Editor: The following post by Frances Zimmerman looks at recent manifestations of attacks – both local and national – on our rights as citizens by the government.
by Frances O’Neill Zimmerman
This week City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has brought charges against a former Occupy protester named Jeff Olson who wrote criticism in colored chalk on the public sidewalks outside three mid-City branches of Bank of America. The trial was under way since Wednesday and conviction carries the possibility of years in prison under a California anti-vandalism law.
Superior Court Judge Howard Shore has prohibited Olsen’s defense attorney from mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, freedom of expression or political speech in his arguments. (According to a Reader story by Dorian Hargrove from June 26, past incidents of chalked Nazi graffiti around McKinley Elementary School were brought to the attention of the City but were never prosecuted for reasons of protected free speech under the First Amendment.)
We’ve learned the FBI recently took possession of phone lists of news service Associated Press reporters without ever notifying the AP, without customary negotiations, without a court order showing why the information was needed.
We know from fugitive/leaker/whistleblower Eric Snowden that the National Security Agency has been caching the phone numbers and phone-calling patterns of American citizens without informing them. NSA also has been requisitioning Americans’ email traffic information from all major internet providers and they have complied without a peep. Allegedly, nobody’s been listening in or looking at “content “– just the patterns of contact. But then the government stashes the “metadata.” Oh, and a secret court of FISA judges okays these invasions of privacy.
That old standby,The American Civil Liberties Union, is suing the United States Government.
President Obama says he welcomes a “conversation” about these heretofore classified top-secret practices that date from Bush-era September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on “the homeland.” He reassures us, “No one is listening to your phone calls.”
California’s Dem. Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Subcommittee, says such covert information-gathering practices are necessary to “keep America safe.” GOP Senator Lindsay Graham of Georgia calls Eric Snowden “a traitor.” Secretary of State John Kerry elegantly defends these policies and wants Snowden extradited by Hong Kong, by China, by Russia, by anybody — just bring Snowden back to the U.S. to stand trial.
Should that day come, I wonder if the trial judge will prohibit Snowden’s defense from mentioning the First Amendment. Or maybe defendant Snowden will be held for months in prison under grotesque and humiliating conditions similar to those endured by WikiLeaks informant Army Private Bradley Manning. Manning’s trial started on June 3, 2013, fully three years after he was arrested for leaking classified government information, having been turned in by a hacker-confidante to American authorities. So much for habeus corpus and the right to a speedy trial.
Meanwhile, a powerful documentary film called “We Steal Secrets” about Julian Assange, the mastermind of WikiLeaks, has ended a one-week run at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. We learn that Assange is smart, strange, utterly self-involved and that he’s taken refuge from extradition to Sweden or the USA in the London embassy of Ecuador.
We see young, sexually uncertain and suffering Private Bradley Manning who WikiLeaked videos to Assange about American helicopter airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan that killed Reuters journalists, unarmed civilians and children. We meet Manning’s confidante-turned-snitch, undead-seeming Adrian Lamo. We see stalwart journalists from the Guardian of London who have since been involved with publishing Eric Snowden’s information and we see Bill Keller of the NYT who readily published WikiLeaks’ material but then publicly disparaged Assange himself.
Then there’s the fleeting run of another worrying documentary, “Dirty Wars,” at Landmark Hillcrest (ends after Thursday June 27.) This one’s about worldwide secret military actions undertaken by our own Joint Special Operations Command which answers to no one but President Obama. (Seal Team Six that dispatched Osama bin Laden was one of such JSOC groups which are headed by U-T Austin journalism major and Navy Admiral William H. McRaven.) This movie opened to tiny audiences last week (there were four people in the theater when I went) and it’s based on recent investigative reporting by journalist Jeremy Scahill from his book, “Dirty Wars: the World is a Battlefield.” Scahill famously unmasked the reach of mercenary military contractor Blackwater after Bush/Cheney invaded Iraq for fictitious “weapons of mass destruction.”
“Dirty Wars” peels back another dark veil. Scahill reveals America’s maniacally-reproducing post-9/11 “security” operations that have zero Congressional oversight, that are setting dangerous precedents to be followed with impunity by future Presidents and that he believes are creating enemies for America across the Muslim world. JSOC was recently responsible for the first-ever targeted-killings of two American citizens living abroad — imam Anwar-Al-Awlaki who clearly was working with Al Qaeda in Yemen and, several weeks later, his 15-year old son. JSOC has been on the move in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia: when expedient, JSOC pays warlords to do the killing. In the film one warlord refuses to answer Scahill’s questions about an operation, but he reassures Scahill, saying, “Americans are masters of war.”