Facebook Warrant Targeting Student Journalists in Puerto Rico Prompts Fears of Political Surveillance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 11:30pm in

As seven University of Puerto Rico students prepare to face trial in February for participating in a nonviolent protest more than two years ago, documents released to their defense attorneys reveal that Facebook granted the island’s Justice Department access to a trove of private information from student news publications. The department’s sweeping search warrant was part of a hunt for crimes committed by members of the youth anti-austerity movement, and it has raised fears among civil liberties advocates of a return to a period of Puerto Rico’s history when police routinely targeted citizens for surveillance on the basis of their political interests.

It was April 2017, and for weeks, University of Puerto Rico students had been holding a school-wide strike protesting austerity policies that were poised to defund public services across the island to satisfy the government’s creditors. When the university’s governing board gathered on April 27 to discuss $241 million in budget cuts, the students demanded to be let in. The board refused, locking the doors to the building where the meeting was being held. But the students stormed in anyway, pushing past security.

The action unfolded in real time on Facebook, as three student media outlets, Diálogo UPR, Pulso Estudiantil UPR, and Centro de Comunicación Estudiantil, livestreamed the protest. The students surrounded the board members and shut down the meeting, demanding that the board sign a commitment to rejecting the budget cuts. The action, one of many that took place on campus and in the streets, was over within half an hour. A glass door, some furniture, and a lamp were allegedly broken or damaged. No one was injured, and no one was arrested. But the secretary of Puerto Rico’s Justice Department, now-Gov. Wanda Vázquez, pledged to investigate the incident and arrest lawbreakers.

Two weeks later, students who had assumed leadership roles in the wider strike received citations ordering them to appear in court. When they showed up, they were handcuffed, paraded before media crews, and charged with a host of crimes related to the boardroom protest, the most severe of which — rioting and burglary — were later dropped. The remaining charges, including violating the right to assemble, aggravated restriction of freedom, and violence or intimidation against a public authority, each carry between six months and three years in prison. The seven students go to trial on February 7.

How exactly Vázquez’s Justice Department determined which students to charge out of the dozens who participated in the protest has remained a mystery to defense attorneys. The lawyers’ suspicion: that the case isn’t about crimes committed in the boardroom that day, but rather an attempt to penalize the political activity of some of the most active student organizers. The seven facing trial were members of the student strikers’ negotiating committee as well as political organizations critical of the government.

“What we are alleging is that they selected them based on their participation in the strike, that those who were leaders in the strike were the ones who were selected,” said Marisol Sáez Matos, one of the defense attorneys on the case.

The documents released to defense attorneys provide further evidence of a broad and invasive hunt for prosecutable crimes related to the protests. An agent from the cybercrimes unit of Puerto Rico’s Justice Department sought a search warrant for the records of virtually every Facebook interaction over a 72-hour period with the three publications that livestreamed the protest. The agent obtained private messages with the publications’ followers and detailed information about the student journalists who managed the pages.

“We consider this to be a violation of our rights as a free press,” said Marisol Nazario Bonilla, who was Pulso Estudiantil’s director when the existence of the warrant came to light. She told The Intercept that the warrant could have put confidential sources at risk. “If this happened to a student media outlet, it could happen to local, national newspapers, or news outlets in general.”

The court documents, some of which have been covered in the Puerto Rican press, also describe how an unnamed informant compiled a list of 25 suspects in the lead-up to the activists’ arrests. Regarding the identity of the informant, prosecutors have only said that the individual was not a participant in the protest, an eyewitness, or a government official. Puerto Rico’s Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.

To many politicians, activists, and civil rights attorneys, the electronic targeting of politically engaged students appears to be an updated version of a surveillance system that was banned decades ago. “Surveillance is something that has been present in Puerto Rican activism through the ’50s and ’60s,” said Gabriel Díaz Rivera, one of the students facing trial. “A lot of people thought the practice ended in the ’80s, but we now know that it has continued, and that it has been made easier by social media platforms like Facebook.”

The Long Shadow of Carpeteo

For decades, Puerto Rico’s police department operated an intelligence unit dedicated to spying on dissidents. With the knowledge of the FBI, police officers created a file, known as a carpeta, for anyone who could be construed as a supporter of Puerto Rican independence or other environmental or labor causes. Officers recruited neighbors, friends, and relatives to collect information about those targeted, and planted rumors that led to divorce, job loss, and irreparable discord within communities and families.

The existence of the carpetas was revealed only after two University of Puerto Rico students were lured by an informant into the mountains in 1978 and executed by police. Law enforcement attempted to cover up the incident, which would later be referred to as Puerto Rico’s Watergate. In a radio interview in 1987, a former intelligence officer who had pleaded guilty to perjury and conspiracy for covering up the murders provided the first detailed account of the existence of a list of alleged subversives maintained by the police. The ensuing investigations revealed that law enforcement held active files on 75,000 people.

In 1988, a judge declared that creating surveillance dossiers on people simply because of their political beliefs was illegal, and in the years that followed, the government granted thousands of Puerto Ricans access to their files. It appeared that an oppressive period of the island’s history had come to a close.

Carpeteo, or the act of keeping files, has become shorthand for political surveillance.

As Mari Mari Narváez, founder of the anti-police brutality organization Kilometro 0, put it, the release of the carpetas “changed the mentality of this country forever.” Referencing the Facebook warrant, she added, “To me, this is carpeteo.” Carpeteo, or the act of keeping files, has become shorthand for political surveillance.

On the day of the protest against the university board, the cybercrimes agent, Luis LaSalle Vargas, logged onto Facebook and downloaded the livestreams posted by the three student pages. He would later testify that he took screenshots of the videos, capturing the images of anyone he judged to be a protester whose face was recognizable. To defense attorneys, the focus on protesters, rather than people engaged in criminal activity, was an indication that the investigation was about politics.

LaSalle Vargas sent a notice to Facebook asking the company to preserve the three pages in their current state, in case legally significant information was erased in the days to come. After an even larger protest over austerity measures broke out on May 1, where thousands of people poured into the streets and police cracked down violently, Lasalle Vargas sent Facebook another preservation request for the student pages. His renewed interest in the case after the May 1 protest again raised concerns for defense attorneys. The timing seemed to be another signal that the search was part of a broader effort to suppress an intensifying movement.

On May 5, LaSalle Vargas submitted a warrant request aimed at uncovering content exchanged both privately and publicly via the Facebook accounts. The agent asked for complete chat registries for the three days in question, as well as any searches the account managers conducted, digital images they posted, and content that had been deleted. The agent also asked for phone numbers and email addresses associated with the accounts, physical addresses of service, and records of bills and payments. And he demanded metadata including the dates and times the accounts were accessed, the GPS coordinates of posts, browser types, IP addresses, and cellphone IMSI numbers.

It’s unclear why information exchanged by student journalists would be relevant to the case. In an affidavit arguing for the warrant, the agent claimed that the information could reveal “evidence of the commission of crimes” potentially beyond what was captured on camera. In court, Lasalle Vargas said the search was simply “part of the investigation.” The copy of the search warrant shared with defense attorneys appears to be missing the page describing exactly which items the judge approved, but Sáez Matos believes the full request was granted.

“When it happened, we were not notified,” Pulso Estudiantil co-founder Roberto Nava Alsina told The Intercept. Many reporters use Facebook to communicate with potential sources, and the three outlets often used their accounts to promote stories that included criticisms of the government. Pulso Estudiantil’s writers and editors had no idea that the Justice Department had accessed 1,553 pages of their information, including private messages between the pages’ administrators and followers and the credit card numbers of several students, among them Nava Alsina, who was not at the board protest and was not among those charged. None of the seven students facing trial were connected to Pulso Estudiantil, Nava Alsina added.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen them do an investigation of digital media where they decide who to accuse based on what they find.”

Under federal law, when a government entity applies for a warrant, it can ask the court to order service providers not to notify users for 90 days. “You won’t be told it in real time because of the claim from law enforcement that it will interfere with the ongoing investigation,” said Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “Of course, if someone has a search warrant for your apartment, then it’s much easier to know that your couch has been overturned versus the fact that someone has come in and taken your electronic information.”

Neither Facebook nor the government ever alerted the individuals whose information had been turned over. Instead, students only learned about what happened after Denis Márquez Lebrón, an Independence Party member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, contacted Pulso Estudiantil to let them know that he was requesting a congressional investigation into whether the search violated the island’s constitution. Nava Alsina, who has since left Puerto Rico for graduate school in Washington, D.C., first learned that the government had accessed his private information when Pulso Estudiantil reported it. “I was surprised,” he said. By that point, one of the publications, Diálogo UPR, the university’s official student newspaper, had shut down because of budget cuts.

Andrés González Berdecía, a legal aide for Lebrón, shared the documents with the student publications but declined to share them with The Intercept, citing privacy concerns. He described them in detail and noted that the judge appeared to have signed off on everything investigators had requested.

“You can basically say that it was every possible interaction from that page, whether by the user or other users, for three full days,” González Berdecía said. “That was way too broad.”

“The information requested in no way could legitimately be thought to be related to the commission of a crime for a specific date,” he added. “It was obvious that the information requested by the government for three days, of specifically three student accounts in a very important moment, right before the May 1 International Workers’ Day in Puerto Rico, had the intention of gathering a lot of information about student organizations that the government thought were against the government.”

Sáez Matos, the defense attorney, called the warrant a “fishing expedition” and said there has been no indication so far that the search unearthed information of value to the case. “This is the first time that I’ve seen them do an investigation of digital media where they decide who to accuse based on what they find,” she said. “Why investigate people that weren’t there?”

Too Much Information

The Puerto Rico warrant is the latest in a series of sweeping requests for social media data by law enforcement across the U.S., according to Cahn.

“It’s incredibly problematic when we see a warrant as broad as this, used to gather the information on dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individuals at a time,” Cahn told The Intercept. “The most high-profile example that really put a lot of us on notice about the practice was the Disrupt J20 protest in Washington, D.C.” Following protests and mass arrests during the inauguration of Donald Trump, the government obtained invasive warrants for the “distruptJ20” Facebook page and the private accounts of two activists. “The enforcement of these warrants would reach deeply into individuals’ private lives and protected associational and political activity,” the American Civil Liberties Union, which achieved some success in reining in the searches’ scope, said at the time.

Cahn noted that these mass requests are constitutionally shaky in that they fail to meet the threshold for “particularity” required under the Fourth Amendment, meaning they yield “too much information, on too many people, and on too tenuous a basis” to qualify as reasonable searches. But Cahn also pointed to the fact that no warrant is required for an undercover officer or a confidential informant to simply request access to a private group and then scrape its contents. Although Puerto Rican prosecutors indicated that an informant assembled a list of 25 students from which the seven defendants were selected, they declined to say more about the informant’s activities or identity.

“Before, police needed a person or investigator following you around, but now we basically do that for ourselves.”

The Puerto Rico case, Cahn said, “is part of a continuum of policing practices that we are seeing.”

The use of an informant only deepened the perception of a return to the past. Unlike the old days, though, when police spied on people with little oversight, this time the surveillance was approved by a judge. Indeed, if this was carpeteo, it was a modernized version. “In this age, we have made our own carpetas, our own political files, and Facebook has made it much easier for the police to just access those types of intimate files and more of our day-to-day life,” said Rivera, the student facing trial in February. “Before, police needed a person or investigator following you around, but now we basically do that for ourselves, and with a formal request, Facebook can just hand police all this information.”

“What a lot of people probably didn’t realize was that it would be so easy for police to use that information to prosecute students, like in our case, that weren’t arrested formally in the act of a protest,” he added.

Of course, if the prosecution of the students and the surveillance that surrounded the 2017 protests were intended to intimidate people and discourage dissent, that has largely failed. “What’s interesting is that that hasn’t stopped people. The biggest protest that has happened in Puerto Rican history happened this summer,” Rivera told The Intercept. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in July and successfully demanded the resignation of the corrupt governor Ricardo Rosselló. “And if you look around the world, no matter how much these neoliberal governments crack down on protest and crack down on activism, what we are seeing, in the whole world, is that activism gets stronger. The way a lot of these governments have acted toward dissent has basically been like gasoline for people.”

Correction: January 19, 2020, 9:30 p.m. ET
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Puerto Rico’s governor, Wanda Vázquez. The article has also been updated to clarify that none of the students facing trial were connected to Pulso Estudiantil, according to co-founder Roberto Nava Alsina.

The post Facebook Warrant Targeting Student Journalists in Puerto Rico Prompts Fears of Political Surveillance appeared first on The Intercept.

Collection of Science Fiction Stories Tackling Racism

Allen De Graeff, ed., Human And Other Beings (New York: Collier Books 1963).

Science Fiction, it has been observed, is more often about the times in which it was written than about the future. Quite often it’s been the ‘literature of warning’, in which the author has extrapolated what they feel to be an ominous trend in the present to show its possibilities for the future if left unchecked. Thus H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine presented a nightmarish far future in which capitalist elites and the working class had diverged into two separate species. The Eloi – descendants of the elite – were small, dreamy creatures, with no industry of their own. They were the food animals instead of the Morlocks, descendants of the working class, who had been forced into lives of underground toil by the late Victorian and Edwardian class system. Other SF stories have tackled the problems of overpopulation – John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, the catastrophic over-reliance on mechanisation for, well, just about everything – E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, or the horrifying potential of genetic engineering and mass psychological conditioning, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and so on. I borrowed this colllection of SF stories from a friend. It’s interesting because it uses the theme of contact with alien and other non-human intelligences to criticise and denounce the very real, present issue of racism. The book’s blurb begins with the quotation ‘”Everything that diminishes human dignity is evil,”‘, and continues

With this timeless truth as his theme, Editor Allen DeGraeff has collected a group of superbly told science fiction tales that support it with horror or humor. Other planets, other centuries, living beings of shapes and colors other than “human” are the imaginative ingredients. Shock, surprise, and sympathy are the emotions they act upon.

  • Would you join the Anti-Martian League? Or, like Sam Rosen, would you fight it?
  • Would the gentle Adaptoman – four arms, two brains, three eyes-arouse your hostility if he worked in your office?
  • Could you live as a Professional in a world of Categoried Classes if there were also people known as Wipers, Greasers, and Figgers?
  • Would you marry an Android, a person physically just like you, but artificially “Made in the U.S.A.”?
  • Would you mock or make a friend of Narli, the charming fur-bearing exchange professor from Mars?
  • Could you serve with a soldier Surrogate, a human being reclaimed from the dead with biological techniques of the future?

In settings ranging from the Second Battle of Saturn to Earth 2003 and shining blue-green globe Shaksembender, these authors portray the ideas of human dignity.

The authors, whose work is collected in the volume include some of SF great masters – Ray Bradbury, William Tenn, Leigh Brackett, Frederick Pohl, both alone and with his frequent collaborator, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and Eric Frank Russell.

The stories were written at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining power, although still bitterly opposed by a viciously racist, conservative state apparatus and politicians. A number of other SF writers were also using the genre to denounce racism. Sometimes that was through metaphor, such as in Cordwainer Smith’s ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’. This tale’s titular heroine is a young woman genetically engineered from cats. She is a member of an oppressed servile class of similarly genetically engineered animals. These creatures are denied all rights by their human masters, and humanely killed by euthanasia is they are unable to perform their functions. Through telepathic contact with another such creature, a dove of immense intelligence and wisdom, C’Mell is able to persuade a human board of inquiry to grant her people human rights. Other SF writers tackled racism directly, such as Harry Harrison in his 1963 story, ‘Mute Milton’. This was his angry reaction to a comment by a redneck southern sheriff’s response to the news that Martin Luther King was highly respected in Sweden and Scandinavia, and had been awarded the Nobel prize. The sheriff responded that King might be popular in Norway, but back in his town he would be ‘just one more n***er’. Harrison’s story is about a Black American college professor, who comes to a southern town on his way to another university to present his invention: a radio that runs on gravity. A stranger to the racial repression of the Deep South, he falls into conversation in a bar with a wanted civil rights activist while waiting for his bus out of town. The Black activist tells him what it’s really like to be Black in the South. The sheriff and his goons burst into the bar looking for the activist. He escapes out the back. The sheriff and his men shoot, but miss him and shoot the professor instead. When one of the goons tells the sheriff that they’ve killed an innocent man, he just shrugs it off as ‘another n***er’.

Racism has since gone on to be a major topic of much SF. It’s been explored, for example, in Star Trek, both recently and in the original 60’s series. It also inspired Brian Aldiss 1970s short story, ‘Working in the Spaceship Yards’, published in Punch. This was about a man with a Black friend having to come to terms with his own feelings about androids as they started working alongside them in the spaceship yards of the title, and going out with human women. It’s a satire on the racial politics of the day, when many White Brits were, as now, concerned about Black and Asian immigrants taking their jobs. And specifically anti-Black racism was tackled in an episode of Dr. Who written by award-winning Black children’s writer, Mallory Blackman. In this tale the Doctor and her friends travel back to the American Deep South to make sure Rosa Parks makes her epochal bus journey against the machinations of White racist from the future determined to stop Blacks ever gaining their freedom.

Not everyone is satisfied with the metaphorical treatment of racism pursued by some SF. I can remember arguing with a friend at college about Star Trek, and how the series explored racial tension and prejudice through Mr Spock. Despite being half-human, Spock was still an outsider, distrusted by many of his human crewmates. My friend believed instead that the series should have been more explicit and specifically explored anti-Black racism. More recently there has been the rise of Black SF writers, who use their work to address issues of race and the Black experience. An anthology of their work was published back in the 1990s as Dark Matters, a pun on the dark matter of astronomy, that is supposed to give the universe its missing mass.

Even if not explicit, the metaphorical approach allows writers to say what otherwise may not be said, as in the former Soviet Union. There, writers such as the Strugatsky brothers used the ‘Aesopian’ mode – SF as fable – to attack conditions in the Communist state, which would have been subject to censorship and severe punishment if said openly. Over in the capitalist world, the political situation was much freer, but there were still limits to what could be portrayed. Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Lt. Uhuru in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, but the network faced deep opposition from broadcasters in the Deep South. An indirect treatment also allows people to think about or accept ideas, which they would have rejected through a more straightforward treatment of the subject. Some readers may have been more receptive to anti-racist ideas if presented in the form of aliens than through an explicit treatment of colour prejudice against Blacks and other races.

This anthology, then, promises to be very interesting reading both through the tales themselves, and what they have to say about the times in which they were written. Times in which Science Fiction was joining the other voices denouncing racism and demanding equality and freedom for all, human and non-human. 




















Trump Banished Immigration Rights Activist for Speaking Out. He’s Suing ICE to Come Back.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 2:00am in



A New York City immigration rights activist who was deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2018 filed a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday morning, alleging that he was targeted for deportation because of his political speech. Jean Montrevil said his removal from the U.S. was in violation of his First Amendment rights and demanded that the government return him to his home in New York from Haiti.

The suit brought by Montrevil, 51, a founding member of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, builds on a significant ruling last spring by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of a former colleague, activist Ravi Ragbir. In Ragbir’s case, the court found that ICE’s moves against Ragbir in early 2018 were intended as retaliation for Ragbir’s political speech and thus, violated his rights under the First Amendment.

“It’s only once he began speaking out as an activist that his real problems with ICE began.”

Ragbir’s suit revolved around surveillance, intimidation, and an attempted deportation foiled only by an emergency court order, all in January 2018. Montrevil’s record of being threatened for his activism goes back further, stretching over a decade. And while Ragbir was able to narrowly escape deportation, Montrevil was not — in large part, he alleges, because of an elaborate and carefully planned conspiracy of official lies and misconduct that deprived him of access to courts, his lawyer, and his due-process rights just long enough to get him on a plane out of the country.

“Since 2005, Jean was, like nearly a million other people, living under an order of supervision, which allowed him to live in the U.S. with authorization,” said Lauren Wilfong, one of the advocates representing Montrevil. “It’s only once he began speaking out as an activist that his real problems with ICE began.”

Montrevil’s friends and family describe the trajectory of his life as precisely the sort of story of redemption and growth that is demanded of people convicted of crimes. They say his adult life was characterized by the industry, community building, and love that this country valorizes in its immigrants. In their eyes, Montrevil’s deportation is a double-jeopardy punishment for youthful crimes he long since served time for. Even more troublingly, it is punishment for daring to raise his voice to call attention to the violence and injustice of America’s immigration enforcement apparatus. Montrevil’s lawsuit is seeking to make the court recognize what seems plain to many who have followed his case: that his deportation was, at its essence, political — the literal banishment of a dissident who challenged the government too often and too loudly.

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Montrevil came to New York legally in 1986, at the age of 17, when his father, a former Haitian military official living in Brooklyn, obtained a green card for him. For Montrevil, who had grown up fending for himself in Port-au-Prince, the transition to living under the stern authority of his father was difficult. “It was a bit of a shock,” Montrevil told The Intercept from Port-au-Prince. “He was very tough, you know, ex-military. It was hard for me to get along with him. Looking back, I blame myself for not listening.”

Montrevil ran away from home and, in his telling, fell in with the wrong crowd. Over a two-year period, he racked up convictions for drug possession with intent to distribute in Virginia, a gun possession misdemeanor in New York, and a federal drug possession conviction in New Jersey. In jail awaiting trial on his Virginia charges, Montrevil got in a fight, leading to further charges. In 1989, with the war on drugs in high gear, mandatory-minimum sentences dictated meting out lengthy prison stays. At the age of 21, Montrevil was staring down a 30-year sentence. As a legal permanent resident, his convictions also made him deportable.

When he was released on probation in 2000, Montrevil was 32 and determined to lead a different life. He took up management of a religious goods shop in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He met Jani Cauthen, a public-school aide, and they got married and had children. He scrupulously kept to the terms of his probation and checked in regularly for his scheduled appointments with immigration authorities. He volunteered with HIV patients through his church. And he began working with Families for Freedom, an organization that offers support to detained immigrants and their families.

Juan Carlos Ruiz, a Lutheran minister and immigration activist, met Montrevil through his work with Families for Freedom, and invited him in 2006 to help found what would become the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Where Families for Freedom focuses its work on serving people caught up in the machinery of deportation, the New Sanctuary Coalition would be more outward-facing, more political, and more high-profile. “Jean didn’t let his fears stop him, but of course, he was concerned about the risks of becoming a public face of the movement,” Ruiz said.

Those concerns proved well-founded. As Montrevil’s new role put him in the media spotlight, ICE responded with what he took to be retaliation. Within a year, the agency enrolled him in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, or ISAP, which was more ordinarily reserved for people who had failed to keep their scheduled check-ins or were otherwise considered a flight risk. Montrevil was required to wear an ankle monitor, check in with ICE three times a week, and keep a curfew of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Though most people at the time were placed on ISAP for short periods of time, Montrevil was kept on the program for nearly a year. The curfew crippled his new business, using a van to drive customers to airports or visit relatives upstate. The electronic shackle irritated his skin, leaving scars that he still wears today.

ICE was definitely aware of his political activism, Montrevil said. At a check-in in December 2009, as he was taken into custody as a prelude to deportation, an ICE officer referred to his media profile, calling Montrevil the “one complaining to the Village Voice.” As Montrevil waited in a Pennsylvania prison, his family, church, and supporters rallied round him, flooding ICE’s New York Field Office phone lines and getting themselves arrested in noisy protests outside. “There’s no question in my mind that Jean was being targeted for speaking out,” the pastor of Montrevil’s church, Rev. Donna Schaper, said.

Montrevil was ultimately released, but he was given a stern warning from high up. In an unusual step, Christopher Shanahan, then the director of ICE’s New York City Field Office, met with Montrevil, Schaper, and Montrevil’s lawyer, Joshua Bardavid. “This can’t happen again,” Shanahan said, according to Schaper. If Montrevil would agree to lay low, Schaper said Shanahan told them, he wouldn’t have any more problems. Montrevil said that Shanahan even told him that if he kept his head down, the ICE New York director would himself look into getting Montrevil deferred-action status, giving him lasting protection from deportation.

The Intercept could not reach Shanahan for comment by the time of publication. Rachael Yong Yow, a spokesperson for the ICE division that encompasses New York City, denied that Montrevil was targeted because of his activism, citing his convictions on multiple felony charges and final order of removal by an immigration judge. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make,” she said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative, and inaccurate.”

Shaken, traumatized, and worried about what would happen to his family if he continued to antagonize ICE, Montrevil decided to take Shanahan’s suggestion and step back from his activism. He stopped giving interviews and focused on his business, his church, and his family. Seven years went by, and Montrevil kept his periodic appointments with ICE without incident.

In 2017, President Donald Trump was elected on campaign promises to get tough on immigrants. Montrevil decided to take part in one of the New Sanctuary Coalition’s prayerful demonstrations outside the local ICE headquarters. At his next check-in, Montrevil was detained, fingerprinted, and asked to turn over his property. Bardavid, his lawyer, showed ICE officials a paper receipt demonstrating that Montrevil still had a motion pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals, but ICE insisted that it had no records of any open proceedings in its system. And then, as suddenly as his check-in had escalated, Montrevil was released without explanation. “They just told me it had come from ‘upstairs,’” Montrevil said. “I think they were trying to scare me.”

“One of the guys said to me in the car, ‘Don’t you know we have Trump as president now? He doesn’t like immigrants.'”

Montrevil was given another check-in date on January 16, 2018, but ICE never intended for him to keep it. Sworn statements by ICE officials in Ragbir’s case later revealed that they had begun planning Montrevil’s and Ragbir’s deportations in October. Though they initially denied it, ICE officials later admitted that they put Montrevil, Ragbir, and the offices of the New Sanctuary Coalition under secret surveillance.

On January 3, plainclothes ICE officers — who evidently knew that Montrevil regularly returned home on his lunch break — arrested him near his house in the Far Rockaway area of Queens as he was returning to his car. Montrevil was taken to the local ICE office at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan

“One of the guys said to me in the car, ‘Don’t you know we have Trump as president now? He doesn’t like immigrants,’” Montrevil said. “I kept telling them I have a motion pending. They said, ‘Anything you have pending, it’s been revoked.”

At the ICE office, Montrevil repeatedly asked to speak with his lawyer but was told that his lawyer wasn’t in the building. In fact, Bardavid was in the building, but was being told that he couldn’t meet with his client. ICE moved Montrevil to detention in New Jersey but kept Bardavid in the dark at 26 Federal Plaza all afternoon, telling him that he could meet his client the next day.

Bardavid finally spoke with Scott Mechkowski, then the deputy director of ICE’s New York Field Office, on January 5. “We war-gamed this over and over,” Bardavid recalled Mechkowski telling him, of Montrevil’s detention. What Mechkowski didn’t initially tell Bardavid was that ICE was moving his client that very day to the Krome Detention Facility in Florida. Montrevil’s outstanding paperwork was resolved over the long holiday weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By the time court opened at 8 a.m. the following Tuesday to consider Bardavid’s emergency petition, Montrevil was on a plane to Haiti that had taken off at 7:38 a.m.

“ICE planned and executed Jean’s removal in a way that would prevent him from accessing counsel and the courts,” Bardavid concludes, in a sworn declaration attached to today’s lawsuit.

Montrevil’s advocates in his new lawsuit, Wilfong and Diana Rosen, students in New York University Law School’s immigration law clinic, said the legal and civic issues at question in Montrevil’s case are critical. There are dozens of other documented instances around the country of immigration activists being targeted for deportation. “This is an ongoing harm, and ICE clearly feels they can act with impunity to silence their critics,” Rosen said. “In deporting Jean the way they did, ICE sought to send a chilling message to immigrants who might exercise their First Amendment rights. What’s at stake with this case is really whether they’re successful in that or not.”

For Montrevil and his family, there are more personal stakes as well. Montrevil said he is having a tough time in Haiti, a country he left as a boy, where conditions are deteriorating rapidly. His oldest child with Cauthen, Jahsiah, is now 16 and a junior at the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School, but since his father’s deportation, he has been struggling and the family is worried about him. Montrevil’s daughter, Jamya, said she talks to her father each day over WhatsApp, when Haiti’s unreliable communications infrastructure permit, but that it’s not the same as having him present in her life. “I thought he was going to come back, but he never actually did,” she said. “I wish people understood: When you deport someone, it doesn’t only affect one person, it affects their families too.”

Correction: January 16, 2020, 1:06 p.m.
This story has been updated to reflect that Jean Montrevil was released from prison in 2000 on probation, not parole, and that ICE’s Scott Mechkowski initially withheld information about Montrevil’s transfer to a detention center in Florida from his lawyer.

The post Trump Banished Immigration Rights Activist for Speaking Out. He’s Suing ICE to Come Back. appeared first on The Intercept.

Iran Tensions Showed How Much More Work an Effective U.S. Anti-War Movement Needs to Do

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/01/2020 - 11:00pm in


Justice, Politics

 People participate in a protest in Times Square against military conflict with Iran on January 08, 2020 in New York City, United States. The "No War With Iran" protest follows the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by the Trump administration. Around the country groups are speaking out against further military actions between the two adversaries. Yesterday Iran launched a series of missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

People participate in a protest in Times Square against military conflict with Iran on Jan. 8, 2020, in New York City.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Last week, following President Donald Trump’s illegal and unwarranted assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, cities across the U.S. saw the stirrings of anti-war protests. Thousands rallied to oppose a full-fledged war with Iran — numbers far smaller than the millions who amassed to protest the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but not an insignificant showing. In the wake of some welcome de-escalation on the part of the Iranians and the Trump administration, the calls for mass anti-war mobilizations are already gaining less traction; a planned international day of anti-war protest on January 25 is unlikely to draw big crowds.

With the U.S. stepping back from the brink of another all-out war only to return to a status quo of elevated bellicosity, today’s would-be anti-war movement should reevaluate but not retreat. The work of international solidarity — and the need to situate anti-war activism in the broader struggle against social injustice and fascist Trumpian policy — cannot wait for the war drum to again rise to a deafening beat. Nor can a movement against the U.S. war machine and its $738 billion budget rely simply on the spectacle of mass marches to make effective interventions.

A path forward exists: the path of a true, solidarity-oriented mass movement coupled with direct action.

Without a declaration of war and invasion, without the sort of grand event of war and attendant presidential addresses, it’s hard to imagine building up the sort of vast response that constituted the movement against the Iraq War. But, as those of us who joined historically large marches in 2002 and 2003 painfully learned, even numbers did not translate to potency. And what sense, does it make to invoke the rhetoric of an “anti-war” position at a time when there can be war without war, through proxies, murderous sanctions, travel bans, and drone strikes in the service of oil pillages?

What’s more, today’s anti-war politics are complicated by factionalism on the left engendered by a series of complex conflicts, geopolitical developments, and internal factors in places like Iran — not to mention the politics of war in the U.S. itself.

These factors interact to create a treacherous landscape for any would-be anti-war movement. Often, they provide a roadmap of where not to go — how not to build an effective movement. Yet a path exists: the path of a true, solidarity-oriented mass movement coupled with direct action.

Centering Solidarity

Let’s begin with the state of today’s anti-war movement in the U.S. Coming to the brink of war puts modest crowds into the streets. But the fracturing of the left over conflicts like Syria’s civil war has meant that these sorts of events don’t always center one of the most important qualities of a robust anti-war movement: solidarity. Indeed, for some — including a number of the speakers invited by the coalition Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, known as ANSWER, to speak outside the White House at a rally last week — the “anti-war” position all too easily collapses into supporting brutal regimes, like those of Syria and Iran, against violent U.S. regime change efforts.

This sort of rudimentary anti-imperialism, which finds heroes in any perceived target of scrambling U.S. hegemony, need not be our focus. Suffice it to say, an enemy’s enemy is not necessarily a friend.

The lesson here means recognizing, for instance, the way that Iranian citizens are oppressed and repressed by U.S. sanctions, which Trump is now worsening, and also by their own government. Mass protests across Iran against punishing cuts to fuel subsidies have been ongoing since November; the government has responded with internet blackouts and deadly anti-protest police and military violence. When working-class Iranian citizens and students are taking to the streets en masse to decry their government as a dictatorship, they are not inviting U.S. war-making and intervention, yet neither are they looking to American activists to express solidarity with Iranian state leadership.

In a recent n+1 essay, an Iranian journalist who, to protect their identity, goes by Matin told fellow journalist Nilo Tabrizy, upon hearing the announcement of three days of national mourning for Suleimani, “Iran was already in the middle of mourning those who’d been killed by our own government” during the recent unrest. There are ongoing and escalating anti-leadership protests in Tehran and other cities following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by Iranian military missiles. The citizens of Iran, mobilizing to live in dignity and afford basic needs, are not best supported through hagiographies to the Iranian state. Anti-war solidarity must take a better form.

Win More Elections

Then there are legislative and electoral routes to which U.S. activists can commit energies, say by supporting a true, lifelong anti-war candidate like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for example. Sanders has pledged to cut Pentagon budgets and, crucially, situates his anti-war stance in the class politics around which his campaign is organized. Echoing the famous position of socialist Eugene V. Debs, Sanders noted last week that military conflict is waged by the ruling class but fought — and suffered through — by the working classes.

In terms of legislation, Sanders, alongside Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., last week introduced a bill to prohibit any funding for offensive military force in or against Iran without prior congressional authorization. Dozens of lawmakers have signed on and constituents can pressure their senators to take up this congressional limit on the erratic and reckless executive branch.

Yet it would be folly to wholly rely on progressive legislative plans to curtail U.S. war-making. Sanders and Khanna led efforts last year to similarly restrict military activity and end U.S. funding to Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen, only to see their measures stripped from the National Defense Authorization Act adopted with bipartisan support by Congress in December. The new bill may be doomed to the same fate and the administration’s ability to bypass Congress in matters of war, especially in the case of drone strikes, should not be underestimated.

More Than Marches: Direct Action

In an election year, it’s difficult to remember that the horizon of political engagement goes beyond the ballot box. At the same time, when it comes to anti-war activism, those of us who came of age during the Iraq War protests have no model or memory of effectual action. We continue to join big, placid marches to express political allegiances. Defanged histories of U.S. protest movements tell us that big marches are what resistance looks like, from the civil rights struggle to opposition against the Vietnam War.

A mass march today, organized through Facebook or Twitter, often represents the extent and limit, rather than the potential, of a movement to mobilize participants.

Mass marches remain an important means through which to find allies and build communities, but, as I and others have previously noted, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to a mass march half a century ago was much harder without the tools of social media. Great numbers back then demonstrated powerful underlying capacities: If they can organize this, what else can they do? Meanwhile a mass march today, organized through Facebook or Twitter, often represents the extent and limit, rather than the potential, of a movement to mobilize participants; the mobilization is rightly seen as no threat to power operating as usual.

It’s not easy to know what — facing the U.S. regime of surveillance capital and militarized policing — a protest movement could look like that would be capable of forcing the government’s hand against continued and further war-making. I offer here just one example, raised last week by theorist and author Joshua Clover in Commune Magazine (where I am an editor): “It’s puzzlingly easy to forget that the first and most decisive win against Trump administration policies, contesting the so-called Muslim ban, derived not from public marches but decisive and distributed infrastructure shutdowns.”
 Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed an executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and people with valid visa from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. (Photo by Maite H. Mateo/Corbis via Getty Images)

Protesters rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 28, 2017, in New York City.

Photo: Maite H. Mateo/Corbis/Getty Images

A Model For Action

On February 6, 2017, in immediate response to Trump’s announcement of the so-called Muslim ban on travel, thousands of protesters rushed to major U.S. airports. The mobilization began with just 30 people outside Terminal 4 of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, where two Iraqis were being detained by Customs and Border Protection. By nightfall, the airport and others around the country were flooded with demonstrators; New York City taxi cabs refused to pick up or deliver passengers at Kennedy. And district judges in New York City, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington state had blocked parts of Trump’s executive order.

The success was temporary: The judges’ rulings were eventually overturned, and a slightly watered down but still racist and vicious travel ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. Leaks from the White House just days ago revealed plans to dramatically expand the travel ban to more countries’ citizens, although the reports did not reveal which countries. The lesson here is that there are no complete victories — at least not yet — but victories can be achieved nonetheless.

As it stands, the administration’s intolerable border policies constitute deadly aggressions against the very people with whom anti-war activists claim to be in solidarity, including Iranians, Iraqis, and Yemenis. After the recent elevation of conflict with Iran, The Intercept reported that dozens of Iranian families, including American citizens, were detained and questioned for hours at the U.S.-Canada border. Yet we who would march against war have not returned to airports and border stations en masse; we have not taken significant, focused aim against the U.S. deportation and border regime.

Any stand against U.S. imperialism need not wait for more military strikes against Iran to act. We must mobilize now to prioritize solidarity with the refugees that decades of U.S. war-waging has helped produce; any anti-war movement worth its salt must therefore be a movement for opening our borders too. The direct action that shut down airport functions that February day, briefly disrupting the infrastructure of Trump’s disgraceful foreign policy, is an example to remember and repeat. It is, to say the least, a place to start.

The post Iran Tensions Showed How Much More Work an Effective U.S. Anti-War Movement Needs to Do appeared first on The Intercept.

If the Press Can Publish Harry and Megan’s Correspondence, then We Should See Murdoch and Co’s

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/01/2020 - 3:08am in

Harry and Meghan and suing the Mail on Sunday for publishing a letter from Megan to her father. And today, that bastion on the British press – and as the late Terry Wogan used to say of the Beeb, ‘there are many basty ‘uns in there’  – the MoS set out its defence. It’s the old ‘public interest’ argument. They’re going to argue that Meghan and Harry don’t have the same right to privacy as the rest of us, because they’re private correspondence and activities are of interest to the public. Zelo Street has put up a piece demolishing it by showing how circular the argument is. The letter, and anything else the royal couple writes or does, is of interest to the public because the press tells them it is. Zelo Street states

What the MoS is setting out in its defence is that what it did is OK, because that is what the paper expects to be able to get away with. Hal and Meg should not expect to have any privacy because that would impact on the MoS’ business. Hence that paper and all the others kicking off like so many spoilt children at the prospect of the couple being out of reach very soon. How dare they stop the press scoring copy off of them?

In mounting this defence, then, the MoS has proved the Duchess’ point for her. But she and her family are not there merely to provide cheap copy. The press just doesn’t get it.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/01/mail-on-sunday-proves-meghans-point.htm

The public interest argument does, however, also justify the publication of the private correspondent of the newspaper magnates, who make their bloated fortunes exploiting the private correspondence not just of Harry and Meghan, but of anyone else in the public eye. Murdoch, Geordie Grieg, the weirdo Barclay twins and the rest of the whole unsavoury crew play a powerful role in modern politics. They have intimate connections to the Tory government, and not only shape public opinion in its favour, they also arrogantly assume that they have a right to dictate the political direction not just of the government but also of the opposition. Former cabinet members have reported that Rupert Murdoch was always an invisible presence at the meetings of Blair’s government, and the former Labour Prime Minister worried how his policies would go down with the owner of the Scum and the Times. That’s why the Mail, the Times and the Scum have been running pieces telling the Labour party what it should do to become electable – unsurprisingly this the expulsion of the Corbynites and the return to Blairism – and viciously attacking left-wing candidates for the Labour leadership, like Rebecca Long-Bailey.

The press barons are unelected, massively powerful, and have what amounts to a monopoly on news in this country. Murdoch’s empire should have been broken up under the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission years ago, but it wasn’t because he was a supporter of the Tories. They also have huge business interests, that also dictate the views their papers take on various stories. Way back in the 1980s, for example, Tiny Rowlands, the owner the Absurder, wouldn’t publish pieces critical of Zimbabwe because he had interests in a mining corporation working there. But these same press magnates are absolutely unaccountable. Yet they arrogantly assume they have the right to dictate governmental policy, while zealously keeping their own affairs private. 

But if the Royals have no reasonable right to privacy, neither do Grieg, Murdoch et al. If they are shaping policy and public opinion, we should know their private business to judge for ourselves whether they are correct and acting in our interest. It’s only fair. And as they acted as the unofficial Tory propaganda office at the last election, it should all be accessible under the Freedom of Information Act.

How’s that for governmental transparency, Rupert?

Austerity and Prison Violence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/01/2020 - 11:37pm in

A week or so ago Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on the death of a disabled man in prison. From what I remember, like many such instances the man’s own special needs had been ignored and he was actually in prison for a minor offence. At least, one that should not merit his murder. Mike connected this to the Tories’ ongoing campaign of mass murder against the disabled.

In fact, violence, including self-harm, has risen massive in British jails since the Tories launched their wretched austerity. Joe Sim has authored an entire chapter on it in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. Sim has his own particular view of the crisis. He considers that prison violence hasn’t itself been created by austerity. It’s always been there, and is part of society’s brutal maltreatment of the poor and marginalised. But it has been massively intensified by the Tories’ cuts.

The stats are horrifying. Between 2011 and 2016, sexual assaults almost doubled. In 2014-15 there were over 400 serious incidents requiring the intervention of the specialist National Tactical Response Group, In 2015 an average of 160 fires were started each month. Self-harm rose by 40 per cent in two years, so that in 2015, 32,313 incidents were recorded.

321 died in the year to June 2016, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. 105 of these were self-inflicted, a rise of 28 per cent. Deaths by natural causes rose by 26 per cent to 186. Between January 2010 and December 2016, 1637 prisoners died, 542 of which were self-inflicted.

In 2015-15 there were nearly 5000 assaults and acts of violence against the different groups of people working in prisons. These included 423 on prison officers below the rank of principal officer, 828 on nursing auxiliaries and assistants, 640 on nurses, 535 on care workers, and 423 on welfare and housing associate professionals.

Sim states that to many commentators, including the media, Prison Officers’ Association and mainstream politicians, the cause of this increased violence are the cuts to the prison budget. These amounted to £900 million between 2011 and 2015, or 24 per cent of its overall budget. The Prison Reform Trust said that it was

[n]o mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff.

I’m not disputing that very many of those incarcerated are guilty of the most heinous offences, and fully deserve their incarceration and punishment. But it is very clear that austerity has resulted in a massive deterioration in conditions which fueling violence in prisons against staff and prisoners. There’s obviously a long and complicated debate about the purposes of prison – to punish, reform, or even both – but it is clear that neither staff nor prisoners deserve the maltreatment and violence the cuts have generated.

This isn’t reformative. It isn’t proper punishment. It is carnage.

But the Tories just love killing and death when it’s directed against the poor and powerless.

Private Eye on Anti-Semitism Smear Merchants Suing their Accusers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/01/2020 - 3:01am in

Although the Eye has published a number of letters defending the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in this fortnight’s issue, it’s still pushing the anti-Semitism smears. And the magazine’s journo who’s done most of this, ‘Ratbiter’ in reality Absurder hack Nick Cohen – has published another piece doing just this. Titled ‘Tribal-Libel News’, it runs

Leftists surveying five more years of Tory rule and a Labour party reduced to an embittered rump can console themselves with the thought that Jeremy Corbyn may not have been good for much, but at least he enriched lawyers.

Labour’s favourite solicitors, Howe & Co, and barrister, Anthony Hudson QC, have already made an estimated £500,000 from Unite’s disastrous decision to waste members’ money fighting a libel action from former Labour MP Anna Turley. There’s plenty more where that came from, as the viciousness of Labour politics sends writs flying.

John Ware, who presented a Panorama investigation into Labour’s cover-up of anti-Semitism, is suing after a Labour spokesman alleged in July that he was “engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public”. Howe & Co is mounting Labour’s defence.

Panorama featured Sam Matthews, Labour’s former head of disputes, who said he had been pushed close to suicide by the tactics of Corbyn’s supporters, and Louise Withers Green, a disputes officer, who described how party officials minimised anti-Jewish racism. Labour accused them of having “personal and political axes to grind”. They are suing, and once again Labour has hired Howe & Co.

Meanwhile, in 2018, a video emerged of Corbyn sneering at “Zionists” who have “lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their … [but] don’t understand English irony.” Corbyn wasn’t talking of Zionists or Jews in general, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, just two “incredibly disruptive” Jewish activists.

Richard Millett, one of them, is suing. His claim to the court says Corbyn accused him of so disrupting meetings that Police wanted to arrest him, and of abusing the Palestinian ambassador. Howe & Co are Corbyn’s solicitors. Anthony Hudson is his QC.

To add to the fee fest, Countdown host and campaigner against Anti-Semitism Rachel Riley is suing Corbynista official Laura Murray after Murray accused her in March 2019 that Corbyn deserved “to be violently attacked” and adding that Riley was “as dangerous as she is stupid”. Howe & Co are representing Murray too.

Murray is from the Eye’s favourite dynasty of Marxist-Leninist aristos. Related to the earls of Perth, dukes of Norfolk and the royal house of Navarre, the family is so grand it could hire every libel lawyer in London. But others aren’t as loaded. Last month, when Turley successfully sued Unite and the “independent” left-wing news site Skwawkbox for claiming she had made a “false declaration” to join the union “on the cheap”, Skwawkbox’s editor admitted that Len McCluskey’s put-upon members were funding his defence. If an appeal next month fails, they must pay £75,000 in damages to Turley and mind-boggling costs of up to £2m.

A Unite spokesman told the Eye it wasn’t backing Corbyn or the Labour party in court, so it looks as if Labour members will take the hit if they lose. They should note that the judge in the Turley case, Mr Justice Nicklin, deplored the aggressive tactics of Labour lawyers. Their attack on Turley culminated in Hudson declaring she “was not fit to be an MP”. Nicklin upped the damages he awarded her, saying that “the defendants’ conduct during the trial has seriously aggravated the harm to [Turley’s] reputation and her distress.

Now that Hudson and Howe & Co. are taking on more of the left’s battles, socialists can be sure that, whatever happens, wealth will be redistributed in their direction.

A casual glance shows Ratbiter’s overt bias. Corbyn’s supporters are the villains here, smearing virtuous, anti-racists and Jews. And they are rich, as shown by Laura Murray’s aristocratic family. The reality is rather different.

The article does not, of course, mention the ordinary people in the Labour, including and especially Jews, who were smeared as anti-Semites for criticising Israel and supporting Corbyn. They were hauled up before kangaroo courts, denied proper representation and natural justice, and expelled. They have found it impossible to sue the party for a variety of reasons. But this is ignored by the mass media, including the Eye and Cohen.

Ware, Matthews and Green’s cases against the Labour party is probably not unconnected to the complaint against the Panorama programme for its massive bias and the film that has just been made about this. But there is no mention of that in the Eye’s article either. Mike and other left-wing bloggers and activists have published pieces detailing the inaccuracies, and it’s a list as long as your arm. It looks like those two are going on the offensive as a way of defending themselves against some very credible allegations.

This also seems to be the case with Millett. I can’t comment in his particular case, but Corbyn’s description of his demeanour is very credible. It’s clear from reading accounts of the behaviour of Zionist activists at pro-Palestinian meetings from bloggers like Martin Odoni and Tony Greenstein, that the Zionists are extremely disruptive. They do march around, scream and hurl abuse. One group had to be turfed out of a meeting by the police. One of the chief Zionist activists, Jonathan Hoffman, a former head of the Zionist Federation, was even given a court sentence for his weird behaviour. It might be that Millett is innocent, but there is certainly reason to doubt this.

As for Rachel Riley, she’s been so often mentioned for her litigiousness that her decision to sue Murray will come as no surprise. She’s a very rich media celeb, who comes across very much as a bully, using the threat of legal action to shut down any criticism of her beloved Israel.

In short, these cases seem to be just the Israel lobby and its supporters using lawfare to try and consolidate their hold on their Labour party and victory over the departing Corbyn. They are the real libellers and smear merchants, whatever the Eye claims.

But the Eye’s sympathy is definitely with them, not their victims.

Letter in Private Eye Defending Labour and Corbyn Against Racism Accusations

This fortnight’s Private Eye also published the letter below from Peter Collins, refuting the accusations made by another reader in last fortnight’s edition that Labour lost partly because it was full of racists and anti-Semites. He also pointed out that while Labour isn’t, Boris Johnson and the Tories certainly are. Here’s the letter


Re “Sneer and Loathing” (Letters, Eye 1512). Peter Kimpton and I certainly have different opinions on the EU, and he’s entitled to his of course. But his assertion that “rampant racism” has “taken hold of Labour” cannot go unchallenged. It will certainly come as news to the many black, brown, and, yes, Jewish members with whom I canvassed for several weeks before polling day, for I’m sure they would not have put their hearts and souls into trying to get such a party elected. I’m a white, middle-class, middle-aged man, but I would have nothing to do with a party that was rampantly racist and/or anti-Semitic. It’s not.

However, a great many people seem to ahve been happy to vote for someone who considers black people to be “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, Muslim women to look like letterboxes, children of single mothers to be “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”, and gay men to be “bumboys”. That, of course, is simply Boris Johnson being Boris Johnson, and nothing to do with racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia. And of course it is all to be forgotten in the glorious paradise that will be post-Brexit Britain. Keep up with what looks to me like your very even-handed work.

I’ve no doubt that the letters defending Corbyn will be followed by more from the Blairites, Tories and Israel lobby claiming that Labour is awash with anti-Semites. And it hasn’t stopped the Eye publishing in this edition a piece by the odious Ratbiter reporting that various Blairites and Zionists are suing Corbyn and his supporters for libel for stating that they were inventing incidents of anti-Semitism. One of those suing is our old friend, Rachel Riley.

But at least the Eye published some material defending Corbyn.

At Boston Immigration Court, ICE Must Now Justify Detaining Noncitizens — Reversing Decades of Precedent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/01/2020 - 4:11am in


Justice, Politics

For the first time in at least two decades, lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are required to justify the detainment of noncitizens who are awaiting court proceedings in New England.

In immigration proceedings, unlike in criminal courts, immigrants bear the burden of proving to the satisfaction of a judge that that they do not pose a danger or a flight risk — or else they are denied bond and locked up. But a November decision by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts reversed the burden of proof, instead calling on ICE to establish why someone ought to be detained.

The ruling came in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts last June and went into effect on December 13.

The significance of the ruling, said ACLU of Massachusetts attorney Dan McFadden, is reversing a system that’s been in place since 1999 whereby the government did not have to prove anything to keep noncitizens in jail while their cases were decided — a process that sometimes takes several years. “I think that if our Constitution means anything,” McFadden said, “it has to mean that the government can’t put people in jail without showing that there’s a strong justification for taking away their liberty.”

“It still doesn’t really feel quite real,” said Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney.

The ruling applies only to the Boston immigration court, which covers all of New England except Connecticut (which has its own immigration court). Local immigration attorneys say the difference is palpable already.

“It still doesn’t really feel quite real,” said Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney. For years, Cameron said, he has had to work quickly to obtain every page of a client’s criminal record — even pertaining to charges that had been dropped — to prove that the client deserved their liberty. “I’m so trained that you just do not show up with anything less than an absolutely 100 percent complete case, because you only get one chance at a bond hearing. You don’t get to do it again. So, you know, I’m always very careful in making sure that I don’t do it halfway.”

Now, if an ICE attorney is unable to prove the inverse — that a noncitizen poses a danger or a flight risk — a noncitizen is likely to be granted release.

The ICE attorneys, unused to having to justify a noncitizen’s detention, at times appeared exasperated at the bond hearings Cameron attended, he said, “because now they have to get every one of those records that we used to have to get, and they’re already stretched pretty thin.”

ACLU Massachusetts has been monitoring the implementation of the new policy over the last three weeks. McFadden said they have noticed differences in the judges’ adjudication of bond hearings.

“The evidence at this point is early and anecdotal, but it appears that greater numbers of people are getting bond rather than being detained, and it appears that in many cases, the bond numbers have been lower,” he said.

According to the court’s ruling, the Boston immigration court held hearings for 700 noncitizens between November 1, 2018, and May 7, 2019, and the neighboring Hartford court (where noncitizens continue to bear the burden of proof) held such hearings in 77 cases. The courts made decisions in 651 of the Boston and Hartford cases, and denied release on bond in 41 percent of them, with an average bond of $6,302 in Boston and $28,700 in Hartford.

The issue of bond in immigration hearings goes back to a 1999 case in which the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Justice Department, interpreted a statute that governs pretrial detention to mean that noncitizens bear the burden of proving to an immigration judge that they deserve release on bond. The statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a), allows for the federal government to detain noncitizens while  their immigration proceedings are pending and includes a provision on bond, but it is notably silent as to which party bears the burden of proof, and what the standard of proof is.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed bond hearing procedures in Jennings v. Rodriguez, where it decided that detained noncitizens do not have a statutory right to periodic bond hearings every six months. But the court sidestepped the issue of who bears the burden of proof.

“This is an issue that was expressly left open by the Supreme Court in its decision in Jennings in 2018, where it decided certain issues of statutory construction but left open these types of constitutional questions,” McFadden said. In her 23-page ruling in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris also noted that the “Supreme Court expressly declined to address whether the Constitution required these procedural protections.”

Following the ruling in Massachusetts, Cameron believes the issue could ultimately return to the Supreme Court because the underlying statute is so vague.

Detained immigrants have had success in the past challenging their pretrial detention using arguments similar to those lodged by the ACLU attorneys. In 2018, for example, the Massachusetts federal court ruled in the case of Pensamiento v. McDonald that “requiring a non-criminal alien to prove that he is not dangerous and not a flight risk at a bond hearing violates the Due Process Clause.” Saris’s November 27 decision, however, marks the first time a court has ruled that the bond system for detained noncitizens is unconstitutional as applied as a class to a whole immigration court — as opposed as to grant an individual noncitizen’s release. The judge found that the Board of Immigration Appeals’ 1999 policy violated both due process and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Moving forward, the federal government is required to establish by clear and convincing evidence that a noncitizen is a danger, or by a preponderance of the evidence (a lower standard) that they are a flight risk. The ACLU has appealed Saris’s decision with respect to the standard of proof, arguing that the court should raise the bar by requiring the federal government to prove flight risk by clear and convincing evidence as well.

Saris ordered the Boston immigration court to consider a noncitizen’s ability to pay when deciding on bond, as well as to consider alternative conditions of release, like GPS monitoring.

Saris’s ruling applies both to noncitizens who have not yet had their bond hearings, as well as people who have already been denied bond. (In the case of the latter, detained noncitizens may go to a federal court to request a new bond hearing by showing that they likely would have been granted bond under the new standard.)

“We’re fundamentally not changing the nature of the system, which is still as oppressive as possible,” Cameron said. “But at least this is an escape hatch, at least to allow people that should be released to be released.”

The post At Boston Immigration Court, ICE Must Now Justify Detaining Noncitizens — Reversing Decades of Precedent appeared first on The Intercept.

U.S. Border Agency Says It’s Not Singling Out Iranians. This Family Waited 11 Hours and Was Asked About Iranian Heritage.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/01/2020 - 5:05pm in



Dozens of Iranian families, some including U.S. citizens, were detained and questioned at the U.S.-Canada border over the weekend, heightening concerns that the Trump administration’s recent actions in the Middle East could have serious consequences for Iranians living in the United States. Among those swept up in the ordeal, trapped in the no man’s land of a U.S. border office, was a young medical student and her family.

In an interview with The Intercept on Sunday, Crystal, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of retaliation, described how she and her family were held for nearly half a day while subjected to questions about their relationship to Iran.

Crystal and her brother are American citizens, born and raised in the U.S. Their parents are dual citizens of the U.S. and Iran. The family had driven to Vancouver for a vacation and were on their way back to the States on Saturday afternoon when their trouble began.

It was approximately 2 p.m. when they pulled up to a port of entry near Blaine, Washington. “We go frequently,” Crystal explained. “It’s never been a huge problem.” This time was different. While still in their vehicle, Crystal said a Customs and Border Protection officer asked her parents if they were born in Iran. “Did you immigrate, or are you a refugee?” she recalled the officer asking. “What is your occupation? When is the last time you went to Iran?” The officer picked up a phone and made a call.

“Why are you pulling us aside? Is it just because we’re from Iran?”

“At that point, we knew we were going to get pulled over,” Crystal said.

The officer handed the family their passports and directed them to pull into a parking area. “Why are you pulling us aside?” Crystal’s mother asked. “Is it just because we’re from Iran?” According to Crystal, the officer’s reply was both apologetic and ominous. “I’m sorry,” she recalled him saying. “It’s just a really bad time for you guys right now. Go ahead and pull to the side.”

“‘Are you serious?” Crystal thought to herself. “It’s always going to be a bad time for us, if that’s the case.’”

The family parked their car, handed over their keys, and walked inside. More than 11 hours would pass before they emerged again.

Word of what was happening at the Peace Arch Border Crossing began to spread on Sunday, when Hoda Katebi, an Iranian American writer, activist, and community organizer, tweeted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had been “ordered to detain [and] ‘report’ all Iranians entering the country deemed potentially suspicious or ‘adversarial’ regardless of citizenship status.” Katebi’s tweet was followed by a press release, also posted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ office in Washington state, which reported that “more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans of all ages” had been detained at the crossing on Saturday. In addition to the reported detentions, the press release said that the national order to “report” suspicious or “adversarial” Iranians was conveyed by a source at CBP.

The alarming reports of intensified border screenings came just days after the Trump administration’s assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and amid swirling fears of a potentially cataclysmic new war on the horizon. Katebi’s tweet quickly went viral.

Masih Fouladi, CAIR’s executive director in Washington state, spent much of the day collecting testimony and fielding calls from reporters. “As an Iranian-American, this is my worst nightmare for my community here in the United States; having federal agents question American citizens about their loyalty to their country reminds me of the horrific incidents of Japanese American incarceration,” he wrote in an email to The Intercept. “This administration functions by causing chaos with no long term vision of how their precedents impact the image of our country to communities of color living here and to the billions of people who are observing this administration’s actions from abroad.”

Rather than immediately address the claims coming out of Washington state, CBP was silent for much of the day. Finally, late Sunday afternoon, the agency issued a statement denying that any policy of special border scrutiny had been put in place for travelers of Iranian heritage, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents. “Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false,” the statement said. With a reference to CBP’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the statement added, “Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”

The border enforcement agency elaborated in an email to The Intercept, writing that due to the “current threat environment, CBP is operating with an enhanced posture at its ports of entry to safeguard our national security and protect the America [sic] people while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone.” According to the agency, wait times at the Blaine port of entry “increased to an average of two hours on Saturday evening,” though some individuals “experienced wait times of up to four hours due to increased volume and reduced staff during the holiday season.”

While CBP officers are not permitted to use national origin alone when choosing to send an individual to so-called secondary screening, it is one factor they are encouraged to consider in combination with others, including more subjective criteria such as suspicious behavior.

On Saturday, Homeland Security updated its National Terrorism Advisory System to include potential responses to Suleimani’s killing among current threats to the U.S. emanating from Iran. In an interview with the New York Times, former CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske indicated that the update could increase the potential for an individual with ties to Iran to be sent to secondary screening.

Though The Intercept was unable to independently confirm whether a specific national order has been issued subjecting Iranians to heightened screenings at U.S. ports, Katebi said the Homeland Security source of that information has proven reliable in the past. And despite the government’s categorical denials, by Sunday evening multiple news outlets had collected independent accounts of Iranian-born Americans — including pregnant women and children — held at the Blaine port of entry, seemingly because of their Iranian heritage.

“CBP is clearly lying to cover up their outrageous treatment of Iranian Americans at the border,” said Ryan Costello, policy director of the National Iranian American Council. “We’ve heard from numerous citizens who were held for hours and subjected to extensive questioning. A lot of people are worried with war on the horizon and Iranian Americans being subjected to discriminatory treatment.”

The processing office in Blaine was already full when Crystal and her family walked in. “There was at least 60 of us,” she said. Her family got in line, where they would remain for an hour and a half before having their first conversation with an officer. They handed over their passports and began their long wait.

“We didn’t get interviewed for probably like eight hours,” Crystal said.

The space was filled with families. Many had U.S. or Canadian passports. “I knew there was young kids because I could hear them crying,” Crystal said. “There was a lot of old people.” She laid down on the floor and tried to sleep. “There was only one toilet for all of us, and it was filthy. It ran out of toilet paper. It ran out of paper towels. There were no outlets — nobody could charge their phones,” she said.

“People can’t even cry,” she added. “There’s no tissues.”

As the hours ticked away, Crystal and her family members began to notice that men were receiving most of the questioning. In Iran, she explained, military service is compulsory for men at age 18. But that didn’t mean that the men held in the Blaine waiting room had access to Iranian military secrets. Crystal recalled speaking to one man who had only served in the military for a couple weeks. “I don’t even know anything,” the man told her. “I just went to the base. I don’t consider that military service.”

Some of the men were asked if they were part of the “IRG,” Crystal recalled. “A lot of the men didn’t even know what the acronym stood for. Apparently, it stands for Iranian Revolution Group or something.” (The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a powerful branch of the Iranian military; Suleimani had been in charge of its elite Quds Force.)

The questions were asked at a counter, Crystal explained, so answers were easy to hear. In addition to seeking military service information, officers seemed acutely interested in educational history and family contacts. “I even heard one lady be asked, ‘Write down all of your siblings’ names and their email addresses,’” Crystal said.

The ordeal in Blaine happened to coincide with an Iranian pop concert in Vancouver on Saturday night, which meant an increased number of Iranians crossing the border. At some point after the sun went down, Crystal said, border officers began turning people away. The port had seemingly hit capacity. “They were turning people away at the border on both sides, the Canadian side and the USA,” she explained. “There was just too many of us.”

“It’s just been crazy. I mean, my parents had come to America so I would never have to go through this.”

In general, Crystal said, it seemed that the officers had been given a task they didn’t know how to handle. The shifts changed three times while her family was being detained, she said, and each time the new crew of personnel had to get caught up on what they had been asked to do. “They didn’t even know why they had pulled us over,” she said. “We kept asking them questions. And they literally were like, ‘We’re sorry. We’re sorry. It shouldn’t be that long.’ But it took 11 and a half hours before we left.”

While she was being detained, Crystal missed a flight she had scheduled in the U.S. By midnight, the family’s frustration reached a boiling point. “We were like, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong,’” Crystal said. “’We’re American citizens. You took our passports away from us. Give us our passports. Let us go home.’”

“America is our home,” Crystal said. “I’ve only lived here, never lived anywhere else. I’m probably more American than Iranian.”

The officers never asked Crystal or her brother any questions. Instead the focus was on her father, who at one point pleaded that at least his family be released. “My dad literally went up to them and was like, ‘Let them go,’” she said. “’They’re American citizens, born and raised here, never had anything to do with Iran, let them go.’”

Sometime around midnight, while Crystal was asleep on the floor, her mother got the attention of a newly arrived shift supervisor, explaining that her family had been detained longer than anyone else. The supervisor intervened, and at 1:30 a.m., the family was permitted to reenter the United States.

“Overall,” Crystal said, “it’s just been crazy. I mean, my parents had come to America so I would never have to go through this.”

The post U.S. Border Agency Says It’s Not Singling Out Iranians. This Family Waited 11 Hours and Was Asked About Iranian Heritage. appeared first on The Intercept.