WikiLeaks Performs Valuable Service By Liberating Key Documents from Lesser-Known But Still Major Trade Deal

WikiLeaks TISA graphic

In the past two days, WikiLeaks has released drafts from a lesser-known trade agreement being negotiated between 52 nations called the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The publication comes just before the next round of negotiations, which will begin on July 6.

The “Core Text” of TISA, as well as chapters from negotiations on “Electronic Commerce,” “Telecommunications Services,” “Financial Services,” and “Maritime Transport Services,” were published.

WikiLeaks describes the “Core Text” of the agreement that they released from the “largest ‘trade deal’ in history” a “modern journalistic holy grail.” The media organization is not exaggerating.

Edward Alden, who used to be a reporter for the newsletter Inside US Trade, wrote in a post for the Council on Foreign Relations that WikiLeaks’ sources are “impressive.” Alden recalled how he worked in the “pre-digital age” to “encourage leaks of trade negotiating positions. “But, with the exception of the Clinton administration’s proposal for the NAFTA labor and environmental side agreements in 1993, we rarely got our hands on the texts themselves.”

In a time when corporations are being aided by governments, which are negotiating sweeping trade deals like TISA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with complete secrecy, WikiLeaks has ensured that governments do not finish negotiations without the public having some idea about this conspiracy unfolded behind closed doors.

Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke previously described TISA as an agreement that “would encompass all service sectors and modes of supply and impose a high standard for liberalization.” By liberalization, Punke means deregulation.

Quite aggressively TISA seeks to establishes rules that would tie the hands of TISA governments, preventing them from being able to craft their own regulations to protect people from exploitation by businesses or corporations. And, the very rules, which have been adopted since the 2008 economic crisis, to protect against future financial meltdowns would likely come under attack as a result of this trade deal.

Ben Beachy of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch put together an analysis [PDF] of the “Financial Services” chapter and found sweeping rules for “market access,” which “would expose governments to legal challenges before extrajudicial tribunals for banning risky financial services or products, such as the complex derivatives that fueled the financial crisis. The same rule threatens proposals to limit the size of banks so that they do not become ‘too big to fail.'”

Yet another rule opening up the world to financial risk would challenge policies, which prevent banks from being able to “hold consumers’ deposits from engaging in hedge-fund-style trading of high-risk securities.” It would be prohibited to restrict “financial inflows—used to prevent rapid currency appreciation, asset bubbles and other macroeconomic problems—and financial outflows, used to prevent suddent capital flight in times of crisis.”

“Despite increasing concerns about data privacy, sparked by revelations of the US National Security Agency’s dragnet spying, TISA would require that financial firms be permitted to transfer consumers’ personal financial data overseas, where it could be exposed to unwanted surveillance,” Beachy warns.

In some instances, TISA countries may have to roll back regulations if they were inhibiting the business of a foreign firm. (more…)

Legal Organization Representing WikiLeaks Submits Report for UN Official’s Review of Whistleblower Protections

CCR Logo
Center for Constitutional Rights Logo

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization based in New York which represents WikiLeaks and its editor-in chief Julian Assange, has submitted a report to help United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye complete his review on the global issue of whistleblowers and the protection of sources.

Kaye serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The review addresses how human rights law should protect journalists from having to disclose their sources and how whistleblowers are or are not protected, especially after exposing human rights violations, corruption or other abuses.

Part of the review includes a kind of survey of all governments in the world asking them how journalists are protected from being compelled to reveal sources and how whistleblowers are afforded protections. It also asked for non-governmental organizations to share their views and studies.

CCR is uniquely positioned to provide insights, given that it represents a media organization which has endured an ongoing and unprecedented investigation by the United States government into the publication of documents provided by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

The legal organization asserts in its submission [PDF], “States have an obligation to protect whistleblowers, a vulnerable group that faces systematic stigmatization as a result of exercising fundamental rights to access and obtain information.”

State governments also “have a positive obligation to promote freedom of expression through cyber laws, and must not use technical violations to punish whistleblowers,” CCR argues.

“There is a serious risk that cyber laws will displace secrecy laws as a tool to prosecute whistleblowers on basis of their activities accessing and obtaining information. In the United States, the cases of Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and WikiLeaks reveal the application of “unauthorized access” computer laws to punish whistleblowers and publishers.”

The legal organization adds, “Today significant amounts of access to information, particularly by whistleblowers, is enabled by computers. Whistleblowers must not be punished for using a computer to blow the whistle. Cyber laws sanctioning whistleblowers or sources who already have access to computers, purely based on their intent to blow the whistle, raise serious problems for freedom of expression.”

The US government has prosecuted whistleblowers for violating the Espionage Act and disseminating information. In these cases, the intent of the whistleblower does not matter to prosecutors and judges. What matters is that a secrecy agreement was breached.

CCR kept close watch as the court-martial of Manning unfolded, even bringing a lawsuit on behalf of media organizations and journalists (including this one) to force the US military to be more transparent and make court-martial records available to the press. It struggled against secrecy, but one military court denied a request for relief, a military appeals court claimed to lack jurisdiction, and a federal court refused to hear the case. Finally, the military decided to start publishing documents to an online “reading room” that the press and public could access.

As an example of how whistleblowers are vulnerable to abuse, CCR recalls how UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez decided “Manning was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while detained in pretrial custody.”

Manning wrote about her time in pretrial detention in Kuwait:

“At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with,” she recounted for The Guardian. (more…)

WikiLeaks Reveals List of German Officials Spied Upon by NSA, Confirms Merkel Had Calls Intercepted

WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials
WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials

WikiLeaks has revealed more details of political and economic espionage against German government officials by the National Security Agency.

The media organization published a list of 69 telephone numbers in the German government that were “high-priority” targets for the NSA. The targets include people who were officials when President Bill Clinton was still in office and confirm the NSA intercepted communications Chancellor Angela Merkel had with German government officials.

On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”

On October 11, 2011, a document classified two levels above “Top Secret” indicates the United States closely monitored Merkel’s conversation with her personal assistant about how to address the Greek financial crisis:

Merkel - Personal Assistant Intercept

 

The intercepted communication was shared with the “Five Eyes” alliance—Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Another summary of an intercepted communication came from the British spy agency, GCHQ, and was shared with the NSA. It described how the German government planned to negotiate a European Union bailout plan for Greece. German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut argued that it would take an increased level of involvement from the private sector to resolve the crisis.

The “high-priority” list of German targets published shows the US government’s focus on information related to economic affairs. Oskar Lafontaine, who was German Finance Minister from 1998 to 1999, had his communications targeted.

Other officials spied upon include: Werner Müller, German Federal Minister for Economics 1998–2002, Barbara Hendricks, former Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Finance and current Federal Minister for the Environment and Ida-Maria Aschenbrenner, Head of Office of Minister of Finance Theo Waigel from 1989 to 1998.

The NSA targeted ministers, staff members and groups working on G7 and World Trade Organization meetings. The phone number of the European Central Bank was listed.

“Today’s publication further demonstrates that the United States’ economic espionage campaign extends to Germany and to key European institutions and issues such as the EU Central Bank and the crisis in Greece,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared.

“Our publication today also shows how the UK is assisting the US to spy on issues central to Europe. Would France and Germany have proceeded with the BRICS bailout plan for Greece if this intelligence was not collected and passed to the United States – who must have been horrified at the geopolitical implications?”

The revelations related to US spying on German officials come after two releases highlighting US spying on French officials. (more…)

Drug Money Laundered by Two Florida Police Agencies, And Stark Corruption at All Levels of Government

Screen shot of Miami Herald's page for "License to Launder" series
Screen shot of Miami Herald’s page for “License to Launder” series

Nearly two weeks ago, the Miami Herald published a major investigative journalism series on two small Florida police agencies, which engaged in undercover money laundering operations with criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking so officers and the police departments themselves could claim millions of dollars as their own.

The series, “License to Launder: Cash, Cops & the Cartels,” has not received much media attention at all. Whether that is because the essence of the corruption was already known is unclear, however, the corruption detailed at all levels of government is staggering—from the money laundering itself to the coverup by federal investigators seemingly unwilling to investigate anyone in the task force who committed crimes.

It is a stark example of how the War on Drugs is more about how police departments and officers can profit than stopping the flow of drug money. Indeed, officers in this case needed money to keep flowing in order to continue living as high rollers.

Bal Harbour is a small community of around 2,500 people with “oceanfront condominiums” and “elegant boutiques.” It had one reported violent crime in 2012 – an aggravated assault. But, beginning in 2010, the department partnered with the police department in Glades County, one of the poorest counties in Florida.

The police agencies formed the Tri-County Task Force, a state task force, to conduct undercover operations. They took place all over the United States but it would be difficult to believe they were carried out by officers interested in bringing drug traffickers to justice.

The task force made no arrests and engaged in no effort to have the Florida State’s Attorney prosecute any cases. What the officers wanted was money, plain and simple, and they took advantage of the federal government’s Equitable Sharing program to claim drug cash as their own.

When it comes to the War on Drugs, agencies operate under the presumption that undercover units have to typically “seize far more money from criminal groups than what a task force launders and returns to the streets.” That is why one of the most shocking details is that the task force “passed tips that led to federal agents seizing nearly $30 million.” Yet, during the same period, the task force laundered $50 million.

Based on “confidential records of the undercover investigation” and “thousands of records including cash pickup reports, emails, DEA reports, bank statements, and wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the Miami Herald uncovered the following:

—The Justice Department Officer of Inspector General found the task force had laundered over $56 million dollars “without adequate written policies or procedures, prosecutorial oversight, or audits of the undercover bank accounts.” The amount, however, was actually closer to $83 million.

—Officers made cash deposits at a SunTrust Bank about a block from the Bal Harbour police station, which totaled $28 million. None of the deposits appear in records created by the police.

—At least 30 times, police deposited funds into banks and storefront businesses to “conceal drug cash for criminal groups,” but they never documented their actions. The total amount of money distributed was around $20 million. (more…)

Fear Alert: US Press Unquestioningly Spread Predictions of ISIS Attacks on July 4th Holiday

CNN July 4th Attacks
Screen shot of CNN broadcast spreading fear of imminent July 4th terrorism attacks with no caveats whatsoever

(update below)

A number of US media organizations are spreading fear based on a “bulletin” shared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Department that reportedly warns of possible attacks by ISIS supporters on the July 4th holiday.

ABC News reported on the bulletin, which was issued on June 26, and titled, “Holiday Celebrations Remain Attractive Target.” It was sent to 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States and warned Independence Day celebrations and activities that “appear to defame the prophet Mohammed” would “likely result in threats or plans to conduct violent extremist acts.”

Despite the entire global security apparatus built and vastly expanded since the September 11th attacks over a decade ago, it apparently indicated that FBI, Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center officials “remain concerned about the difficulty in detecting violent extremists—especially lone offenders given the individualized nature of radicalization to violence.”

CNN aired a report acknowledging the violent attacks that took place in France, Kuwait and Tunisia on June 26. Terrorism correspondent and propaganda maestro Paul Cruickshank declared, “The worry is the United States is next.”

Unnamed US officials were said to fear the “symbolic July 4th celebrations coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan will further embolden ISIS supporters in the US to unleash attacks, a threat taken so seriously the Department of Homeland Security and FBI sent out a warning to law enforcement officials a week in advance of the holiday.”

Cruickshank ominously opined, “Terrorist groups have historically been interested in targeting the United States on the July 4th holiday because they see that holiday as being very important to Americans, and if that were to happen, then this would inflict psychological trauma.”

Another report from CNN claims the “Islamist terrorist threat is the highest in years,” and “officials have raised concern about possible domestic attacks tied to the July 4 holiday and the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.”

On CBS News’ “This Morning,” former CIA director Mike Morell, in his new position as CBS News senior security contributor or chief fearmonger, declared warnings like Friday’s advisory of potential terrorist attacks in the US during the Fourth of July are routine, but “there’s nothing routine about this particular one to me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is,” Morell stated.

Morell is correct. Bulletins about potential terrorism attacks in the US on the Fourth of July are routine. One was reported in 2013, 2011, 2004, and 2002.

In 2011, the fear spread by law enforcement officials was that al Qaeda and others were “eager to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

John Solomon and Tara McKelvey unquestionably reported for The Daily Beast that the “threat matrix” had “ticked up in recent weeks.” There was no specific threat, however, “evidence” in bin Laden’s possession had shown an interest in attacking “major holiday gatherings, including Independence Day celebrations.”

Nothing happened. No matter how much individuals like former Bush Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend hyped the threat, no one was attacked by terrorists in America on the Fourth of July in 2011.

That might be because these terrorism bulletins or alerts to law enforcement agencies are just agencies being “prudent.”

“I don’t want to overhype it, but I think what was passed out yesterday is just a prudent–prudent a–alert to law enforcement agencies,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said prior to the July 4th holiday in 2002. “And in the course of the next couple of days, we’ll be meeting on a regular basis to make an assessment of–of any additional threats that might be coming our way.”

What happened in 2002 less than a year after the September 11th attacks? Nothing. (more…)

WikiLeaks Publishes NSA Documents Detailing Economic Espionage by ‘Five Eyes’ Alliance Against France

WikiLeaks French Economic Espionage Documents
Graphic created by WikiLeaks for release of documents showing French economic espionage

WikiLeaks published documents from the National Security Agency showing details of economic espionage against France by the “Five Eyes’ alliance, which consists of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

One document is an “information need” spying order that was first created in 2002. It shows that the alliance sought information on economic relations with the United States, French business practices, relations with least developed countries and transitional states, foreign contracts, French trade, French views, views on G8/G20 developments/issues, budgetary constraints/contributions to NATO, and “questionable trade activities.”

The information gathered was supposed to support the CIA, Commerce Department, Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, State Department, US Trade Representative and Homeland Security Department. Any information collected was designated “releasable” to any of the “Five Eyes” countries.

Another document from 2012 shows particular interest in uncovering information on any “French contract proposals” or “negotiations for international sales or investments in major projects or systems of significant interest to the foreign host country,” especially those involving more than $200 million in sales and/or services.

Of particular interest was information on telecommunications networks or technology, electric power, natural gas or oil facilities and infrastructure, including nuclear power and renewable energy, transportation infrastructure, environmental technology, and health care infrastructure, services, and technology.

In one intercepted communication from about 2008, European Union Trade Section head Hiddo Houben and French Minister-Counselor for Economic and Financial Affairs Jean-Francois Boittin criticized US trade policy toward the World Trade Organization (WTO). Boittin was astonished at the “level of ‘narcissism’ and wasteful contemplation currently on display in Washington.”

Houben was especially critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative and how the US seemed to want to negotiate with every nation bordering China, “asking for commitments that exceed those countries’ administrative capacities so as to ‘confront’ Beijing.” If this took 10 years, Houben maintained China would grow disinterested in the process because the world would have changed so much. The US would have to return to the WTO, and it would prove that Washington had “no real negotiating agenda” for nations like China or Brazil.

In another summary of an intercepted communication that is believed to be from 2008, it is clear there was spying against French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte.  The diplomat considered confronting the US over corruption related to the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq after a report from the Iraq Survey Group.

“The ambassador termed the report scandalous, since it named no US companies and he claimed that many French companies with contracts under the OFF program were actually subsidiaries of US firms that also profited from the business dealings. He therefore planned, with foreign ministry backing, to present a list of these US companies to both the US Congress and the media,” according to the summary.

On July 31, 2012, a communication from Finance, Economy and Trade Minister Pierre Moscovici was intercepted. Moscovici indicated, “The French economic situation is worse than anyone can imagine and drastic measures will have to be taken in the next 2 years.”

The documents are the latest documents from WikiLeaks that have been released as part of a project, “Espionnage Élysée.”

“The United States has been conducting economic espionage against France for more than a decade,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared. “Not only has it spied on the French Finance Minister, it has ordered the interception of every French company contract or negotiation valued at more than $200 million.” (more…)

Supreme Court’s Rare Decision That Found Part of Law Used to Impose Harsh Mandatory Sentences Unconstitutional

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled a part of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), which enables sentencing enhancements for “violent felonies,” unconstitutional because it is vague, requires “guesswork,” and denies defendants due process. Now, thousands of prisoners in the United States prosecuted under this law may potentially be resentenced.

The decision, issued on June 26 [PDF], marked the first time in over fifteen years that the court had found a criminal statute was void for vagueness. Leah Litman for Columbia Law Review previously pointed out, “Hispanic and black offenders receive the ACCA enhancement at higher rates than white offenders do.” The harsh mandatory minimum may explain why many defendants “plead guilty to avoid more extensive prison time.”

ACCA was a prelude to federal “three strikes” laws of the 1990s. In 1984, it was passed so that a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence could be imposed on any person convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon who also had three prior convictions for a “violent felony.”

The law defined “violent felony” as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” It lists burglary, arson, or extortion, as well as the “use of explosives,” as crimes that would trigger the enhancement. But vague (and now unconstitutional) part of the law is the “residual clause” that says the law can be applied to any crime that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

The case the Supreme Court heard, Johnson v. United States, involved whether this part of ACCA covered Minnesota’s “offense of unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun.”

Samuel Johnson, a white supremacist, was monitored by the FBI in 2010 as he became more and more involved in a neo-Nazi organization. The FBI suspected he might be planning acts of terrorism. He informed undercover agents he planned to attack “the Mexican consulate” in Minnesota, “progressive bookstores,” and “liberals.” He showed agents “an AK-47 rifle, several semiautomatic firearms and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.” Prosecutors sought a 15-year sentencing enhancement and were granted the mandatory minimum sentence under ACCA.

As Justice Antonin Scalia explains in the decision, “Since 2007, this court has decided four cases attempting to discern its meaning.” It ruled in 2007 this part of the law covered attempted burglary in Florida and, in 2011, the offense of “vehicular flight from a law enforcement officer” in Indiana. The court, however, ruled in 2008 that the law did not cover “driving under the influence” in New Mexico and, in 2009, that it did not cover “failure to report to a penal institution” in Illinois.

Over the past eight years, Scalia notes that the court made “repeated attempts” but repeatedly failed to “craft a principled and objective standard out of the residual clause.” Seeing how it is impossible to prevent any “risk comparison” from “devolving into guesswork and intuition,” it was deemed to be unfair. (more…)

Podcast: Recent FBI Sting, White Terrorism Threat, Transgender Activist Interrupts Obama & Marriage Equality

udlogoThis week on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast:

Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the major Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States; an undocumented transgender activist who interrupted President Barack Obama’s remarks at the LGBT Pride Reception at the White House and was booed; the threat of white terrorism, which the US government largely ignores; a recent elaborate FBI sting against a poor black felon that shows where the agency is putting its resources; and how the FBI monitored live streams of Ferguson protests.

No guest this week.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way by clicking on the player. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Weighs 75 Pounds and is Near Death, Mounts Legal Push for Release

Tariq Ba Odah
Tariq Ba Odah

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who has been on hunger strike for over eight years, has launched a legal push for his immediate release from the United States military prison because he now weighs around 75 pounds and is near death.

Tariq Ba Odah is a Yemeni prisoner and resident of Saudi Arabia, who has been confined in “solitary conditions” at Guantanamo for 13 years despite the fact that President Barack Obama’s own review task force—comprised of officials from the top US security agencies—cleared Odah for release in 2009. His body can no longer endure the effects of nasal tube feedings.

A motion [PDF] filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on Odah’s behalf argues under the “laws of war,” particularly the Third Geneva Convention, the US has an “obligation to release seriously wounded and sick prisoners.” It is part of US Army regulation and “binding domestic law.”

Odah meets the “standards of ill health” that should compel his release because he is at 56 percent of his normal body weight. He is suffering from “severe malnutrition.” He often complains to his lawyer, Omar Farah, that he cannot focus or concentrate during their meetings. He is losing his memory and forgot the current year when he was writing a letter to family.

Dr. Mohammed Rami Bailony, who wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah’s motion for release, describes Odah’s “diminished weight” as a “shocking medical fact that alone indicates the presence of a crisis-level medical condition presaging organ failure, neurological damage and, inevitably, death.”

Odah does not “wish to die,” the motion for relief declares. “He wishes to be reunited with his family in Saudi Arabia or to be freed to any other safe country where he can begin to recover. At the same time, he feels compelled by the injustice he is enduring at Guantanamo to continue his hunger strike, the only peaceful way for him to protest with self-control and with dignity.”

The motion describes how Odah believes the US military has subject him to abuse so he abandons his hunger strike. He has suffered “violent cell-extractions, force-feeding sessions that leave him wet with his own vomit, and unremitting confinement in solitary conditions in Guantánamo’s Camp 5, where now he says he does not see anyone and he does not see the sun.”

Dr. Sandra S. Crosby, the director and co-founder of the immigration and refugee health program at the Boston Medical Center, also wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah that highlights how Odah does not trust the medical staff. The mistrust only compounds the risk that he will die soon.

“Mr. Ba Odah believes—not unreasonably in my opinion—that physicians at Guantanamo have been utilized as instruments of the guard force to coerce prisoners to ‘break the strike,’” Crosby suggests. “When this loss of trust occurs, patients will often not accept appropriate medical recommendations.”

Crosby concludes Odah is at risk of “serious organ damage and/or death.” Odah’s injuries “may be permanent.”

Even if the government claims it could rehabilitate Odah with medical treatment, the motion argues that the circumstances of his detention will likely prevent him from ever recovering.

“Apparently unmoved by his crisis-level weight, the government steadfastly confines Mr. Ba Odah to Guantanamo’s Camp 5, the non-communal housing facility renowned for its punitive, isolative conditions,” the motion declares. “This is exactly the opposite of what Mr. Ba Odah needs. Solitary confinement compromises an individual’s mental and physical health and risks bringing about ‘multiple chronic medical illnesses, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and permanent neuropsychological damage.’ Moreover, solitary conditions are ‘a strong exacerbating factor to his already precarious condition.'”

Odah’s attorney visited Tariq on April 21, and he was “nearly unrecognizable” to him.

Farah shared, “He is now enduring more suffering at Guantánamo than he has ever known. All the bones in his midsection are visible through his skin, his jawline and teeth protrude, and he says he is losing sensation in his hands and feet and his memory is fading.”

It should not matter that there is war ongoing in Yemen that prevents him from being returned to the country where he was born. His family emigrated to Saudi Arabia when Odah was an infant. The government can pursue his transfer to Saudi Arabia. Plus, the government has recently transferred Yemeni prisoners to other countries and shown nationality does not have to be a barrier to release.

The US military’s treatment of Odah clearly amounts to torture, and it is unconscionable that he—as well as many others—remain in detention at Guantanamo.

Image from the Center for Constitutional Rights. Not a recent photo. 

LGBT Community Boos Undocumented Transgender Activist for Interrupting Obama at Pride Event

An undocumented transgender woman and activist interrupted President Barack Obama while he was speaking at the White House’s annual LGBT Pride Month reception.

Jennicet Gutiérrez, who is a founding member of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, was in the audience listening to Obama say how wonderful everything was for the LGBT community. Gutiérrez protested.

“President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers!” Gutiérrez shouted. “President Obama, I am a trans woman. I’m tired of the abuse.”

Obama responded, “You’re in my house. As a general rule, I am just fine with a few hecklers, but not when I’m up in the house.”

The LGBT community at the reception erupted into loud applause and cheering. The president scolded Gutiérrez, “It’s not respectful when you get invited to somebody’s [house].” Plus, “You’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this.”

People who one would think might show solidarity with a person like Gutiérrez booed. Obama escalated his open berating of Gutiérrez, “Shame on you! You shouldn’t be doing this!”

The community of the people launched into a chant. “Obama! Obama! Obama.”

Seeing how that did not convince Gutiérrez to stop trying to get Obama to address a critical issue, the detention and deportation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants, Obama asked security to escort Gutiérrez out of the reception. She was removed while many in the room stood around laughing at what happened.

Remarkably, Obama stated later in his speech, “We know that transgender persons still face terrible violence and abuse and poverty here at home and around the world.” A person in the audience shouted, “The transsexuals love you.” Everyone applauded and Obama reacted, “Well, that’s the kind of heckling I can always accept.”

After applause, Obama continued, “Seriously, too many folks are still targeted, and transgender women of color are particularly vulnerable. So that kind of ugliness simply doesn’t belong in America. That’s not who we are.”

Apparently, Obama could not have said that when Gutiérrez protested. He had to patronize and shame her for dissenting against him.

In an interview for The Advocate, Gutiérrez said it was the crowd that “most frustrated” her. “I’m just very disappointed with the way it was handled.”

“I’m part of the LGBT community, and they didn’t back me, instead they were booing, which to me was like a slap in the face to all these people in detention centers,” Gutiérrez added.

Initially, Gutiérrez did not plan to protest at the reception. She was able to get on the list of attendees through someone at the group, GetEQUAL. But she “couldn’t help but think about the conditions,” which “LGBTQ Latino/Latina, especially trans women of color, are facing in detention.”

“To me, that was the moment I had to speak up. I had to raise awareness to the President and to everyone else watching that I’m not just going to celebrate, when my trans sisters are facing a lot of violence in the detention centers. [Trans women are facing] sexual and physical abuse, and I just had to send a message.”
(more…)