News Desk March 1, 2011 11:58
BOSTON — Iran’s security forces fired teargas and clashed with opposition supporters in Tehran on Tuesday, where demonstrators were rallying to demand the release of two opposition leaders, according to reports from Iran.
“Security forces and people in civilian clothes clashed with demonstrators in Tehran to disperse them,” opposition website Kaleme reported.
The protest follow the news that Iran’s top opposition leaders Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi and their wives are being held by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, according to the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
The two opposition leaders had been under house arrest since Feb. 14, after they called for new rounds of protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people.
Tehran prosecutor Gholam Hussein Mohseni Ejehi confirmed Monday that the leaders’ contact with the outside world has been cut off, but he didn’t say where they were being held. Opposition websites report that they were all taken to Heshmatiyeh prison in Tehran. Friends and families of the leaders have not been able to communicate with them for two weeks.
A number of influential figures have spoken out against the house arrest. Ayatollah Dastghayb, from southern city of Shiraz, Ahmad Montazeri, son of the late grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, Ayatollah Sanei, and former president Mohammad Khatami have all denounced the action and called for the release of the opposition leaders.
Karoubi’s children have also been under pressure from the security forces. Security forces broke into the home of Hossein Karoubi, one of Mehdi Karoubi’s three children, in order to arrest him, but he was not there at the time, according to opposition news websites. Hossein Karoubi has been on the run since, having only called his family once to confirm that he is alive and safe.
While Mousavi and his wife were under house arrest, his daughters had tried to get in touch with their parents but were blocked by security forces, who had blocked the entrance to the street and erected an iron gate. The two daughters published an open letter on the opposition news site Rahe Sabz. Part of the letter reads:
“Masked men refused to let us pass. We are just children worried about their parents, we didn’t want to talk politics. But they did.
“For a year you challenged the regime, now it’s our turn to deal with you,” they had said. “We killed them [referring to opposition demonstrators killed during the election aftermath], and they deserved it, because they were not human.”
Commenting on the arrest of the opposition leaders, Mohammad Tahavori, a prominent Iranian journalist based in Boston, said: “The order to transfer the leaders to a secret location can only have come from the Supreme Leader himself. When it became clear that after one year the opposition was not dead and that it could get people to march in the streets by issuing a single statement, the Supreme Leader and his advisers realized this can lead to disastrous consequences, and so they decided it was time to deal with the leaders.”
Mehdi Karoubi and his wife Fatemeh Karoubi, were also subject to verbal and physical harassment over the past week, according to reports. Neighbors told opposition websites that an acoustic bomb was thrown inside their house. Later a mob gathered outside their house and shouted they were “waiting for orders from the Supreme Leader to behead them, and take their bodies around town for everyone to see.”
Ultra conservative figures have constantly called for the opposition leaders to be arrested and executed.
“Given the lynch mob-like calls for their execution by numerous Iranian politicians and clerics, there is reason to be deeply concerned for their safety and well being,” said Aaron Rhodes, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran in the statement published on the campaign’s website.
After the protests of Feb. 14, the Ahmadinejad government has put pressure on influential public figures who since 2009 had shown some degree of support for the opposition. A few were pressured to issue statements supporting the Ahmadinejad government and calling on the opposition to stop their campaign.
A video published on the internet on Saturday shows a group of plainclothes police surrounding the daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Guardian Council and former president, and verbally abusing her. She had spoken out against the results of the 2009 election and participated in some of the anti-government demonstrations.
Meanwhile Iran’s opposition has called for new rounds of protests, the first one to be held on Tuesday. Speakers for the opposition leaders have called for the protest to continue today and every Tuesday until the leaders are released and their demands are met.
“I have been talking to many people in Tehran,” said Iranian journalist Tahavori, “and they are very angry about the situation.”
Tahavori adds that events depend on whether “protesters will be able to gather in groups, something that they were unable to do the last time.”
The government, according to Tahavori, will not release the opposition leaders any time soon unless it is challenged by their supporters.
“Figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami, who still has power to negotiate with the Supreme Leader, could also step in and negotiate,” Tahavori said, “but it is not clear if he is willing to do it.”
The case at issue is Michigan v. Jackson, in which the Supreme Court said in 1986 that police may not initiate questioning of a defendant who has a lawyer or has asked for one, unless the attorney is present. The decision applies even to defendants who agree to talk to the authorities without their lawyers.
Anything police learn through such questioning cannot be used against the defendant at trial. The opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the only current justice who was on the court at the time.
The Justice Department, in a brief signed by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said the 1986 decision “serves no real purpose” and offers only “meager benefits.” The government said defendants who don’t wish to talk to police don’t have to and that officers must respect that decision. But it said there is no reason a defendant who wants to should not be able to respond to officers’ questions.
The Michigan Messenger, which scooped the hell out of the Associated Press on this story, has much more:
The current case, Montejo v Louisiana, seeks to overturn the 1986 Michigan v Jackson ruling that established the rule that if someone accused of a crime has an attorney or has requested the appointment of an attorney by the court, police may not question them without that attorney being present even if the accused agrees to waive the right to have their attorney present during that particular session of questioning. Under Jackson, any waiver of that right is presumed to be invalid because it was not made with the advice of counsel.
The Sixth Amendment protects the right of those accused of crimes to a speedy trial, to confront the witnesses against them and to be represented by counsel. The government’s brief argues that the Jackson rule is unnecessary because the purpose of the Sixth Amendment was merely to “protect the adversary process” in a criminal trial. Questioning a defendant without counsel present, the government asserts, does not undermine the adversary process because the defendant can choose on his own to talk to the police and answer their questions.
The Jackson ruling established the notion that once a defendant asserts their right to be represented by an attorney, they are requesting the attorney’s participation “at every critical stage of the prosecution.” Interestingly, the government’s brief recognizes that, just as in the Miranda case that requires the police to inform the accused of the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present during questioning, the purpose of such a rule is to “prevent police from badgering a defendant into waiving” their previously asserted rights.
And finally, from the actual brief (PDF link) the Soliciter General filed with the Supreme Court:
Although the Sixth Amendment affords criminal defendants a right to counsel at certain critical pre-trial stages, the Amendment should not prevent a criminal defendant from waiving that right and answering questions from police following assertion of that right at arraignment. Jackson serves no real purpose and fits poorly with this Court’s recent precedent; although the decision only occasionally prevents federal prosecutors from obtaining appropriate convictions, even that cost outweighs the decision’s meager benefits.
Any lawyers reading out there who’d care to give an analysis on what exactly this could mean?
– Stephen C. Webster
The government is using secretive prison facilities on U.S. soil, called Communication Management Units, to house inmates accused of being tied to “terrorism” groups. They overwhelmingly include Muslim inmates, along with at least two animal rights and environmental activists.
|Click image to see PDF.|
Little information is available about the secretive facilities and the prisoners housed there. However, through interviews with attorneys, family members, and a current prisoner, it is clear that these units have been created not for violent and dangerous “terrorists,” but for political cases that the government would like to keep out of the public spotlight and out of the press.
OPENED QUIETLY AND PERHAPS ILLEGALLY
In April of 2006, the Department of Justice proposed a new set of rules to restrict the communication of “terrorist” inmates. The proposal did not make it far, though: during the required public comment period, the ACLU and other civil rights groups raised Constitutional concerns. The program was too sweeping, they said, and it could wrap up non-terrorists and those not even convicted of a crime.
The Bureau of Prisons dropped the proposal. Or so it seemed. Just a few months later, a similar program (now called the Communication Management Unit, or CMU), was quietly opened by the Justice Department at Terre Haute, Ind.
Then, in May of 2008, a handful of inmates were moved, without warning, to what is believed to be the second CMU in the country, at Marion, Il.
Both CMUs are “self-contained” housing units, according to prison documents, for prisoners who “require increased monitoring of communication” in order to “protect the public.”
WHO IS HOUSED AT CMUs?
The CMUs are less restrictive than, say, ADX Florence, the notorious supermax prison for the most dangerous inmates. The supermax holds al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui and Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski.
CMU inmates stand in sharp contrast to the Moussaouis and Kaczynskis of the world, though.
• They include Rafil A. Dhafir, an Iraqi-born physician who created a charity called Help the Needy to provide food and medicine to the people of Iraq suffering under the U.S.-imposed economic sanctions. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for violating the sanctions.
• They include Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist sentenced to seven years in prison for a string of property crimes in the name of defending the environment. He was previously at FCI-Sandstone, a low-security facility, and was transferred without notice to the CMU, and told it was not for any disciplinary reason.
• And, until recently, they included Andrew Stepanian. Stepanian was convicted of conspiring to commit “animal enterprise terrorism” and shut down the notorious animal testing laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences, in a landmark First Amendment case pending appeal. The government’s case focused on a controversial website run by an activist group that published news of both legal and illegal actions against the laboratory. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and is currently on house arrest in New York City. Stepanian is believed to be the first prisoner ever released from a CMU.
VIOLATION OF DUE PROCESS RIGHTS
Attorneys and prisoners have said that inmates are transferred to the CMUs without notice and without opportunity to challenge their new designation, in what seems to be a clear violation of their due process rights.
“No one got a hearing to determine whether we should or should not be transferred here,” said Daniel McGowan in a letter from the CMU in Marion, Ill.
Similarly, Rafil A. Dhafir said in a letter to his family from the CMU in Terre Haute, Ind., that he was put in isolation for two days before the move. “No one seems to know about this top-secret operation until now,” he wrote. “It is still not fully understood… The staff here is struggling to make sense of the whole situation.”
“We are told this is an experiment,” Dhafir says. “So the whole concept is evolving on a daily basis.”
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
The CMU “experiment” limits prisoner contact with the outside world through a list of restrictive policies. According to prison documents giving a skeleton of CMU policies, called institution supplements, they include:
• Phone calls: Only one phone call per week, limited to 15 minutes, live-monitored by staff and law enforcement (according to attorneys, this includes the NSA) and scheduled one and half weeks in advance. It must be conducted in English. Other prisoners get about 300 minutes a month.
• Mail: All mail must be reviewed by staff prior to delivery to the inmate or processing at the post office. This means significant delays in communications (and, in my personal experience, letters frequently not being received by inmates).
• Visits: Four hours of personal visits per month, non-contact, behind glass, and live-monitored by staff and law enforcement. It must be conducted in English. By comparison, at FCI Sandstone (where McGowan was previously housed) prisoners can receive 56 potential visiting hours per month. I have learned from attorneys and prisoners that when a CMU inmate is transferred to the visiting room, the entire facility goes on lock-down.
For many inmates in federal prisons, phone calls, mail and visits are flecks of light in the darkness. Virtually eliminating all contact with family, friends and the outside world can have a devastating psychological impact on prisoners, and raises serious concerns about basic human rights.
WHY ARE THEY THERE?
It is difficult to discern the rationale behind why some inmates are transferred to the CMU and others are not. For instance, John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” is housed at the CMU in Terre Haute. He pleaded guilty to supporting the Taliban and carrying a rifle and grenades on the battlefield in Afghanistan. However, the government announced last month it is actually easing restrictions on his communication.
In the case of Andy Stepanian, he was one of six codefendants, and by the admission of prosecutors he was one of the minor players in the case. He is not accused of any violent crime or any property destruction, and had no disciplinary problems while incarcerated. Stepanian received the second-lowest sentence of the group, and his codefendants are not in CMUs.
Daniel McGowan’s notice of transfer to the CMU gives some indication of the government’s reasoning. It says that he has been identified “as a member and leader in the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), groups considered domestic terrorist organizations.”
But in a letter from the CMU, McGowan wrote: “It’s funny–I have like 13 codefs [codefendants] + there are 11 other eco prisoners and I end up here.”
Part of the explanation for his transfer to the CMU, it seems, is that he is a vocal, prominent activist with a large group of active supporters. For McGowan, his near celebrity status within the environmental movement, along with his continued activism, has become a liability. When I attended his sentencing hearing in Eugene, Ore., in 2006, the judge made a point of criticizing his media appearances and his website, SupportDaniel.org.
Attorneys, prisoners and their supporters speculate there may be legal calculations involved as well. The CMUs have been overwhelmingly comprised of people of color since their inception, and lawsuits have been filed alleging discrimination and racial profiling.
“Throwing a few white kids into the mix makes it appear less like an American Guantanamo,” said one attorney who did not want to be identified. “And it also sends the message to the prisoners and to the movements that supporter them. It’s meant to have a chilling effect.”
CONTINUING A TREND
The creation of secret facilities to primarily house Muslim inmates accused of non-violent charges, along with a couple animal rights and environmental activists, marks both a continuation and a radical expansion of the “War on Terrorism.”
First, it is a continuation of the “terrorism” crackdown that Arab and Muslim communities have intensely experienced since September 11th. Guantanamo Bay may be closing. But as Jeanne Theoharis beautifully wrote recently: “Guantánamo is not simply an aberration; its closure will not return America to the rule of law or to its former standing among nations. Guantánamo is a particular way of seeing the Constitution, of constructing the landscape as a murky terrain of lurking enemies where the courts become part of the bulwark against such dangers, where rights have limits and where international standards must be weighed against national security.”
Second, it is an expansion of the lesser-known “terrorism” crackdown against animal rights and environmental activists by corporations and the politicians who represent them. This coordination campaign to label activists as “terrorists” and push a political agenda—the “Green Scare”—has involved terrorism enhancement penalties, FBI agents infiltrating vegan potlucks, and new terrorism legislation like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and it all has proceeded unobstructed and unseen. There has been a near-complete media blackout on the Green Scare, and transferring vocal, public Green Scare prisoners to CMUs sends a clear message that the government hopes to keep it that way.
When the CMU at Terre Haute was created, Dan Eggen at The Washington Post described it as a facility for “second-tier terrorism inmates.”
What Eggen was clearly getting at is that the CMU overwhelmingly held Arab Muslim inmates rounded up and smeared by the government as “terrorists,” even though they had not done anything violent or “terrorist.”
But the CMUs are not “second-tier terrorism” prisons. They are political prisons. All of the defendants—Muslim, environmentalist, animal rights activist—are housed there because of their ethnicity, their religion, their ideology, or all of the above.
The mere existence of the CMUs should be yet another warning call to all Americans concerned about the future of this country. If we allow the government to continue widening the net of who is a “terrorist,” and expanding the scope of what punishments are applicable (and what rights are inapplicable) when that word comes into play, it places us all at risk. The reckless expansion of the War on Terrorism didn’t stop with Arabs and Muslims, and it won’t stop with environmentalists or animal rights activists.
The power to create and maintain secretive prison facilities for political prisoners is antithetical to a healthy democracy. If there is one thing that we should learn from history, from governments that have gone down this path, it is this: If there is a secretive prison for “second-tier” terrorists, it will only be followed by a secretive prison “third-tier terrorists,” and “fourth-tier terrorists,” until one by one, brick by brick, the legal wall separating “terrorist” from “dissident” or “undesirable” has crumbled.
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