Posts

Monday: American Mouth

In this roundup: Volkswagen vacillations, disappointments a la Colombia, UK, Hungary (and don’t forget Poland!), anthropocene extinction, and maybe a straggling bit at the end to get this Monday on the road. Read more

Terror Drugs Justice'>America’s War against Terror Drugs Justice

This line appears somewhere in the middle of a substantial story on the impunity the US gave right wing Colombian paramilitaries for cooperation in drug prosecutions:

On Sept. 10, 2001, a day before his attention turned elsewhere, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC, a foreign terrorist organization, just like the FARC.

It’s a reminder that doesn’t get much attention elsewhere in the massive article that the US brought a bunch of (right wing) terrorists to the United States and effectively gave them shelter from justice in their own country.

One reason the terrorists were spirited away to the US — and thereby hidden from the Peace and Justice process in Colombia — is because they had ties to former President Álvaro Uribe, as well as the CIA. In the one war where the US declared both sides terrorists, it managed to find a way to avoid treating “our” terrorists like we do all others.

Compared to either the sentences your average low level drug dealer gets or your average young Muslim kid set up by the FBI, the sentences these key players in the drug and terror industry are remarkably light: 7.5 years on average for the paramilitaries and 10 for the drug lords, according to the NYT’s calculation.

As such, I think this is one of the most important articles for you to read today, on Never Forget day. It reveals a dramatically different model for a war on drugs and terror than the Foreverwar we’re marking today, one in which America’s favored terrorists get impunity and the victims of terrorism get shafted.

Meanwhile, Uribe’s successor has brought about a peace deal (one Uribe attacks) that, if it works, might finally bring peace to Colombia.

I don’t think the US protection for Uribe’s thugs had an effect on peace. Indeed, our ambassador claims in the story that agreeing not to extradite Colombian drug criminals to the US is our contribution to the peace process.

President Santos has said he hopes that one dividend of the peace accord will be a reduction in the drug trafficking that financed the internal armed conflict. Coca cultivation has been soaring in Colombia, with a significant increase over the last couple of years in acreage dedicated to drug crops.

Extradition as a panacea has fallen out of favor. Colombia extraditions to the United States were half as frequent in 2015 — 109 — as the year the paramilitary leaders were sent away. And the new accord, if approved by voters, would guarantee the guerrilla leaders protection against extradition for their drug smuggling — with the blessing of the Americans.

“If you want to see that as the U.S.’s contribution to the peace process, you’re welcome to do so,” Kevin Whitaker, the American ambassador to Colombia, told Radio Caracol.

What is certain, however, is that by sheltering these thugs, the US has short-circuited justice in Colombia.

The article focuses on the case of Julio Henríquez Santamaría, who was assassinated because he was trying to help farmers move away from farming coca. His family has successfully fought to testify at his sentencing, for the first time demanding that the US consider the impact on victims outside the US in crimes the US has bigfooted jurisdiction on as if the US is the primary or even only victim of them.

Skinny but imposing with aviator glasses, a bushy mustache and a toothy smile, Julio Henríquez Santamaría was leading a community meeting in this sylvan hamlet when he was abducted by paramilitary thugs, thrown into the back of a Toyota pickup and disappeared forever on Feb. 4, 2001.

Ahead of his time, Mr. Henríquez had been organizing farmers to substitute legal crops like cacao for coca, which the current Colombian government, on the verge of ending a civil war fueled by the narcotics trade, is promoting as an antidrug strategy.

But Hernán Giraldo Serna, or his men, didn’t like it, or him.

From his early days as a small-time marijuana farmer, Mr. Giraldo had grown into El Patrón, a narcotics kingpin and paramilitary commander whose anti-insurgent mission had devolved into a murderous criminal enterprise controlling much of Colombia’s mountain-draped northern coast.

Mr. Henríquez was hardly his only victim; Mr. Giraldo, whose secondary alias was the Drill because of his rapacious appetite for underage girls, had all kinds. But Mr. Henríquez became the emblematic one, with a family tenacious enough to pursue Mr. Giraldo even after he, along with 13 other paramilitary leaders, was whisked out of Colombia and into the United States on May 13, 2008, to face drug charges.

[snip]

Victims’ advocates howled that it was like exporting “14 Pinochets.” Mr. Henríquez’s family, meanwhile, quietly vowed to hold at least one of them accountable for the Colombian blood that stained the cocaine shipped to American shores.

“We hope that the effort we have made over all these years means that things won’t end with impunity,” said his daughter Bela Henríquez Chacín, 32, who was 16 when her father was murdered and hopes to speak at Mr. Giraldo’s sentencing in Washington next month. The Henríquezes will be the first foreign victims ever given a voice in an international drug smuggling case in the United States, experts believe.

Elsewhere the story talks about two women who were brought as 14 year olds to Giraldo in prison, after he had allegedly foresworn his crimes, in the guise of “conjugal visits.” Their testimony may expose Giraldo to a life sentence in Colombia.

This year, two young women cautiously approached the authorities in Santa Marta. They had decided to reveal that they had been victims of Mr. Giraldo’s sexual violence even after he surrendered and pledged to stop committing crimes.

When they were under 14, they said, they were taken to Mr. Giraldo for conjugal visits, both in a special detention zone for paramilitary members and later in a jail.

[snip]

If proved, the allegations would be grounds to deny Mr. Giraldo the eight-year alternative sentence he would get under Justice and Peace. He would face spending the rest of his life in a Colombian prison — if the United States sent him back.

Much of the rest of the article suggests Giraldo will avoid that fate here in an American prison, even while holding onto FARC members, like Simon Trinidad, who played a part on the peace process and had been thought might get released.

It’s an infuriating article: one that really underscores how fickle America’s opposition to drugs and terror really is.

Spreading Free “Trade” To Colombia But Not Freedom of the Press

So the guys who were supposed to be scouting threats to the President got in trouble because they tried to shortchange a sex worker of her fair payment. I guess the lesson these men took from our trade deal with Colombia is that it’s okay to pay people there cut-rate wages.

That’s troubling enough, but I’m actually more interested in some details this scandal has revealed about our attitude towards the press. For example, apparently Colombia asked the Secret Service to prevent a left wing journalist from covering the summit. (h/t scribe)

The only specific security concern mentioned was that agents and officers were told to bar a left-wing journalist from events at the summit and were given a flier with the journalist’s photograph to keep him out, the law enforcement source said.

Then there’s the news that the US government instructed Cartagena’s cops not to talk about the events of that night.

The police have since been directed by U.S. authorities not to comment on that night or the scandal surrounding the Secret Service, according to a senior police official in Cartagena.

The story suggests–but does not affirm–that the instructions to hotel staffers to lie about whether they were present during the scandal was done at the behest of the US.

Like the police, the staff at the hotel have been instructed by their management not to comment on the men’s behavior. Workers at the hotel tell ABC News they have been told to say they were “off,” “on vacation,” or “working a different shift” when asked about what went on at the hotel.

Now I presume the government pretends that all these efforts to impede the press are about security. Can’t let a FARC-friendly journalist cover the President because she might learn details of the President’s schedule. Can’t let the true details about our security personnel’s debauchery out because it might make them target for blackmail.

But taken with other recent events, it increasingly seems that the folks running the American Empire consider full press coverage to be one of the biggest threats to its existence.

This Raid on Peace Activists Brought to You By Elena Kagan

This article not only describes the hundreds of people who protested FBI raids of peace activists last week, but it provides more detail on what the FBI was looking for.

Agents were seeking “evidence relating to activities concerning the material support of terrorism,” the FBI said. Chicago FBI spokesman Ross Rice declined on Monday to discuss what agents were looking for, citing an “ongoing criminal investigation.” There have been no arrests.

Search warrants and subpoenas indicate authorities are looking for connections between the activists and groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Hezbollah. The U.S. government considers those groups to be terrorist organizations.

[snip]

Sundin said Monday she met FARC rebels when she visited Colombia in 2000, but noted that the Colombian government was holding peace talks at the time with the rebels, who held public forums where she met them. She said she has had no contacts with FARC since.

Kelly and Sundin acknowledged they’re active in the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a group named in several warrants that openly supports FARC and PFLP and shares their Marxist ideologies. Two groups use the name after a 1999 split. They said their Freedom Road is a small group, but that they weren’t sure how many supporters it has. Kelly edits its newspaper.

These descriptions suggest that the FBI is raiding a bunch of peace activists it tracked during the RNC Convention to establish attenuated ties between them and at least three groups on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

What’s particularly interesting is the description of the work these activists were doing in Palestine and Colombia.

“We meet with human rights activists in other countries to get understanding of situations they face,” said Yorek.

Sundin said committee members use the trips to gather information that the group then uses in presentations to the public back in the United States.

“All trips always been very public,” Sundin said.

Aby said that in Palestine, committee members met with the Palestinian Women’s Commission and another group that advocates for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In Colombia, she said members met with representatives of Colombian unions.

“In Colombia, you’re considered to be a FARC supporter if you’re a member of a union,” Aby said. Critics of current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos or former president Alvaro Uribe were also considered supporters of the FARC by Colombian authorities.

That is, after meeting with groups that the authorities in the country have an incentive to claim are terrorist groups, they come back to the US and publicize the conditions in the country.

Law Professor Peter Erlinder has said repeatedly precisely what I’ve been thinking about these raids since they happened: SCOTUS’ decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project probably made such activities (which appear to have all happened before the decision in the case) illegal.

Congress has prohibited the provision of “material support or resources” to certain foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity. 18 U. S. C. §2339B(a)(1). That prohibition is based on a finding that the specified organizations “are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct.” Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), §301(a)(7), 110 Stat. 1247, note following 18 U. S. C. §2339B (Findings and Purpose). The plaintiffs in this litigation seek to provide support to two such organizations. Plaintiffs claim that they seek to facilitate only the lawful, nonviolent purposes of those groups, and that applying the material-support law to prevent them from doing so violates the Constitution. In particular, they claim that the statute is too vague, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and that it infringes their rights to freedom of speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment. We conclude that the material-support statute is constitutional as applied to the particular activities plaintiffs have told us they wish to pursue. We do not, however, address the resolution of more difficult cases that may arise under the statute inthe future.

Obviously, the six justices (the conservatives plus Stevens) who made peace activism material support for terrorism deserve the bulk of the blame for this decision. But this was also the argument where then Solicitor General Elena Kagan advocated for the broadest interpretation of the statute.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Do you stick with the argument made below that it’s unlawful to file an amicus brief?

GENERAL KAGAN: Justice Kennedy —

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think I’m right in saying it that that was the argument below.

GENERAL KAGAN: Yes, I think that would be a service. In other words, not an amicus brief just to make sure that we understand each other. The Petitioners can file amicus briefs in a case that might involve the PKK or the LTTE for themselves, but to the extent that a lawyer drafts an amicus brief for the PKK or for the LTTE, that that’s the amicus party, then that indeed would be prohibited.

And lo and behold, just three months after this decision, the FBI is investigating a bunch of peace activists for their efforts to foster peace in areas contested by these terrorist organizations.

Now, I have no idea what Kagan thinks about this raid (though she used Hezbollah as her example in the argument, not the Tamil Tiger groups actually named in the suit, and Hezbollah is one of the organizations named in the warrants). But even during the argument, she sustained a fiction that the Court’s interpretation of material support to include peace efforts would be an unlikely use of prosecutorial discretion.

GENERAL KAGAN: First, because with respect to overbreadth, all of those uncertain or even unconstitutional applications will be but a thimbleful, compared to the ocean full of completely legitimate applications of this statute.

[snip]

GENERAL KAGAN: Of course, that’s a different thing as to how prosecutorial judgment is used to decide which are the high-priority cases and which are the low-priority cases.

Or maybe she just badly misinterpreted what FBI’s priorities really were.

Apparently, Reporting on Right Wing Death Squads Is Now Material Support for Terrorism

We’ve discussed the recent SCOTUS decision that ruled the government can charge people engaging in First Amendment activities with material support for terrorism. Even groups trying to teach terrorist organizations to engage peacefully might be judged to be materially supporting terrorists.

And while I don’t think that’s precisely what is going on here, the logical next step after treating counseling on conflict negotiations as material support for terrorism is to treat reporting on conflict negotiations as material support for terrorism.

Hollman Morris Rincón, an independent journalist in Colombia, won a Nieman Fellowship this spring to study conflict negotiation strategies, international criminal court procedures, and the Rome Statute. I’ll just quote the AP:

BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. government has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting to attend a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University.

Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called “Contravia,” has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.

The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has offered the mid-career fellowships since 1938, said Thursday that a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him Morris was ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the “Terrorist activities” section of the USA Patriot Act.

Of course, given that the Attorney General has, himself, helped a bunch of white Republicans get away with their material support for Colombia’s death squads, you might think our country simply thinks some terrorists are more equal than others. But keep in mind: both Colombia’s left wing and right wing terrorists are on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Viktor Bout Arrested

Curious. The Thais just arrested the noted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.

For years, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has made millions of dollars allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to warlords and militants. Officials believe many of his activities may be illegal, and on Thursday, Thai police announced his arrest.

Bout, 41, has made his deliveries to Africa, Asia and the Mideast, using obsolete or surplus Soviet-era cargo planes.

[snip]

According to U.S. officials, Bout — a former Soviet air force officer who speaks multiple languages — has what is reputed to be the largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft in the world.

Bout acquired the planes shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Department of Treasury said in 2005.

At that time, the U.S. Treasury announced it was freezing the assets of Bout and his associates who are all tied to former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor is currently on trial at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

Intelligence officials said he shipped large quantities of small arms to civil wars across Africa and Asia, often taking diamonds in payment from West African fighters.

I say, "curious," because I doubt this could have happened without US approval–as the promise of an "announcement" in NY later today suggests.

A formal announcement on his arrest is expected later in the day in New York.

And it appears that actual warrant came from our DEA–in connection with Columbia’s FARC.

Bout, the target of an international arrest warrant and U.S. sanctions, was picked up at a Bangkok hotel after he entered Thailand on February 29. Police were searching for an associate.

Bout was attempting "to procure weapons for Colombia’s FARC rebels", the Thai police said in an arrest report.

Which suggests it ties in some way to the cross-border raid the Colombians staged in Ecuador, for which the US is alleged to have provided intelligence. Read more