionary role model for his fellow inmates, he completed two books in prison, one of which was published after prison guards assassinated him, on Aug. 21, 1971, when he was only 29 years old.
The French writer Jean Genet, a supporter of the Palestinian struggle, wrote the introduction for Jackson’s first book, “Soledad Brother,” describing it as “a striking poem of love and combat.” The manuscript for Jackson’s second book, “Blood in My Eye,” was smuggled out of the prison shortly before the state assassinated him.
Thomas maintained that Jackson is still alive and present in the souls of world revolutionaries against oppression. And he lives on in the nightmares of oppressive systems – a symbol of uncompromising freedom.
From prison, Jackson would join the Black Panther Party, a legendary organ for Black power in the United States and a party that supported the Palestinian struggle. This led to the establishment of a Palestinian group under the same name in the 1980s. Palestinian revolutionaries inspired Jackson and his Black Panthers, while Jackson is himself considered to be the architect of the modern anti-prison movement in the U.S.
Finally, Radi Al-Jarai agreed that this type of exhibition is very helpful for the Palestinian prisoners’ cause, since it connects this liberation struggle to those of freedom-minded people around the world. It also reminds us of the extent to which the Palestinian struggle has inspired other movements for justice, as well as other poets and writers, across the world.
But perhaps most importantly it increases the level of historical awareness among Palestinian youth of the history of oppression of Blacks in the United States, the ways they maintain opposition against it and the heavy price to be paid for freedom in the struggle for liberation.
This story was translated by Mahmoud Muna.

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CCR Press release about appeal of Aref v Holder (CMUs)


Prisoners’ Rights Attorneys Press Constitutional Challenge to Experimental Prison Units

October 28, 2015, Washington, D.C. – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights appealed a district court ruling in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) secretive, highly-restrictive Communications Management Units (CMU). In 2014, CCR’s lawsuit, Aref v. Holder, uncovered hundreds of documents detailing the BOP’s process for designating prisoners to CMUs. Among other issues, the documents revealed that the BOP did not draft criteria for designating prisoners to the CMUs until three years after the first unit opened; that different BOP offices tasked with designating prisoners have different understandings of the criteria; that the reasons provided to CMU prisoners for their designation are incomplete, inaccurate, and sometimes even false; and that political speech exercised by prisoners was used as a factor in their CMU designation. In its ruling, the district court did not consider these documents, instead finding that the CMUs are not sufficiently unusual, harsh, or restrictive to trigger due process rights.

“The Bureau of Prisons has kept everything about their Communications Management Units opaque—from how you end up there to how you get out,” said plaintiff Daniel McGowan. “I only learned through this lawsuit that I was sent to the CMU because I continued to care about politics when I was incarcerated and because I wrote letters to my friends on the outside about social justice issues. Other people in the CMUs should have the right to learn why they were actually sent there, too.”    

In addition to having their telephone and visitation access heavily restricted, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members, forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits. Attorneys say this blanket ban on contact visitation is unique in the federal prison system and causes suffering to people in prison and their families.

“Communications Management Units impose harsh restrictions on prisoners’ communication with their families and with fellow prisoners for years at a time,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “All we are seeking is an explanation of why these prisoners are being singled out for such a restrictive unit, and the chance to contest false or retaliatory placements.”

In addition to appealing the district court’s due process ruling, CCR is also appealing adverse rulings on their claims that prisoners were held in the CMUs in retaliation for First Amendment protected political and religious speech.

The CMUs were quietly opened in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, in 2006 and 2008, respectively, to monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world.  Sixty percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim, though Muslims comprise only six percent of the federal prisoner population.

The documents uncovered in CCR’s lawsuit were described in detail in a recent TED Talk by journalist Will Potter.

  For more information on Aref v. Holdervisit CCR’s case page. For more on the Center for Constitutional Rights work on mass incarceration, visit our issue page.

The law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and attorney Kenneth A. Kreuscher are co-counsel in the case.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visitwww.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.

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Day 10 of LaSalle14 Hunger Strike - Retaliation against hunger strikers continues

General Media - Fahd Ahmed: 
Bangla Media – Kazi Fouzia:  kazi@drumnyc.org
Day 10 of LaSalle14 Hunger Strike
Retaliation against hunger strikers continues
14 South Asian detainees, from Bangladesh and India (known as the “LaSalle14”) at the LaSalle Detention Center started a hunger strike at breakfast time on October 19. All of the strikers are asylum seekers, and some have been held for up to 2 years. They are demanding to be released from detention, as per ICE's own recommendations that detainees who have been held for over 6 months and cannot be released in the forseeable future should be released.

Since the hunger strike started, 3 of the strikers have been moved to Etowah Detention Center, and been prevented from making any contact or communication with their families or with DRUM.
At LaSalle, the hunger strikers have had their water supply turned off at times. They have also faced interference in their ability to transfer money from their commissary to their phone accounts, thus interfering with their ability to communicate as well.

Since the last 2 days, ICE officials have been pressuring the strikers to contact the consulates of their home countries, which is alarming since it is these same government that all the hunger strikers are escaping and seeking asylum from.

There is an online petition by the Not1More Campaign to bring attention to this issue:

Follow regular updates at: https://www.facebook.com/DesisRising
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