Cleveland Transit Cop Recklessly Pepper-Sprayed Crowd at Bus Stop After Movement for Black Lives Gathering

A transit police officer in Cleveland pepper-sprayed a group of people on July 26 at a bus stop across the street from Cleveland State University. It was about an hour after the Movement for Black Lives gathering concluded.

Video captured by Twitter user @KentaviousPrime shows the white officer in the street rushing into a crowd. He sprays the canister at everyone nearby until it is empty.

The Cleveland transit police apparently believed a 14-year-old black boy was “intoxicated to the point where he was unable to care for himself.” Officers slammed the boy to the ground, detained him, and angered the crowd, which included activists leaving the gathering. The boy was put into a police car, which the crowd surrounded to stop police from taking him.

According to activists at the scene, the boy had a Snapple drink. This was probably the open container the police seized upon as justification for making an arrest.

None of the witnesses at the scene corroborated the police claim that the boy was drunk.

A statement from the transit police declared, “A transit police officer used a general burst of pepper spray in an attempt to push back the crowd, to no avail.”

Shooting a stream of pepper-spray, especially about an hour after a major conference of freedom fighters, could never be reasonably expected to contain or control a crowd. The one officer spraying is terribly reckless in his attempt to drive people away from the scene, and, as transit police seem to admit, the pepper-spray only inflamed the situation more.

As the local NBC affiliate, WKYC, reported:

 “I was told the police are pepper spraying people down the street, and I’m seeing people run for milk so they can be protected from pepper spray all because people are asking what happening to a young man,” said Rhonda Y. Williams, history professor at Case Western Reserve and member of the Cleveland Eight. “When we have an officer who comes out of nowhere and is pushing people and then takes out and just starts spraying with his pepper spray, that’s not deescalation.”

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Feds Raid Native American Reservation, Seize 12,000 Legal Marijuana Plants

This article was originally published at MintPressNews.com.

Last week, federal agents raided land belonging to two federally-recognized Native American tribes, and seized 12,000 cannabis plants from their properties. The bust came despite new federal guidelines designed to allow limited marijuana cultivation by indigenous groups in the United States.

The agents arrived at the properties at the far northern edge of California on July 8, ultimately seizing the plants and over 100 pounds of marijuana ready for use from two buildings — an event center belonging to the Alturas Rancheria and a greenhouse belonging to the Pit River tribe. Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. District Attorney in Sacramento, led the raid.

“The volume of marijuana that the XL facility alone was capable of producing … far exceeds any prior known commercial marijuana grow operation anywhere within the 34-county Eastern District,” Wagner said in a statement quoted by The Sacramento Bee on the day of the bust.

A view of the marijuana farm on the XL Rancheria in California.

The Justice Department announced in December that it would allow Native American tribes to choose whether to legalize marijuana on their reservations, which are considered sovereign nations for many aspects of lawmaking and governance. Under the new regulations, tribes are free to maintain a ban even if the states they are in have passed medical cannabis laws or broad legalization, but the opposite is not true: Tribal efforts at legalization aren’t allowed to overturn state laws that criminalize marijuana.

In his statement, Wagner accused the Pit River Tribes and the Alturas Rancheria, a community of just five registered members, of taking their growing operations too far, and said he’d previously warned tribal leaders they were acting “in a manner that violates federal law, is not consistent with California’s Compassionate Use Act, and undermines locally enacted marijuana regulations.”

The grow operation was funded by Grand River Enterprises, a huge Canadian tobacco business which distributes its products on Native American and First Nations reservations, and the involvement of a foreign investor may be another factor that led to the bust. According to The Associated Press, the Bureau of Indian Affairs also supported the raid. (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…)

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…)

Would CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Be in Prison If He Were White?

Jeffrey Sterling

Last week CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldn’t be there.

Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency. That happened shortly before the CIA fired him in late 2001. The official in Langley who did the firing face-to-face was John Brennan, now the CIA’s director and a close adviser to President Obama.

Five months ago, in court, prosecutors kept claiming that Sterling’s pursuit of the racial-bias lawsuit showed a key “motive” for providing classified information to journalist James Risen. The government’s case at the highly problematic trial was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. Lacking anything more, the prosecution hammered on ostensible motives, telling the jury that Sterling’s “anger,” “bitterness” and “selfishness” had caused him to reveal CIA secrets.

But the history of Sterling’s conflicts with the CIA has involved a pattern of top-down retaliation. Sterling became a problem for high-ranking officials, who surely did not like the bad publicity that his unprecedented lawsuit generated. And Sterling caused further hostility in high places when, in the spring of 2003, he went through channels to tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers of his concerns about the CIA’s reckless Operation Merlin, which had given Iran some flawed design information for a nuclear weapons component.

Among the U.S. government’s advantages at the trial last winter was the fact that the jury did not include a single African-American. And it was drawn from a jury pool imbued with the CIA-friendly company town atmosphere of Northern Virginia.

Sterling’s long struggle against institutionalized racism is far from over. It continues as he pursues a legal appeal of his three-and-a-half year sentence. He’s in a prison near Denver, nearly 900 miles from his home in the St. Louis area, making it very difficult for his wife Holly to visit.

Last week, as Sterling headed to Colorado, journalist Kevin Gosztola wrote an illuminating piece that indicated the federal Bureau of Prisons has engaged in retaliation by placing Sterling in a prison so far from home. Gosztola concluded: “There really is no accountability for BOP officials who inappropriately designate inmates for prisons far away from their families.” (more…)

Google Reveals It Was Forced to Hand Over Journalist’s Data for WikiLeaks Grand Jury Investigation

Jacob Appelbaum

Google released another legal disclosure notice related to the United States government’s ongoing grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks. It informed journalist and technologist Jacob Appelbaum, who previously worked with WikiLeaks, that Google was ordered to provide data from his account.

The disclosure suggests the grand jury investigation may have sought Appelbaum’s data because the US government believed data would contain details on WikiLeaks’ publication of State Department cables.

Appelbaum has been under investigation because of his connection to WikiLeaks for four to five years. He has been detained and interrogated at the US border multiple times. He was one of three subjects of an order the government issued to Twitter for account data for its investigation, which Twitter and other groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) challenged in court.

He was recently profiled along with Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei in a short film by Laura Poitras, “The Art of Dissent.” He lives in Berlin, where he has spent the past couple of years reporting on documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for media organizations like Der Spiegel. His lawyers have advised him not to return to the US.

Google’s full legal disclosure to Appelbaum consisted of 306 pages of documents. He did not post the disclosure in its entirety but shared screen shots of parts of the disclosure through his Twitter account.

On April 1, the government apparently determined there was some information that could be disclosed to Appelbaum.

The government seems to confirm in legal documents that it does not consider WikiLeaks to be a journalistic enterprise. It also writes, “The government does not concede that the [redacted] subscriber is a journalist,” referring to Appelbaum.

Nevertheless, the government broaches the issue and insists “newsmen” may be subject to grand jury investigations of this intrusive nature.

“Journalists have no special privilege to resist compelled disclosure of their records, absent evidence that the government is acting in bad faith,” the government asserts. “Even if the [redacted] subscriber were to bring a First Amendment challenge, he could not quash the order because he could not show that the government has acted in bad faith, either in conducting its criminal investigation or in obtaining the order.”

Later, the government adds, “The government has acted in good faith throughout this criminal investigation, and there is no evidence that either the investigation or the order is intended to harass the [redacted] subscriber or anyone else.”

Appelbaum mentioned that this reminded him of how the government targeted New York Times reporter James Risen when they were investigating CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. He also recalled that a US border agent once said to him he would be “endlessly harassed.”

That experience would seem to call into question the government’s claim it has not acted in bad faith. Plus, given that his Google data was targeted in secret, Appelbaum could not possibly mount a First Amendment challenge because his lawyers did not even know to file a challenge or what to challenge exactly.

(more…)

Federal Appeals Court Revives Lawsuit Against Bush Officials for Post-9/11 Abuse of Immigration Detainees

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

A federal appeals court reinstated complaints in a lawsuit against former Justice Department officials, who allegedly violated the rights of Arab or Muslim immigrants in the immediate months after the September 11th terrorist attacks. It is very rare for this to happen.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of eight former detainees in 2002 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, seeks to hold former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, and former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service James W. Ziglar accountable for subjecting immigrants to harsh confinement on the basis of their race, national origin, and religion. (Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) and Passaic County Jail officials were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.)

In January 2013, a federal court dismissed the complaints after concluding there was no evidence the officials had any “intent to punish” the plaintiffs, who allege their rights were violated.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [PDF] that the Justice Department officials were not entitled to “qualified immunity.” The appeals court also determined the confinement conditions imposed on immigrants, who were rounded up, were established with “punitive intent.”

“I am very delighted with the court’s ruling,” said Benamar Benatta, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case. “It has been a long and stressful process that has taken a tremendous toll on my life, however, it is this kind of bold decision that restores my faith in the US judicial system and gives me hope that justice will be served at the end.”

In Benatta’s case, he was cleared for release from detention on November 14, 2001, but despite the fact that the MDC had this information, Benatta was kept in solitary confinement until April 30, 2002.

The lawsuit indicates immigrants (or what the court refers to as “‘out of status’ aliens,”) were subject to a “hold-until-cleared policy,” and kept in confinement for “lengthy periods of times—often for months after they were ordered removed from the country—until the FBI affirmatively cleared them of suspicion of wrongdoing.”

The Muslim men, who are plaintiffs, were held in an Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit ( “ADMAX SHU”). In a tiny cell, they were held:

…[F]or over 23 hours a day, provided with meager and barely edible food, and prohibited from moving around the unit, using the telephone freely, using the commissary, accessing MDC handbooks (which explained how to file complaints about mistreatment), and keeping any property, including personal hygiene items like toilet paper and soap, in their cells. Whenever they left their cells, they were handcuffed and shackled. Although they were offered the nominal opportunity to visit the recreation area outside of their cells several times a week, the recreation area was exposed to the elements and the MDC Detainees were not offered clothing beyond their standard cotton prison garb and a light jacket. Furthermore, detainees who accepted such offers were often physically abused along the way, and were sometimes left for hours in the cold recreation cell, over their protests, as a form of punishment. As a result, they were constructively denied exercise during the fall and winter….

The men were “strip-searched every time they were removed from or returned to their cells, including before and after visiting with their attorneys, receiving medical care, using the recreation area, attending a court hearing, and being transferred to another cell. “ Each time they arrived at the MDC “in the receiving and discharge area and again after they had been escorted – shackled and under continuous guard – to the ADMAX SHU,” they were strip-searched, even though there was absolutely no opportunity for them to obtain contraband.

“[DOJ Defendants] seem to imply once ‘national security’ concerns become a reason for holding someone, there is no need to show a connection between those concerns and the captive other than that the captive shares common traits of the terrorist: illegal immigrant status and a perceived Arab or Muslim affiliation,” the appeals court stated. (more…)

US Government Notifies American Muslims, Who Refused to Be FBI Informants, of Removal from No Fly List

The United States government sent four American Muslim men letters notifying them that they had been removed from the No Fly List. The men had no criminal records when they were put on the list and claim that they were put on the watch list in retaliation for not becoming FBI informants.

The notification came days before a major hearing in New York City on the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the four men—Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari, and Awais Sajjad.

“I have no words. This is very big news for me,” Sajjad declared in a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organizations representing them.

“I hope next month I will travel to visit my grandmother in Pakistan. I miss my grandmother who is very sick and over 90 years old now. She raised me after my mother’s death.”

Sajjad has accused FBI agents of subjecting him to ““extensive interrogation, including a polygraph test, after which he was asked to work as an informant for the FBI.” And, his grandmother has been very sick since February 2012 but his placement on the No Fly List has kept him from traveling to see her.

Another plaintiff, Jameel Algibhah, stated, “They have done a lot of damage to me and to my life. They messed up my life. I haven’t seen my family in a long time. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know me. I want to continue this lawsuit.”

Algibhah declined a “request from FBI agents to attend certain mosques, to act ‘extremist,’ and to participate in online Islamic forums and report back to the FBI agents,” according to the filed lawsuit.

“After Mr. Algibhah learned that he was on the No Fly List, the same FBI agents again visited him, telling him that only they could remove his name from the No Fly List if he agreed to act as an informant.” He refused to become an informant, and, as a result, has not been able to visit his wife and three daughters in Yemen since 2009.

The Center for Constitutional Rights claims the men have lost their jobs, faced stigmas in their communities and “suffered severe financial and emotional distress.”

While the letters were clearly intended to convince the men to drop their lawsuit and help the government win dismissal, lawyers for the men will continue to seek redress for their placement on the No Fly List. (more…)

Elites Abandoned Their Stance Against Leaks to Help Save Petraeus from Suffering in Jail

When David Petraeus faced a potential jail sentence for leaking classified information to his biographer, an array of corporate, military and political elites wrote letters to a federal judge requesting leniency. A number of those people were individuals who have called for leak prosecutions and have used their power to spread fear about the dangers of national security leaks.

The former CIA director and military general improperly possessed “Black Books” containing the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and other classified information, including notes from his discussions with President Barack Obama. He provided Paul Broadwell access to these books after she asked to use them as source material. He even lied to FBI special agents about leaking to his biographer and lied on a CIA “security exit form.”

However, despite the fact that the Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted others for similar conduct, the government did not seek any jail time for Petraeus. The judge sentenced Petraeus to two years of probation and fined him $100,000. Perhaps, this was the result of pressure from Petraeus’ powerful friends.

Thirty-four letters written to Judge David C. Keesler and originally filed under seal were released on Monday. It was the result of a lawsuit led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Letters were written by Tom Donilon, former Obama national security adviser, William McRaven, former commander of US Special Operations Command, Stephen Hadley, former assistant to the president for national security affairs under George W. Bush, Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Joe Lieberman.

Graham and Lieberman refrained from commenting on what Petraeus did. Yet, Graham has previously accused the Obama administration of leaking details of classified operations to make the president “look good.” Lieberman introduced the SHIELD Act when he was a senator, an unconstitutional law that would have given the government more power to crack down on leaks.

Feinstein has fought for more criminal investigations into unauthorized disclosures and suggested NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden committed “treason.” She wrote, “As the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a senior commanding officer of the US Army, he understands the importance of protecting classified information. This past experience makes him regret even more deeply his conduct in this matter.”

McRaven said during the Aspen Security Forum in 2012:

…[W]e’re never happy when leaks occur, obviously. I mean, we go to great lengths to protect our national security. Very great lengths to protect our sources and methods. So all of that, we guard very carefully. Unfortunately, not everybody guards that very carefully.

And I think what you’ve seen is the secretary and the president and Capitol Hill are taking these leaks very, very seriously, as they should, and we need to do the best we can to clamp down on it. Because sooner or later, it is going to cost people their lives, or it’s going to cost us our national security.

However, there was apparently no need to clamp down on Petraeus because, as McRaven put it, “Few, if any Generals I know, and I know a lot of them, gave as much, did as much or accomplished as much as Dave Petraeus.” (more…)

Obama Administration Expanded Warrantless Surveillance to Target ‘Malicious Cyber Activity’

Defense Department Photo

Documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show warrantless surveillance was expanded by President Barack Obama’s administration to target “malicious cyber activity.”

After Congress legalized the warrantless wiretapping with the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, non-US citizens could be targeted abroad. The administration developed a new policy for cybersecurity and took steps that would make the difference between a spy and criminal nearly non-existent.

According to a report from the New York Times and ProPublica, the White House National Security Council decided in May 2009 that “reliance on legal authorities that make theoretical distinctions between armed attacks, terrorism and criminal activity may prove impractical.”

The NSA proposed that the government use the warrantless surveillance program for cybersecurity about the same time.

In May and July 2012, the Justice Department signed off on searches of “cybersignatures” and Internet addresses. The approval was tied to previously granted authority to spy on foreign governments obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. However, the NSA soon grew frustrated with the limits this imposed on them.

“That limit meant the NSA had to have some evidence for believing that the hackers were working for a specific foreign power,” the report indicates. “That rule, the NSA soon complained, left a ‘huge collection gap against cyberthreats to the nation’ because it is often hard to know exactly who is behind an intrusion, according to an agency newsletter. Different computer intruders can use the same piece of malware, take steps to hide their location or pretend to be someone else.”

Before the year was over, the NSA pressed the secret surveillance court for permission to use the warrantless wiretapping program for “cybersecurity purposes.”

As this happened, the FBI’s authority to target Internet data and use it for its criminal and “national security” investigations expanded.

…[T]he FBI in 2011 had obtained a new kind of wiretap order from the secret surveillance court for cybersecurity investigations, permitting it to target Internet data flowing to or from specific Internet addresses linked to certain governments.

To carry out the orders, the FBI negotiated in 2012 to use the NSA’s system for monitoring Internet traffic crossing “chokepoints operated by U.S. providers through which international communications enter and leave the United States,” according to a 2012 NSA document. The NSA would send the intercepted traffic to the bureau’s “cyberdata repository” in Quantico, Virginia…

The newly claimed authority is but another example of an expansion of executive power the Obama administration arrogated to itself without any public debate whatsoever. (more…)