Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Outlook for 2014 and beyond: Technology and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
–Lord Acton (1834-1902)

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
–Edmund Burke

The onward push of technology in general, and information technology in particular, brings George Orwell’s vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s vision in Brave New World (1932) more clearly, more palpably into view.

For a more contemporary example, see the German film, Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”), which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2006. The movie is available in English, French, and Spanish, as well as the original German.

Technology’s relentless push places new capabilities in government officials’ hands, as new tendencies toward the creation of totalitarian instruments of oppression appear to sweep past all legal, historical and cultural restraints.

The new mantra of governments in democractic countries where minimal oversight and control of government actions still exists to some degree is that, “We do it because we can do it.”

Justifications are not lacking, for zealous officials in their efforts to control terrorist and other threats.

“What if,” they ask, “a nuclear bomb were exploded by terrorists in a major city?” Citing such examples, they conclude that everything is justified, and nothing is excluded.

The requirements of necessity and proportionality that existed in the past are increasingly lost. Thus, to protect society against terrorists, military and intelligence agencies move relentlessly toward doing everything they can to forestall both perceived and inchoate threats.

The relationship between ends and means–of central importance in both domestic and international law–is lost among officials which have succeeded in forging a secret dominion of secret action, where they are not in any meaningful sense held to account. Over time, they secure the acquiescence if not the enthusiastic support of elected government officials, and even of some judges. They develop doctrines such as the “state secrets privilege” which governments invoke to avoid judicial review of the  legality and constitutionality of their actions and programs.

At the same time, the number of individuals employed by the government and its contractors to protect the population and the state grows astronomically. Powerful commercial interests become fused with the technologoical imperatives and the drive to create ever greater capabilities–and to use them.

The national security officials pushing these programs frequently come from intelligence backgrounds where they are not accustomed to conducting their activities in a manner in which they are held to account before the constitution and the law.

Consequently, as we enter 2014 we are being pushed headlong into a future where the state holds in its hands incredibly powerful instruments of totalitarian control. The government, citing the need for secrecy and the classified nature of the information required for legal challenges, does everything it can to avoid effective judicial and constitutional review of its actions. Legal memoranda justifying secret programs are themselves held secret on the theory that their publication would undermine free and vigorous debate among government officials.

The paradoxical result is that while government lawyers are arguably freed up to produce legal justifications that will never see the light of day, citizens and their representative are denied their right to assess whether the government is acting within the law and the Constitution.

In the end, because in a democracy secret legal justifications lack validity and can have no legitimizing force, the government in effect simply fails to offer any legal justifications for its secret operations. The rule of law is broken, as the government operates outside the framework of legal and constitutional accountability which is the bedrock of a democratic state governed by law.

These are matters which are abundantly clear to first-year law students, but not apparently to ranking lawyers within the Executive Branch in Washington.

A government which proceeds in this manner has gone outside the framework of constitutional government under law. Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret programs and secret activities whose legality cannot be assessed, are deadly assaults on the rule of law.

Yet they continue. They continue with the full backing of President Barack Obama, as revealed through his actions. Here, as elsewhere, we need to watch what the president does, and not what he says.

We assure ourselves that our elected representatives will safeguard our freedoms even in this new world where everything is known by government officials, and large private organizations such as Google and Facebook.

Yet when someone like the Director of the CIA, David Petraeus, is suddenly forced to resign over an affair after his e-mails somehow become known to intellgence officials shortly after the FBI tells him that their investigation has ended and that he will not be the subject of further inquiry, no one insists on knowing what legal authority the FBI used to secure these e-mails.  No one demands to know why FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce called David Clapper, the head of the NSA, on November 6, 2012 (as election results flowed in), and told Clapper about the affair, or why Clapper immediately called Petraeus and strongly urged him to resign.  Were the e-mails obtained through abuse of an FBI or NSA program? No one dares to focus on this question, or to investigate it tenaciously to the bitter end.  No one is held accountable.

Edward Snowden’s revelations in The Guardian and other leading newspapers throughout the world have opened a window through which we can now see how absolutely without limits U.S. intelligence agencies have conducted surveillance and made copies of the communications of everyone in the world, including those in the United States.

We know these capabilities have been and are used to identify individuals who become the objects of targeted killings by drone strikes, without judicial process, even when as in the Anwar al-Aulaqi case the target is a U.S. citizen.

We trust that these capabilities will never be “misused” by our government officials, while casting a blind eye to how similar capabilities are currently being used by dictatorships to root out and if necessary to destroy their opponents.

We want to think, “It couldn’t happen here.”

But in a sense it is already happening here. These activities–which seem to clearly violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, if the words in the text and two centuries of constitutional interpretation have any meaning–have already had a chilling effect on free speech in the United States, and elsewhere. The precise text of the Constitution is worth recalling:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Writers and journalists already weigh their words carefully, and the topics on which they choose to write. Self-censorship makes insidious inroads into habits of free thought. Many are in denial, and are loathe to admit that they themselves censor what they write.

But engage a writer in a deeper conversation, off-the-record.  Cross-examine a writer as to whether the current climate–resulting from the government’s surveillance operations, its extremely aggressive prosecution of any who have made classified information public, and even reporters to whom such information has been leaked– has affected any of their decisions regarding what to investigate, what sources to use, and how tenaciously to pursue their investigation, and you may be surprised to learn the degree to which writers and journalists are already pulling their punches.

What can be done?

Our answers to this question will be duly recorded by government surveillance programs and operatives. Of that we can be sure. Does that fact in and of itself affect our answers? If it does, extra courage may be required if we are to come up with effective plans of action to defend our liberties.

Still, is there any amount of collective courage that might be summoned, in a country which has nurtured and protected the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution for over 200 years, to reverse this onslaught of technological and commercial imperatives, growing government secrecy, and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control?

If we don’t speak out and take corrective measures now, when will we? Can we imagine that it will become easier in the future? In the words of the Talmud, “If not now, when?”

Does anyone remember J. Edgar Hoover, and the abuses he committed with far fewer tools at his command?

How long can we assume that those who hold (or in the future may hold) these extraordinary and growing powers and the power of the state itself in their hands, will always act benevolently and to uphold the rule of law?

The Trenchant Observer

“The Disposition Matrix”: Is Obama laying the foundations of a future totalitarian state? (Updated July 27, 2013)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

A recent article in The Guardian on Obama’s kill lists and the now highly bureacratized killing machine used to extirpate individuals on the lists, highlights for those who missed it that the kill lists and the bureacratic machinery for using them have now been re-baptized as “The Disposition Matrix”.

This wonderful euphemism is presumably from John Brennan, the president’s teacher and moral guide in all such matters, and now Director of the CIA. Brennan, it will be recalled from his confirmation hearings, preferred to refer to “enhanced interrogation tecniques” (“torture” as defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture) as “EIT’s”. Presumably, we will soon be referring simply to the “DM” and individuals who were dealt with through “DM techniques”, or maybe just “DMT” for short.

George Orwell wrote of the abuse of language as the sure methodology of totalitarian movements and states. One of the key concepts is to divorce words from any unpleasant images or feelings which they might conjure up.

So, we can see how euphemisms such as “extraordinary rendition” avoid the unpleasant associations of a kidnapping squad which, acting under the authorization of the American president but in flagrant violation of both domestic and international law, grabs someone off the street and “renders” him to a CIA “black site” (secret jail) or to a foreign power where he is likely to be tortured, and held in conditions completely violating his fundamental human rights (right to a lawyer, right to due process, including trial by an independent court, in public, for specific violations of public laws, etc).

Or, how “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or “EIT’s” for short, avoid associated images of a man experiencing drowning as he is waterboarded, or his body and mind are abused in other ways which, if actually described accurately, would call up associated images which in ordinary people produce feelings of physical disgust.

Now, at the pinnacle of our Orwellian linguistic pyramid we have the stunningly opaque yet descriptive euphemism of “the disposition matrix”. This would be a wonderful title for a movie, and undoubtedly will become one.

What is different, however, is that in the past such movies were usually told from the point of view of the victims or the potential victims, whereas in the White House and other agencies the term is used with pride, without self-doubt, by today’s bureaucrats entrusted with the efficient protection of society from terrorists who would do us harm. (The bureaucratization of this killing machine brings to mind other killing machines, and places like Auschwitz and Treblinka.)

Not to worry: Citizens need not be troubled by the images that would come up if factually descriptive words told us exactly what the operations entailed, here the killing of another human being without due process of law (as that term is defined in international human rights treaties and indeed the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States).

The disposition matrix is just one piece of architecture which when used by others in the future could form part of a totalitarian state.

Other elements would be total surveillance of individuals in society who might pose a challenge, any challenge, to those who control the machinery of the state. Another would be the ability of the government to influence and move public opinion by using personal data to sway voters in electoral campaigns, as the Democrats and Obama did so successfully in the 2012 elections.

Another element would be the use of secret laws and secret legal justifications, and the state secrets privilege, to avoid public debate and public challenges in the courts to governmental actions violating basic constitutional rights (e.g., free speech, due process, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.).

A final element would be control of the flow of information, an enterprise in which Google has been obtaining vast experience, dealing with authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

Already Google “filters” what results you see in a search by nationality, language, and algorithms based on your previous search history. One result, even now, is that you are less likely to see press reports and opinion critical of U.S. government actions and policies which are published outside the U.S. (e.g., in England, Canada, or Australia) or in a language other than English. Further, Google has the ability to delay the indexing of blogs or other pages, so that you cannot see critical opinion in a timely manner, in real time.

For example, let’s see how long it takes Google to index this article. See “Do search engines delay indexing of blog posts they don’t like?” The Trenchant Observer, June 5, 2013.

Another way to control the flow of information is to go after its source, for the government to go after its critics, as in the James Risen case, or to intimidate journalists so that they engage in self-censorship. These are old tools typically used by authoritarian regimes. What is different is the magnitude of the threat and its reach as the result of new technological capabilities.

The pieces are not all in place. But they are moving in that direction.

For details on “the disposition matrix”, see

Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “Experts: Obama’s plan to predict future leakers unproven, unlikely to work,” McClatchey newspapers, July 9, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists,” Washington Post, October 23, 2012.

Ian Cobain, “Obama’s secret kill list – the disposition matrix; The disposition matrix is a complex grid of suspected terrorists to be traced then targeted in drone strikes or captured and interrogated. And the British government appears to be colluding in it,” The Guardian, July 14, 2013 (14.00 EDT).

Daniel Byman and Benjamin Wittes, “How Obama’s ‘Disposition Matrix’ Decides The Fate Of ‘Terrorists’,” The Atlantic, January 3, 2013.

See also Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, “Obama is laying the foundations of a dystopian future; The US leader’s successors will be able to target anyone, say Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick,” Financial Times, July 10, 2013 (7:36 p.m.).p

How can we, and the American Republic, survive the personal tragedy of Barack Obama and its nefarious consequences? Obama is the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, the story a would-be hero brought down by a tragic flaw. In his case, that flaw is hubris, unbounded arrogance, and something approaching disdain for the views of those who diagree with him. We are talking of behavior manifested by action, not the endless stream of words issuing from the White House.

He is a president who imagined himself as entering history in the company of such real heroes as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, but who will instead be remembered as the “Bush and Cheney on steroids” who systematically undermined the Constitution in a quest for unlimited power over the lives and fates of others.

In this quest, characterized by secret legal opinions and secret judicial decisions and covert activities, “the covert commander in chief” sought to become and ultimately succeeded in becoming responsible to no one–not to Congress, not to the courts, not to the informed judgments of citizens with access to the truth about government actions, and not to the judgments of other states regarding the legality of his actions and policies under international law.

In view of the above, we must ask ourselves:

How will we ever re-establish the complete and full rule of law in the United States? This will be the most critical question facing Americans for the remainder of Obama’s second term, and perhaps far beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Observateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivo)
(O Observador Incisivo)

REPRISE: “A time to break silence”: Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

[This is a lengthy article. The reader may wish to read it, and listen to the recordings, in three parts.]

Originally published June 27, 2012 (revised June 28, 2012)

“And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower (of) Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

There is a powerful connection between the April, 1967 sermons on Vietnam of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Jimmy Carter’s recent New York Times op-ed piece on American human rights violations, and the policies currently being carried out by President Barack Obama. It is important to understand this connection, details of which are set forth below.

I. Jimmy Carter’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, Criticizing America’s Violations of Human Rights

Ex-president Jimmy Carter published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, in which he hashly criticized President Obama, and also former president Bush, for “the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade, (which) has been a dramatic change from the past, signifying the fact that “the United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.”

See Jimmy Carter, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” New York Times (op-ed), June 24, 2012.

Carter continued,

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

These policies and actions, he wrote, signaled “a dramatic change from the past”, when the United States exercised bold leadership in securing the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Its adoption, wrote Carter,

…was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs.

But, he continued,

It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.

He noted further, that

(R)ecent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications…

Carter harshly criticized the use of drone attacks, writing that

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.

These policies were counterproductive in terms of American foreign policy, he observed, noting that

Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.

The 39th president of the United States also criticized the fact that the Guantánamo Bay facility remains open, with 169 prisoners still detained there. While “about half have been cleared for release,” their chances of ever obtaining their freedom are slim, he asserted.

Some of those being tried have been tortured, Carter noted, writing:

American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security”. Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

In conclusion, former president Carter argued,

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

U.S. violation of international human rights is counterproductive, he asserted, because it “abets our enemies and alienates our friends.” As “concerned citizens”, we must now persuade Washington “to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.”

This forceful critique of American human rights violations made by Jimmy Carter, the American president most closely associated with U.S. leadership in the field of human rights, will undoubtedly have a significant impact over time, both abroad and at home.

II. Dr. King and Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence—Bearing the Cross for Truth, Justice and Peace

When I read ex-President Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, calling out President Barack Obama for his human rights violations, both domestic and foreign, I was reminded of the afternoon I was driving in my car and first heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also a Nobel Prize winner, deliver a powerful speech criticizing President Johnson and his conduct of the Vietnam war.

The feeling then, in 1967, was one of enormous relief. At last there was a figure of great and almost unparalleled national and international prominence, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, who had the courage to speak the truth as he saw it, according to his best lights, and his deep faith, however unpopular that truth might be.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave two sermons on Vietnam in April, 1967. The first, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” is a detailed but courageous speech that draws on many of the details of the history of Vietnam and the war which were familiar to his audience. It is delivered in a calm, reasoned tone. The second, a sermon delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he was pastor, is a strong sermon delivered in the cadences of the powerful preacher who King was. Entitled, “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” it hits the main points of the April 4 sermon, with greater emotional emphasis. It is probably more accessible to readers and listeners not familiar with the history and details of the Vietnam conflict. Links to both are found below. See

Rev. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City).

The text is found here.

The audio is found here.

David Bromwich, “Martin Luther King’s Speech Against the Vietnam War,” Antiwar.com, May 16, 2008 (summary and analysis, with extensive excerpts).

See also:

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 30, 1967. Excerpts from the audio and text are found here.

The complete audio (in RealAudio) is found here.

The original written text is found here.

NOTE: The two sermons are often confused, with the audio for the April 30 sermon often being attributed to the April 4 “Beyond Vietnam” sermon.

“The Obamians”, as James Mann has termed President Obama and his younger group of closest foreign policy advisers, in his new and revealing book on the foreign policy team in the White House, would especially benefit from listening to King’s speech, and his April 30, 1967 sermon. Their eyes reportedly glaze over when other advisers, usually older, refer to the Vietnam war and its lessons. They, and particularly the most important Obamian, President Obama himself, should listen to Martin Luther King’s speech and sermon, and reflect on what they hear, taking the moral authority of the speaker into account.

They might also bear in mind and take to heart the famous dictum,

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George de Sanayana, from “Life of Reason I”).

Mann’s book is fascinating. See

The Obanians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (Viking Penguin/The Penguin Group, 2012)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his speech or sermon entitled, “”Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

III. Jimmy Carter’s Contribution to Human Rights

Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece should grab the public’s attention in the United States.

But the coverage in the U.S. press suggests the public may have become far too accustomed to the targeted killings, or “assassinations” in the words of Jimmy Carter–which is the correct term when the killings are conducted outside the framework of international law, far too accustomed to the debate over the efficacy of torture, far too complacent over the violation of bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution, to pay much attention.

The press reaction in different countries is quite revealing, even if it takes a lot of work to uncover, due to the “filter bubble” Google and most other search engines now use, displaying search results only from our own country and in our own language. If you are in the United States and Google “Jimmy Carter” you won’t see the incisive articles published in the United Kingdom in The Guardian, The Telegraph or The Independent. You’ll see articles and blogs published in the United States.

We now live in information ghettos, where the opinions of those in other countries are filtered out of our consciousness. Moreover, due to the use of our previous search histories to filter the results that are displayed in, e.g., a Google search, within this subset of news and opinion we may even see news that leans more to the left or the right, depending on who we have read in the past.

Jimmy Carter has demonstrated in his op-ed that there are still Democrats in the United States with the courage to defend our civil liberties, and to fight for a foreign policy based on furthering human rights and democracy abroad, and compliance with the basic norms of international law, including those relating to human rights.

When historians of the future write about this period, they may mention Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece, and wonder how the people of this time in the U.S. went along with such egregious violations of the U.S. constitution and the most fundamental norms of international law.

Now the question is whether others will have the courage to speak out, even if the president committing these violations is from their own party–and the party they want to win in the November elections.

It is a stark moral choice. Listen to the audio of Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech and especially to the audio of his April 30, 1967 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He speaks of stark moral choices.

One is reminded not only of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also of those other defenders of civil liberties and democracy, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Vacslav Havel, and Lech Walensa. One is also reminded of humanity’s project of building international peace through the establishment of international law and institutions, and compliance with their norms.

In the field of human rights, President Jimmy Carter was one of those men. His support of human rights started a process in Latin America (and elsewhere) which led to the end of dictatorships and authoritarian rule, and the gradual consolidation of democracy throughout the hemisphere.

His push for human rights led to the ratifications of the American Convention on Human Rights which resulted in its entry into force on July 18, 1978. His support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the establishment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José Costa Rica, pursuant to the provisions of the American Convention, strengthened in the Americas a system of international protection of human rights similar in form to that established in Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights, in force since 1953.

Regrettably, the United States has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which President Jimmy Carter signed and submitted to the Senate for ratification. Nonetheless, the U.S. is still bound to observe the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted by the members of the newly founded Organization of American States in Bogotá in April, 1948, months before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 of that year.

But the Inter-American system was called upon to protect human rights in the face of social and political realities that were vastly different from those in Europe in 1978, though one must recall that the European system too had its origins in tumultuous times following the end of World War II. The European Convention entered into force on September 3, 1953, establishing a Commission which functioned until 1998, and the European Court of Human Rights to which citizens since 1998 may now appeal directly without going through the Commission, which was abolished in 1998.

The Inter-American system, with that of Europe, also set a powerful example for Africa, which adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which entered into force on October 21, 1986. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has established an important body of precedent, and now the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, created pursuant to a protocol to the Charter which entered into effect on January 25, 2005, has also been established, and may one day soon merge with the African Court of Justice. The African Commission and Court are having an increasing impact on the achievement and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law on the continent.

All three of these regional systems were inspired by, and gave further expression to, the ideals and norms contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Worth noting is that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on December 10 of each year.

In supporting these developments, and continuing his struggle for democracy and human rights since he left office in January, 1981, Jimmy Carter deserves the most profound respect and thanks of the world community, including the people of the United States. During his time in office, while mistakes were made, he carried forward the torch of human rights. For his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

For speaking out now against violations of the most fundamental norms of human rights and international law, and even and particularly when those violations were and are committed by his own government, Jimmy Carter deserves our highest praise.

Thank you, President Carter.

And thank you, Dr. King. For your example, moral clarity, and courage, which we hope will guide us now.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

“A time to break silence”: Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations (revised June 28)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

“And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower (of) Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

There is a powerful connection between the April, 1967 sermons on Vietnam of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Jimmy Carter’s recent New York Times op-ed piece on American human rights violations, and the policies currently being carried out by President Barack Obama. It is important to understand this connection, details of which are set forth below.

I. Jimmy Carter’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, Criticizing America’s Violations of Human Rights

Ex-president Jimmy Carter published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, in which he hashly criticized President Obama, and also former president Bush, for “the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade, (which) has been a dramatic change from the past, signifying the fact that “the United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.”

See Jimmy Carter, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” New York Times (op-ed), June 24, 2012.

Carter continued,

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

These policies and actions, he wrote, signaled “a dramatic change from the past”, when the United States exercised bold leadership in securing the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Its adoption, wrote Carter,

…was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs.

But, he continued,

It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.

He noted further, that

(R)ecent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications…

Carter harshly criticized the use of drone attacks, writing that

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.

These policies were counterproductive in terms of American foreign policy, he observed, noting that

Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.

The 39th president of the United States also criticized the fact that the Guantánamo Bay facility remains open, with 169 prisoners still detained there. While “about half  have been cleared for release,” their chances of ever obtaining their freedom are slim, he asserted.

Some of those being tried have been tortured, Carter noted, writing:

American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security”. Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

In conclusion, former president Carter argued,

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

U.S. violation of international human rights is counterproductive, he asserted, because it “abets our enemies and alienates our friends.”  As “concerned citizens”, we must now persuade Washington “to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.”

This forceful critique of American human rights violations made by Jimmy Carter, the American president most closely associated with U.S. leadership in the field of human rights, will undoubtedly have a significant impact over time, both abroad and at home.

II. Dr. King and Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence—Bearing the Cross for Truth, Justice and Peace

When I read ex-President Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, calling out President Barack Obama for his human rights violations, both domestic and foreign, I was reminded of the afternoon I was driving in my car and first heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also a Nobel Prize winner, deliver a powerful speech criticizing President Johnson and his conduct of the Vietnam war.

The feeling then, in 1967, was one of enormous relief. At last there was a figure of great and almost unparalleled national and international prominence, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, who had the courage to speak the truth as he saw it, according to his best lights, and his deep faith, however unpopular that truth might be.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave two sermons on Vietnam in April, 1967. The first, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” is a detailed but courageous speech that draws on many of the details of the history of Vietnam and the war which were familiar to his audience. It is delivered in a calm, reasoned tone. The second, a sermon delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he was pastor, is a strong sermon delivered in the cadences of the powerful preacher who King was. Entitled, “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” it hits the main points of the April 4 sermon, with greater emotional emphasis. It is probably more accessible to readers and listeners not familiar with the history and details of the Vietnam conflict. Links to both are found below. See

Rev. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City).

The text is found here.

The audio is found here.

David Bromwich, “Martin Luther King’s Speech Against the Vietnam War,” Antiwar.com, May 16, 2008 (summary and analysis, with extensive excerpts).

See also:

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 30, 1967. Excerpts from the audio and text are found here.

The complete audio (in RealAudio) is found here.

The original written text is found here.

NOTE: The two sermons are often confused, with the audio for the April 30 sermon often being attributed to the April 4 “Beyond Vietnam” sermon.

“The Obamians”, as James Mann has termed President Obama and his younger group of closest foreign policy advisers, in his new and revealing book on the foreign policy team in the White House, would especially benefit from listening to King’s speech, and his April 30, 1967 sermon. Their eyes reportedly glaze over when other advisers, usually older, refer to the Vietnam war and its lessons. They, and particularly the most important Obamian, President Obama himself, should listen to Martin Luther King’s speech and sermon, and reflect on what they hear, taking the moral authority of the speaker into account.

They might also bear in mind and take to heart the famous dictum,

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George de Sanayana, from “Life of Reason I”).

Mann’s book is fascinating. See

The Obanians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (Viking Penguin/The Penguin Group, 2012)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his speech or sermon entitled, “”Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

III. Jimmy Carter’s Contribution to Human Rights

Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece should grab the public’s attention in the United States.

But the coverage in the U.S. press suggests the public may have become far too accustomed to the targeted killings, or “assassinations” in the words of Jimmy Carter–which is the correct term when the killings are conducted outside the framework of international law, far too accustomed to the debate over the efficacy of torture, far too complacent over the violation of bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution, to pay much attention.

The press reaction in different countries is quite revealing, even if it takes a lot of work to uncover, due to the “filter bubble” Google and most other search engines now use, displaying search results only from our own country and in our own language. If you are in the United States and Google “Jimmy Carter” you won’t see the incisive articles published in the United Kingdom in The Guardian, The Telegraph or The Independent. You’ll see articles and blogs published in the United States.

We now live in information ghettos, where the opinions of those in other countries are filtered out of our consciousness. Moreover, due to the use of our previous search histories to filter the results that are displayed in, e.g., a Google search, within this subset of news and opinion we may even see news that leans more to the left or the right, depending on who we have read in the past.

Jimmy Carter has demonstrated in his op-ed that there are still Democrats in the United States with the courage to defend our civil liberties, and to fight for a foreign policy based on furthering human rights and democracy abroad, and compliance with the basic norms of international law, including those relating to human rights.

When historians of the future write about this period, they may mention Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece, and wonder how the people of this time in the U.S. went along with such egregious violations of the U.S. constitution and the most fundamental norms of international law.

Now the question is whether others will have the courage to speak out, even if the president committing these violations is from their own party–and the party they want to win in the November elections.

It is a stark moral choice. Listen to the audio of Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech and especially to the audio of his April 30, 1967 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He speaks of stark moral choices.

One is reminded not only of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also of those other defenders of civil liberties and democracy, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Vacslav Havel, and Lech Walensa. One is also reminded of humanity’s project of building international peace through the establishment of international law and institutions, and compliance with their norms.

In the field of human rights, President Jimmy Carter was one of those men. His support of human rights started a process in Latin America (and elsewhere) which led to the end of dictatorships and authoritarian rule, and the gradual consolidation of democracy throughout the hemisphere.

His push for human rights led to the ratifications of the American Convention on Human Rights which resulted in its entry into force on July 18, 1978. His support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the establishment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José Costa Rica, pursuant to the provisions of the American Convention, strengthened in the Americas a system of international protection of human rights similar in form to that established in Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights, in force since 1953.

Regrettably, the United States has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which President Jimmy Carter signed and submitted to the Senate for ratification. Nonetheless, the U.S. is still bound to observe the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted by the members of the newly founded Organization of American States in Bogotá in April, 1948, months before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 of that year.

But the Inter-American system was called upon to protect human rights in the face of social and political realities that were vastly different from those in Europe in 1978, though one must recall that the European system too had its origins in tumultuous times following the end of World War II. The European Convention entered into force on September 3, 1953, establishing a Commission which functioned until 1998, and the European Court of Human Rights to which citizens since 1998 may now appeal directly without going through the Commission, which was abolished in 1998.

The Inter-American system, with that of Europe, also set a powerful example for Africa, which adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which entered into force on October 21, 1986. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has established an important body of precedent, and now the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, created pursuant to a protocol to the Charter which entered into effect on January 25, 2005, has also been established, and may one day soon merge with the African Court of Justice. The African Commission and Court are having an increasing impact on the achievement and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law on the continent.

All three of these regional systems were inspired by, and gave further expression to, the ideals and norms contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Worth noting is that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on December 10 of each year.

In supporting these developments, and continuing his struggle for democracy and human rights since he left office in January, 1981, Jimmy Carter deserves the most profound respect and thanks of the world community, including the people of the United States. During his time in office, while mistakes were made, he carried forward the torch of human rights. For his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

For speaking out now against violations of the most fundamental norms of human rights and international law, and even and particularly when those violations were and are committed by his own government, Jimmy Carter deserves our highest praise.

Thank you, President Carter.

And thank you, Dr. King. For your example, moral clarity, and courage, which we hope will guide us now.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

GoDaddy Follows Google, Refuses to Aid Censorship in China; Clinton on Internet Freedom

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

In a sign of growing opposition by U.S. internet companies in China to assisting the Chinese government in imposing censorship on Chinese computer users, GoDaddy has announced it is curtailing its activities in China and will no longer host new sites with “cn” domain names. Silicon Valley’s leading newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News reports:

A second prominent Internet company has joined Google in rejecting Chinese surveillance and censorship rules, as Google’s move to stop filtering its Chinese search results draws more attention to Internet freedom in Washington.

Saying it hosts many individual Web sites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, the Go Daddy Group said Wednesday it would stop hosting new sites with “.cn” domain names, rather than comply with government requirements to provide increasingly detailed information about its Chinese customers.

The world’s largest Internet domain name registrar told a congressional panel that its China operations had come under increasingly stringent surveillance rules since December. Chinese authorities demanded in February that Go Daddy, which hosts Web sites tied to Tibet and the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, provide color photographs and signed registration forms for all Chinese owners of its 27,000 .cn domain sites, said Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones.

Suspending new .cn Web sites “was a decision we made in our own right, based on our experience of having to contact Chinese nationals, collect their personal information and return that information to the government,” Jones told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “We made a decision we didn’t want to act as an agent for the Chinese government.”

–Mike Swift, “Joining Google, GoDaddy.com will halt some services in China,” San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 2010

GoDaddy.com officials testfied before a Congressional Committee on Wednesday. The Washington Post provides additional details:

GoDaddy.com, the world’s largest domain name registration company, told lawmakers Wednesday that it will cease registering Web sites in China in response to intrusive new government rules that require applicants to provide extensive personal data, including photographs of themselves.

The rules, the company said, are an effort by China to increase monitoring and surveillance of Web site content and could put individuals who register their sites with the firm at risk. The company also said the rules will have a “chilling effect” on new domain name registrations.

GoDaddy’s move follows Google’s announcement Monday that it will no longer censor search results on its site in China….

In December, China began to enforce a new policy that required any registrant of a new .cn domain name to provide a color, head-and-shoulders photograph and other business identification, including a Chinese business registration number and physical, signed registration forms. That data was to be forwarded to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a quasi-governmental agency. Most domain name registries require only a name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.

“We were immediately concerned about the motives behind the increased level of registrant verification being required,” Christine N. Jones, general counsel of the Go Daddy Group, told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Wednesday. “The intent of the procedures appeared, to us, to be based on a desire by the Chinese authorities to exercise increased control over the subject matter of domain name registrations by Chinese nationals.”

GoDaddy has been registering domain names since 2000 and has more than 40 million under management.

Jones said GoDaddy’s decision to stop registering new domains was unrelated to Google’s recent decision….”We decided we didn’t want to be agents of China,” she said.

–John Pomfret, Ellen Nakashima and Cecilia Kang, “China censors searches on Google’s Hong Kong-based search engine,” Washington Post, March 23, 2010

On Monday, March 22, Google ceased filtering search results within mainland China, redirecting searches to its Hong Kong site which had operated under fewer restrictions. By Tuesday, China was blocking access to “sensitive” sites on Google in Hong Kong as well.

China’s new restrictions on GoDaddy.com and Google reflect a worsening climate for U.S. businesses operating in China. But their signficance and importance go far beyond that. They are likely to become a source of growing friction between the United States and China, as the Obama administration has increasingly embraced a policy of support for the free flow of information over the internet.

Hillary Clinton’s Speech on Internet Freedom

In an important speech on internet freedom on January 21, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed what she termed “the freedom to connect”. She expressed the new policy forthrightly, saying in part:

Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. Now, at the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the troubles of his day. And years later, one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, worked to have these principles adopted as a cornerstone of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have provided a lodestar to every succeeding generation, guiding us, galvanizing us, and enabling us to move forward in the face of uncertainty.

So as technology hurtles forward, we must think back to that legacy. We need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles. In accepting the Nobel Prize, President Obama spoke about the need to build a world in which peace rests on the inherent rights and dignities of every individual. And in my speech on human rights at Georgetown a few days later, I talked about how we must find ways to make human rights a reality. Today, we find an urgent need to protect these freedoms on the digital frontiers of the 21st century.

There are many other networks in the world. Some aid in the movement of people or resources, and some facilitate exchanges between individuals with the same work or interests. But the internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms. Freedom of expression is first among them. This freedom is no longer defined solely by whether citizens can go into the town square and criticize their government without fear of retribution. Blogs, emails, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas, and created new targets for censorship.

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world….

As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. In the demonstrations that followed Iran’s presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman’s bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government’s brutality. We’ve seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation’s leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country. In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights, the Iranian people have inspired the world. And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.

A connection to global information networks is like an on-ramp to modernity. In the early years of these technologies, many believed that they would divide the world between haves and have-nots. But that hasn’t happened. There are 4 billion cell phones in use today. Many of them are in the hands of market vendors, rickshaw drivers, and others who’ve historically lacked access to education and opportunity. Information networks have become a great leveler, and we should use them together to help lift people out of poverty and give them a freedom from want.

The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I’ve already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.

Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions. I hope that their competitors and foreign governments will pay close attention to this trend. The most recent situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest. And we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement. And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent.

The internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century. Now, the United States and China have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.

Now, ultimately, this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It’s about whether we live on a planet with one internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.

–Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks on Internet Freedom,” (The Newseum, Washington, D.C.), January 21, 2010.

Transcripts of Clinton’s remarks are available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu, on the State Department website (at the link above).

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.