Category Archives: free speech

Will Potter Describes Being the First Journalist to Visit Federal Communication Management Unit

Will Potter Describes Being the First Journalist to Visit Federal Communication Management Unit

In a new TED Talk released today, investigative journalist and TED Senior Fellow Will Potter describes his experience as the first and only journalist to visit secretive prisons on U.S. soil that are referred to by prisoners and guards as “Little Guantanamo.”


Communications Management Units, or CMUs, are experimental prison units in the United States for so-called “second-tier terrorists.” There’s an estimated 60-70 prisoners in CMUs and they are overwhelmingly Muslim, along with several animal rights and environmental activists.

“According to the Bureau of Prisons, CMUs are for prisoners with quote ‘inspirational significance.’ I think that’s a polite way of saying they are political prisons, for political prisoners,” Potter says in the talk. “Prisoners are sent to the CMU because of their race, religion, or political beliefs.”

There are currently two CMUs, located within larger federal prisons in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois. Neither underwent the formal review process required by law when they were opened.

CMUs are not solitary confinement, but they radically restrict prisoner communications with the outside world to levels that meet or exceed the most extreme prisons in the country.Will Potter was allowed to visit environmental activist Daniel McGowan, who was being held at the CMU in Marion. Approval of this visit came as a shock since no other journalist has been allowed inside the CMUs and because documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the Counter Terrorism Unit has monitored Potter’s speeches, articles, and his book Green Is The New Red. Attorneys and prisoners have said that inmates are transferred to the CMUs without notice and without opportunity to challenge their new designation, in what they say is a clear violation of due process rights.

“Three months after our visit, McGowan was transferred out of the CMU. Then without warning, he was sent back,” Potter says in the TED talk. “I had published leaked CMU documents on my website, and the Counter-Terrorism Unit said McGowan had called his wife and asked her to mail them. …For that, he was sent back to the CMU.”

Potter says CMUs are part of a dangerous post-9/11 trend that he has been documenting, in which the rhetoric of terrorism is used to justify rollbacks in fundamental rights.

“This story is not just about prisoners, it is about us,” he says. “It is about our own commitment to human rights.”

About Will Potter

Will Potter is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, and TED Senior Fellow based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. He specializes in civil liberties post-9/11 and how protest has been labeled as terrorism; Glenn Greenwald described Potter as “the most knowledgeable journalist in the country on these issues.” He is currently a Knight Fellow in Law Reporting at the University of Michigan.

Sister of Kent State University Student Slain by National Guard will be Deposed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee

Sister of Kent State University Student Slain by National Guard will be Deposed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee

[GENEVA, SWITZERLAND]  The 1970 shooting of unarmed students at Kent State University will for the first time be brought before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva on March 10-14, 2014. Laurel Krause, whose sister Allison was among those killed at Kent State, will address the UNHRC at its 4th Periodic Review on Human Rights in America. She will be representing the Kent State Truth Tribunal (KSTT) that she founded to pursue truth and accountability for the Kent State shootings.

The Kent State Truth Tribunal (KSTT) is seeking US government accountability for the killing of four unarmed students and the injury of nine others by US military personnel on May 4, 1970 at a Kent State University anti-Vietnam war rally. The Kent State killings gained national attention in 1970 leading to mass protests and student strikes across the United States. Witnesses and historians have asserted a pronounced role by the FBI before and during the shootings, and command responsibility that pointed to Ohio governor James Rhodes’ collusion. In response to the surge of activism following Kent State, on May 5, 1970 President Nixon said: “This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy. It is my hope that this tragic and unfortunate incident will strengthen the determination of all the nation’s campuses, administrators, faculty and students alike to stand firmly for the right which exists in this country of peaceful dissent and just as strong against the resort to violence as a means of such expression.”

The KSTT will present its claims of a violation to the UN’s International Covenant on Civll and Political Rights (ICCPR) treaty by the US government related to Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Protest in America. The KSTT will ask the UNHRC to press the US to initiate a new and independent investigation into what occurred at Kent State, with a particular focus on forensic evidence that emerged in 2010. KSTT founder Laurel Krause said: “For 44 years the United States government has refused to admit that four young students, including my sister Allison, were killed at Kent State. There has never been a credible, independent, and impartial investigation into Kent State. Recent forensic evidence has revealed a Kent State order to shoot, suggesting command responsibility for the killings. We are asking the US government to independently examine this new evidence and provide accountability for this tragic and unsolved chapter in US history”.

kent state

The United Nations Human Rights Committee is a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties. Every five years UN-participating countries must participate with the UN Human Rights Committee in plenary session. This year during the week of March 10-14, 2014 and culminating on March 13 and 14, the United States will participate in its mandatory human rights review for activities over the last five years where non-governmental organizations may have their US human rights issues addressed.

Laurel Krause will be available for limited comment in Geneva from Monday 3/9 to Friday 14/14 via # 0763 639 033 or # 01141 763 639 033. Upon returning from Geneva Laurel will be in New York City for media interviews on March 16th, 17th and 18th. To arrange an interview with Laurel Krauss please contact Andy Stepanian via email at andy@sparrowmedia.net or by phone at 631.291.3010

 

The Criminalization of Journalism: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir Pens Open Letter in Defense of Jailed Journalist, Barrett Brown

The Criminalization of Journalism: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir Pens Open Letter in Defense of Jailed Journalist, Barrett Brown

[DALLAS, TX]  The curious case of Barrett Brown —a freelance journalist and satirist, turned political prisoner— has captivated thousands in the lead-up to what many are calling a “show trial” slated to take place in Dallas, TX, later this year.  In an open letter published this morning (and attached below),  Icelandic MP, Birgitta Jonsdottir claims the charges against Brown are part of a larger “unjust war on whistleblowers, journalists, and information activists.”  Brown, who has been incarcerated since September 12, 2012, is facing three separate indictments carrying a sum of 17 federal charges, each related to his work with Project PM (a crowdsourced journalism initiative aimed at shedding light on private contractors in the intelligence industry.)  Brown’s charges, should he be sentenced to them consecutively, have him facing 105 years in Federal prison.

At the core of these charges is an argument that Brown’s alleged conduct of linking to, and editorialized upon, documents leaked by others to an unrelated 3rd party is tantamount to the leaking itself and henceforth constitutes a criminal violation of fraud and abuse. This controversial contention has triggered a groundswell of support from press freedom foundations and activists that see Brown’s case as a canary in the coal mine of permissible internet speech.  From occupying recent monologs in the popular Netfilx political series, House of Cards, to charming readers of his popular column in D Magazine, it feels like everyone is talking about Barrett Brown (and rightfully so).  Whether or not this attention will translate into a successful challenge to the charges against him remains to be seen, but what is undisputed is that in the weeks, months, and possibly years ahead, Barrett Brown needs our solidarity.  You can learn more about how to support Brown HERE as well as donate to his defense fund HERE.

Birgitta Jonsdottir is a member of the Icelandic Parliament and an outspoken advocate for at-risk whistleblowers and journalists.  The following is MP Jonsdottir’s open letter regarding the prosecution and protracted abuse of Barrett Brown since his incarceration.  We encourage others to copy, excerpt and share this content freely and widely…

The Criminalization of Journalism

by Birgitta Jonsdottir

If Barrett Brown is found guilty we will all be forced to rethink how we use the Internet and share information, knowledge, blog, report, tweet, use facebook and google.

His case has been like a long drawn out fiction since he was arrested in Dallas at gunpoint by a heavily armed raid on his apartment on the 12 of September 2012. He has been kept in prison ever since, charged with 17 counts that include threatening a federal agent, concealing evidence and disseminating stolen information. He faces a maximum sentence of 100 years in custody and has been placed under gag order by specific request of the government.

When I first heard of the bizarre case of Barrett Brown, a journalist for among others Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and Huffington Post, I was shocked to notice that his ordeal was not headline news. His central work at the time was around investigations and research that was focused on the cyber-industrial complex. Barrett was investigating the private intelligence industry with Project PM using leaked e-mails from HBGary and Stratfor. That earned him the attention of the Justice Department. Project PM is a crowd-sourced research project, and a very valuable resource for data on the privatized segment of the invisible Empire.

Barrett was a prominent activist for transparency, he worked as an embedded reporter with Anonymous. At the time of his arrest Barrett Brown was onto something that the governmental Watchmen wanted to be keep below the surface no matter what.

Barrett is obviously being punished for looking into the surveillance state and being vocal about it. The judicial overreach is to the extent that, as stated, he was even imposed a gag order by a federal court in Dallas, and not only him but also his legal team. This gag order prevents them from talking to the media about his unprecedented prosecution for alleged offenses relating to his work exposing online surveillance. Imposed at the request of the US government, the court order, prohibits the defendant and his defense team, as well as prosecutors, from making any statement to all media outlet members.

Indictments for linking set a very dangerous precedent not just for journalists who want to link to hacks/leaks in their reporting, but the Internet as we know it and modern media development where citizen research plays an important role in sifting through raw data. The right to link is at stake, a function that is the backbone of Internet culture of sharing knowledge and information. But there is more, much more.

Reporter’s privilege to protect their sources is at stake, and if it has ever been important to be vigilant in that regard, then that time is now. With new revelations about mass surveillance capacities of the NSA and its sister clandestine institute in the UK by the courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden the world has been forced to face that ongoing violation of our privacy as the norm. It also means that journalists can´t protect their sources, doctors can´t ensure patients confidentiality nor can lawyers guarantee confidentiality towards their clients.

Barrett was digging deep into uncomfortable information about how the US Government has outsourced most of it’s spying to private companies. Big Corporate Brother is watching our every thought, our every emotion and our every action. Every breath we take is being analyzed and scrutinized by algorithms of increased sophistication and there is an intent of an all encompassing surveillance in the name of false security. Knowing this, that probing into my private life is happening does not make me feel any security at all, it is quite the contrary.

Reporter’s privilege and free speech is something most of us hold sacred. The very laptops that Barrett is charged with obstruction for concealing contained journalistic sources and work product, including a book-in-progress. The First Amendment is understood as protecting reporters from revealing confidential information or sources, but there are clear signs that the constitutional values in the USA are being eroded by DoJ investigations into national security leaks. The FBI raid which led to these charges was based on false information, and actually there was no crime to investigate. It was nothing more than an attempt to stifle Barrett’s reporting on the private/public partnership concerning surveillance and inhibit his research.

Despite Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the government is still waging an unjust war on whistleblowers, journalists, and information activists. People are being prosecuted (and also highly over-prosecuted) for political acts or merely because the government doesn’t agree with them. Just why is Barrett being charged when numerous other people, including established reporters, shared the same link?

Evidence is mounting towards the bleak reality that Barrett is being persecuted because of his work exposing the activities of private security and intelligence companies that do the government’s dirty work and spy on the public. If citizens are not allowed to research the growing surveillance state, what will happen in the future to privacy, transparency and not to mention our civil liberties? We cannot allow his case to be ignored, it demands a reflection of brutal honesty on where our democratic rights are heading, the very foundation of democracy is at stake when the most important and valued constitutional rights are being violated in a systematic wave of governmental abuse, not only in the US but around the world. The secret service is out of control and it is revealed more and more each week that this surveillance state is working toward questionable ends.  Nobody wants to live in the United World of Stasi, and this undeniable fact is exactly why we have to show the political prisoners of the information evolution profoundly more support. ‡

birgitta jonsdottir
Birgitta Jonsdottir is the chairman of the International Modern Media Institution, a former WikiLeaks volunteer (2009-2010) an activist and currently a member of the Icelandic parliament for the Pirate Party whom she helped co-create. Her Icelandic Modern Media Initiative parliamentary proposal was unanimously accepted in the parliament in 2010, its aim and vision to make Iceland to be a save haven for freedom of information and expression. She is currently working on a similar proposal in relation to online privacy, inspired by the information provided by Snowden. Birgitta was a victim of the US governmental invasion into her privacy in early 2011 when DoJ demanded to have access to her twitter metadata. She lost the court battle despite having access to the best lawyers in this field in the USA from the EFF and ACLU. On February 3, 2014 Birgitta used her role as MP to nominate Chelsea Elizabeth Manning and Edward Snowden as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. Birgitta has limited a media availability, interview requests can be made via Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net

First Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments in Lawsuit Challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

First Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments in Lawsuit Challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

[BOSTON, MA]  Yesterday members of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and their supporters packed a Boston, MA courtroom, as Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol demanded the First Circuit Court of Appeals strike down the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as a violation of the First Amendment.

The AETA is a federal criminal statute ushered through Congress in 2006 by powerful lobbyists for the fur, pharmaceutical, and meat industries. It criminalizes a broad swath of free speech activities and has cast a chill over the animal rights community. CCR filed the first civil challenge to AETA, Blum v. Holder, in support of five animal rights activists who have censored themselves and limited their lawful advocacy out of fear that their work could subject them to prosecution as terrorists.

Want to fight the silencing of a movement? Do it directly by listening to and amplifying the voices of these activists. Please watch, share, and tweet (using #AETAspeakout) this new, two-minute video by CCR, featuring the plaintiffs in Blum v. Holder. Also check out Rachel Meeropol’s accompanying blog on the Huffington Post.

The plaintiffs are animal rights activists from across the country who are chilled from continuing their lawful and important advocacy work based on the broad reach of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act…

sarahjane blum
Sarahjane Blum

lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she runs a small business with her husband. In 2003, Sarahjane co-founded GourmetCruelty.com, a grassroots coalition dedicated to exposing the abuse of ducks and geese raised for foie gras. The following year, the group released a short film, Delicacy of Despair, Behind the Closed Doors of the Foie Gras Industry, documenting their investigation of deplorable conditions on foie gras farms, and featuring the “open rescue” of a number of ducks. Sarahjane would like to continue her anti-foie gras work in Minnesota, which has become a significant foie gras producer, without breaking the law. But she is limited in her ability to do so, as the AETA criminalizes campaigns like hers that could cause a foie gras farm to lose profit, or hire extra security.

ryan shapiro
Ryan Shapiro

lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is completing a PhD at MIT. Ryan’s research focuses on disputes over animals and national security. In particular, his work explores the use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to American security from the late nineteenth century to the present. A longtime grassroots animal rights activist, Ryan co-founded GourmetCruelty.com with Sarahjane, and has focused much of his activism on factory farming issues. Ryan’s work, along with that of Sarahjane and the rest of the coalition, was instrumental in the 2004 passage of a California State law banning all foie gras production within the State. Ryan holds a degree in film and used these skills to direct Delicacy of Despair. Ryan wishes to further utilize his expertise to document and expose animal exploitation and abuse on factory farms. He is chilled from engaging in this important work, however, because documenting and distributing evidence of animal exploitation and abuse risks prosecution as a terrorist under the AETA. Read Ryan’s recent piece, Is Freeing a Duck Terrorism? on Truthout.

Lana Lehr
Lana Lehr

lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a licensed psychotherapist, and has been seeing patients in private practice for over 20 years. After adopting a rescued rabbit, Lana became interested in rabbit care and advocacy issues, eventually co-founding RabbitWise, a public charity devoted to preventing the irresponsible acquisition and care of companion rabbits, improving retention rates of rabbits already living in homes, educating people who live with or treat rabbits to give them the best possible care, and advocating for the broader welfare of rabbits in general. Lana used to supplement her rabbit advocacy by organizing and attending lawful, peaceful anti-fur protests in DC, but she is now afraid to attend such protests out of fear that even a lawful protest, which causes a fur store to lose money, would violate the AETA and risk prosecution as a terrorist.

lauren gazzola
Lauren Gazzola

lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works in the communications department of a non-profit legal organization. Lauren served almost three and a half years in federal prison after being convicted, along with five others, under a prior version of the AETA – The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. Lauren’s arrest and prosecution arose from her leadership role in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a grassroots campaign devoted to exposing and ending horrific animal abuse at Huntingdon Life Sciences, a corporation made infamous after undercover investigators disclosed footage of researchers dissecting a conscious monkey, repeatedly punching beagle puppies in the face, and other abuse. Lauren and the other SHAC defendants were not prosecuted for personally damaging Huntingdon property but, rather, for running a website that reported on and endorsed legal and illegal protests that caused the company to lose money. Now that she is out of prison, Lauren would like to engage in lawful animal rights work, but she cannot tell what is protected by the First Amendment and what is not, due to the broad reach and vague language of the AETA.

jay johnson
J Johnson

also lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is an undergraduate at The New School. J moved to New York recently, from his native Chicago, where he spent close to a decade organizing protests and educating the public as a leader in the Chicago-area SHAC campaign. He left Chicago due in large part to the erosion there of long standing animal rights networks and his resulting inability to effectively organize demonstrations. Upon arriving in New York, he hoped to connect with others involved in sustainable and strategic animal rights campaigns, but has had trouble finding advocates to work with, due to a chill throughout the animal rights community as whole, based on the targeting of that community as would-be terrorists under the AETA.

The AETA criminalizes a broad swath of protected First Amendment activities and is so vague as to fail to give people notice of whether or not their conduct falls under the statute’s prohibitions.

In 2011, CCR filed the first civil challenge to the law. The case was dismissed on standing by the District Court in 2012, and CCR has since filed an appeal to the First Circuit. To learn more about the CCR’s legal challenge to the AETA please visit » http://ccrjustice.org/AETA