Saturday, July 28, 2007

TAKING TIME OFF. . .




It's that time of the year again: This blogger (pictured above while on a visit to Montreal in 2004) has gone on vacation -- which this year, is also a long-awaited honeymoon with my new wife, Ellie (We married in May). I will return on Monday, August 20. In the meantime, feel free to browse the Blog Archive (Column left) for any previous articles that you might have missed.

-- Skeeter Sanders





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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

European Visitors to the U.S. Will Be Subject to U.S. Government Surveillance

Privacy Advocates and a European Union Official Express Alarm Over Deal That Will Allow U.S. Authorities Access to Data on Travelers' Religious Beliefs, Political Views -- And Even Their Food and Sexual Preferences

Photo

Travelers passing through London's Heathrow Airport have grown accustomed to the stepped-up presence of armed police officers on patrol since a series of thwarted terrorist attacks in recent months. But starting next Wednesday, travelers to the U.S. from London and other European cities will come under highly sensitive scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, under a new agreement reached between the U.S. and the European Commission. How sensitive? Their religious beliefs, political views -- and even their food and sexual preferences -- will be subject to U.S. investigation, which has infuriated civil-liberties groups and the European Parliament. (Photo: Luke MacGregor/Reuters)


WEDNESDAY NEWS EXTRA
By Jamie Doward
London Observer


Highly sensitive information about the religious beliefs, political opinions and even the sex lives of Britons and other Europeans traveling to the United States is to be made available to U.S. authorities when the European Commission agrees to a new system of checking passengers.

The European Commission, the administrative branch of the European Union, is in the final stages of agreeing a new "Passenger Name Record" system with the U.S.,which will allow American officials to access detailed biographical information about passengers entering international airports.

The information sharing system with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which updates the previous three-year-old system, is designed to tackle terrorism but civil-liberties groups warn it will have serious consequences for European passengers. And it has emerged that both the European Parliament and the European data protection supervisor are alarmed at the plan.

More Than Four Million British Travelers to U.S. Affected

In a strongly-worded document drawn up in response to the plan that will affect the more than four million Britons who travel to the U.S. every year, the European Parliament said it "notes with concern that sensitive data [i.e. personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, and -- most controversially -- the health or sex lives of individuals] will be made available to the DHS and that these data may be used by the DHS in exceptional cases."

Under the new agreement, which takes effect next Wednesday, the U.S. will be able to hold the records of European passengers for 15 years compared with the current three-year limit. The EU Parliament said it was concerned the data would lead to 'a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the U.S. Congress."

There was no statement from the DHS on the plan, either to The Observer or through the department's Web site (www.dhs.gov).

EU Official: Europeans' Right to Privacy 'Non-Negotiable'

Peter Hustinx, the European Union's data protection supervisor, has written to the European Commission expressing his "grave concern" at the plan, which he describes as "without legal precedent" and one that puts "European data-protection rights at risk."

Hustinx warns: "Data on citizens [of the 23 EU member countries] will be readily accessible to a broad range of U.S. agencies and there is no limitation to what U.S. authorities are allowed to do with the data." He expressed concern about "the absence of a robust legal mechanism that enables EU citizens to challenge misuse of their personal information."

Hustinx concludes, "I have serious doubts whether the outcome of these negotiations will be fully compatible with European fundamental rights, which both the [European] Council and the [European] Commission have stated are non-negotiable."

Europeans' Credit-Card Transactions, Home Addresses and Other Info Also Open to U.S. Investigators

The new agreement will see U.S. authorities gain access to detailed passenger information, from credit card details to home addresses and even what sort of food may have been ordered before a flight. In addition, U.S. authorities will be free to add other information they have obtained about a passenger, leading to concerns about how the information will be shared.

Neither Hustinx nor the European Parliament were aware of the final draft of the plan.

'If you are going to have this kind of agreement it should involve parliament and the data protection supervisor,' said Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, a London-based civil-liberties organization that campaigns against excessive surveillance. He warned that under the new system, the data will be shared with numerous U.S. agencies.

'The data protection supervisor and the European Parliament are angry that they were not consulted," Bunyan said. "But they are also angry with a number of elements of the plan such as giving the U.S. the absolute right to pass the data on to third parties."

'What Is U.S. Going to Do With All That Info?' Privacy Advocates Ask

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, another group that campaigns against excessive state surveillance, said the new agreement gave huge, unprecedented powers to the U.S. authorities. "We have no guarantee about how this data will be used," Davies said.

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office in England and Wales said it would be discussing the matter with their European counterparts shortly.

"We are working with the European Data Protection Supervisor and our other EU data protection colleagues to come to a joint opinion on the level of data protection set out in the final agreement," the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Controversy Builds in U.S. Over New Passport Regs for Americans Going to Canada, Mexico

[Disclosure of the data mining plan on Europeans comes amid a mounting controversy in the U.S. over new government regulations requiring Americans visiting Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to show passports upon their return to their home country.

[Previously, there were not required to do so -- and the Canadian government doesn't require Americans to produce passports to enter Canada.

[The new regulations, mandated by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and already in place for air travel to and from the U.S., are due to take effect next January for sea travel to and from the U.S. and for land crossings of U.S. borders.

[The State Department has been deluged with passport applications, with Americans applying for new passports or for passport renewals finding their applications mired in a months-long backlog.

[The controversy has been a particular sore point between Washington and Ottawa, as the U.S. and Canada -- which have enjoyed more than a century of friendly, even familial, relations and share the world's longest undefended border -- are each other's largest trading partner and the new regulations have sparked fears of massive economic disruptions.]

(Additional reporting by Skeeter Sanders.)

# # #

Volume II, Number 39
Special Report Copyright 2007, Guardian News and Media, Ltd.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.




















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Monday, July 23, 2007

A Prominent Conservative Blasts Bush For Dangerous 'Overreaching' of Executive Powers


Ex-Reagan Aide Bruce Fein -- Who Wrote the 1999 Articles of Impeachment Against Clinton -- Says Bush Aims to 'Cripple' Congress and the Courts and Become 'A Law Unto Himself' in Defiance of the Constitution

Photo
President Bush waves to reporters as he walks from the Oval Office Friday to the White House living quarters before his departure to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. Bruce Fein, a prominent conservative scholar and newspaper columnist and a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, has accused Bush of committing impeachable offenses "more worrisome" than those of his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Fein should know: He wrote the articles of impeachment against Clinton for perjury in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)


By Skeeter Sanders


Friday the 13th was not a lucky day for President Bush's standing among conservatives. In a dramatic breaking of ranks, a prominent conservative figure famous for writing the articles of impeachment against former President Bill Clinton went on television to unleash a blistering attack on Bush, accusing him of committing a dangerous "overreaching" of executive power that is "totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law."

Bruce Fein, a constitutional scholar who served in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration, charged Bush with "seeking institutionally to cripple [the constitutional system of] checks and balances and the authority of Congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power."

Appearing on the public television program "Bill Moyers Journal," Fein said that Bush "has claimed the authority to tell Congress they don't have any right to know what he's doing with relation to spying on American citizens, [and] using that information in any way that he wants in contradiction to the [1978] Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."

Fein also accused the president of violating the constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus. "He's claimed authority to say he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia without any political or legal accountability," he said.

Fein wrote the articles of impeachment against President Clinton in 1999 for perjury -- a criminal offense -- in his testimony to a grand jury about an improper sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. "[But] Bush's crimes are . . . more worrisome" than Clinton's.

"These [Bush actions] are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law," Fein told Moyers.

Fein: Bush's Wartime Actions Worse Than FDR's Abuses During World War II

Fein, who has long been affiliated with conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and who writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and Politico.com, compared Bush's wartime actions unfavorably with those of his predecessors, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"Abe Lincoln, who confronted a far more dire emergency in the Civil War than today, sought congressional approval of his emergency measures," Fein said. "He didn't seek to hide them from the people and from Congress, or to prevent there to be accountability. And, of course, Congress did ratify what he [Lincoln] had done."

Fein pointed to Roosevelt's infamous World War II-era executive order that Japanese Americans be detained following Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. "We locked up 120,000 Japanese Americans. We said they were all disloyal. Well, we made 120,000 mistakes," he said. "They lost their property. They lost their liberty for years and years because we made a huge mistake. And that can be true after 9/11 as well."

Asked by program host Bill Moyers if Bush's actions, which he agreed were "terrifying," were justified by the fact that "this is a terrifying time" in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Fein acknowledged that "sure, [these] times can be terrifying. But that also should alert us to the fact that we can make mistakes. The executive can make mistakes."

Fein made it clear that the threat of new terrorist attacks by al-Qaida on American soil is real and that "no one can downgrade the fact that we have abominations out there [who] want to kill us. But we should not inflate the danger and . . . cast aside what we are as a people. We can fight and defeat these individuals, these criminals, based upon our system of law and justice. It's always worked in the past. . .It has enabled us to defeat all of our enemies consistent with the law."

Poll Finds Support Growing for Impeaching Both Bush AND Cheney

A newly-released opinion poll found that more than four in ten Americans -- 45 percent -- want Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against Bush.

The survey, conducted by the American Research Group, found even stronger public support for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney, with more than half of poll respondents -- 54 percent -- calling for Cheney's ouster.

Public discontent with the war in Iraq isn't the only cause of the mounting clamor for Bush and Cheney's impeachment. Iraq is but the tip of an iceberg of actions by the executive branch that has angered the public, including:

* the White House's highly controversial program of warrantless eavesdropping of Americans' telephone conversations -- despite a unanimous 1972 Supreme Court ruling that warrants are always required under the Fourth Amendment,

* the detaining for months -- even years -- without charge of so-called "enemy combatants" at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,

* Bush's commutation of the 2 1/2-year prison sentence handed down on Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak scandal,

* the refusal of the Oval Office to turn over documents requested by Congressional committees -- and the refusal of the vice president's office to surrender e-mails subpoenaed by Congress,

* the president's order to former White House counsel Harriet Miers not to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in the U.S. attorney firings controversy -- in defiance of a committee subpoena -- on the grounds of "executive privilege,"

* Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' threat to prosecute news organizations for publishing or broadcasting "classified material" supplied them by whistleblowers concerned with illegal and unconstitutional actions by the government -- which, had he carried it out, would have provoked a major First Amendment freedom-of-the-press battle in court.

Fein Blames Cheney for White House's 'Devilish Ideas' . . .

When Moyers noted that the mounting public clamor for the impeachment of both Bush and Cheney -- with greater sentiment for ousting the vice president than for ousting the president -- was unprecedented in the nation's history, Fein stunned his host by saying that Cheney is the "de facto president most of the time" and blamed the vice president for the White House's "dangerous overreaching."

Most of the American people "recognize that these decisions -- especially when it comes to overreaching with executive power -- are the product of Dick Cheney and his aide, David Addington," Fein said, "not George Bush and Alberto Gonzalez or Harriet Miers, who don't have the cerebral capacity to think of these devilish ideas."

And for that reason, the American people "equate the administration more with Dick Cheney than with George Bush," Fein told Moyers.

"It means [the executive branch] asserting powers and claiming that there are no other branches that have the authority to question it. . . no other branch can tell him [the president] what to do," he said.

"That means he can intercept your e-mails, your phone calls, open your regular mail; he can break and enter your home. He can even kidnap you, claiming 'I am seeking foreign intelligence' and there's no other branch [who can stop him]. Congress can't say it's illegal--judges can't say this is illegal. 'I can do anything I want.' That is overreaching," Fein told Moyers.

"When he [the president] says that all of the world, all of the United States is a military battlefield because Osama bin Laden says he wants to kill us there, and [Bush] can then use the military to go into your homes and kill anyone there who [he] thinks is al-Qaida or drop a rocket, that is overreaching," Fein continued.

"That is a claim even King George III didn't make at the time of the American Revolution."

. . .And Blasts Congress For Not Holding White House Accountable

Moyers reminded Fein that Congress "did not stand up to George Bush for five years when it was controlled by Republicans. And I don't see any strong evidence that the Democrats [now in control] are playing the role that you think the Congress should be playing."

Fein agreed. "But it doesn't exculpate the president that Congress has not sought immediately to [curb] his excesses. . .This could not happen if we had a Congress that was aggressive, if we had a Congress the likes of Watergate when Nixon was president and he tried to obstruct justice and defeat the course of law. We have a Congress that basically is an invertebrate -- no backbone."

Fein noted that in the past, "there [were] always a few statesmen who have said, "You know, the political fallout doesn't concern me as much as the Constitution of the United States." We have to keep [the Constitution] undefiled throughout posterity, 'cause if it's not us, it will corrode."

During the Watergate scandal, Fein pointed out, "we had [congressional] Republicans [including the late Senator] Barry Goldwater [of Arizona] -- Mr. Republican -- who approached [President Richard Nixon] and told him, 'You've got to resign.' There have always been that cream who said 'the country is more important than my party.' We don't have that anymore."

A Warning That Bush Is Setting Dangerous Precedents for Future Presidents

Fein warned that Bush and Cheney were setting dangerous precedents that future administrations could follow. "We're talking about assertions of power that affect the individual liberties of every American citizen," he said. "Opening your mail, your e-mails, your phone calls. Breaking and entering your homes. Creating a pall of fear and intimidation if you say anything against the president you may find retaliation very quickly."

Bush, said Fein, is setting precedents "that will lie around like loaded weapons anytime there's another 9/11" for a future president to invoke. "Right now, the victims are people whose names most Americans can't pronounce. And that's why they're not so concerned."

But how will the American people react when the victims of presidential abuses "bear the names of Brown and Jones and Smith?" Fein asked. "That precedent is being set right now."

He expressed frustration that none of the candidates running for the White House in next year's election "[are] standing up and saying, 'If I'm president, I won't imitate George Bush.'

"That shows me that this is a far deeper problem than Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney," Fein concluded.

Fein Backs Bill to Restore Habeas Corpus

Yet in his latest Washington Times column, published last Tuesday, Fein threw his support behind a bill now pending in the Senate to restore the writ of habeas corpus in the treatment of detainees being held at Guantanamo.

The measure, "a rule-of-law amendment" to the broader defense budget bill, "would make Americans safer and enhance international collaboration against terrorism," Fein wrote.

Sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) -- the chairman and ranking minority-party member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- and supported by scores of former top military lawyers, the amendment would overturn the suspension of habeas corpus by the Military Commissions Act that Congress passed last year under strong pressure from Bush.

"The president is not infallible, especially in times of conflict when judgments are distorted," Fein wrote. "Terrorists routinely blend into civilian populations, making their identifications problematic. The definition of an 'enemy combatant' is also [unconstitutionally] vague and far beyond active participation in hostilities against the United States."

Fein challenged opponents of the bill who argue that "international terrorists do not offer detainees corresponding protections" and that the Guantanamo detainees "enjoy more legal privileges than enemy combatants" in previous conflicts and called for the defeat of any filibuster against the measure.

"The savagery of al-Qaida should not be the standard of the United States," Fein wrote. "During World War II, America would have been justly reviled if it had administered cyanide gas to German POWs to retaliate for the Third Reich's Holocaust."

Even former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned on the day after the 9/11 attacks that "the terrorists will have triumphed if they force us to abandon our values and the way we live," Fein wrote. "The Great Writ should be restored because of what it will say about the United States as a civilized nation."


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Volume II, Number 37
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.







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