Archive for the ‘Secret Law’ Category

How do FBI agents decide who to put on the “no-fly” list?

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim still doesn’t know why she was placed on the “no-fly” list, even after the trial of her lawsuit against the US government and US District Judge William Alsup’s finding that Dr. Ibrahim was denied the due process of law which was her right.

At trial, the government admitted that back in 2004, FBI agent Kevin Kelly — fresh off a stint on the FBI’s mosque-watching detail — mistakenly left blank a negative check-off box on an internal form and thereby “nominated” Dr. Ibrahim for the no-fly list. By admitting that this was a “mistake”, the government successfully evaded having the court reach or review either (a) the criteria (if any) for “no-fly” decisions or (b) the factual basis (if any) for any of the government’s other decisions or actions with respect to Dr. Ibrahim.

Judicial review of the factual basis and legal criteria for a “no-fly” order remains for future no-fly cases, with that of Gulet Mohamed likely to be the next to go to trial.

Contrary to some reports, Judge Alsup didn’t order the government to take Dr. Ibrahim’s name off the no-fly list or tell her why it put her on multiple other “watchlists” including the “selectee” list to which Agent Kelly intended to nominate her.  Despite previous claims that government agencies and agents only put people on the “no-fly” list if they are able to articulate some reasonable basis for a suspicion of terrorism, we now know that there is a secret exception to this (non-binding) watchlisting criterion, pursuant to which Dr. Ibrahim and other non-suspects are also watchlisted.

Nor does Judge Alsup’s decision mean that Dr. Ibrahim is now free to travel. The US still won’t give her a visa to return to the US, on the basis of secret allegations that she “has engaged in terrorist activity” (contrary to the government’s admission and Judge Alsup’s finding to the contrary) and on the basis of a “guilt by family association” law and some other  secret allegations that apparently relate to her husband.

Judge Alsup ordered the government to tell Dr. Ibrahim her status on the “no-fly” list, which it did. As of April 15, 2014, Dr. Ibrahim wasn’t on the “no-fly” list. And the government was ordered to correct the consequences of the one specific mistake it had admitted, FBI Agent Kelly’s failure to check the “not nominated for the no-fly list” box on the form.

But Judge Alsup’s decision leaves the government free to leave Dr. Ibrahim on any other “watchlists” (including those which function as de facto secondary no-fly lists), and/or put Dr. Ibrahim back on the “no-fly” list itself, at any time, for any reason or no reason, as long as those actions aren’t a direct result of Agent Kelly’s mistaken failure to check the right box on the nomination form nine years ago.

Visa denials aren’t normally subject to review by US courts. Neither Dr. Ibrahim’s placement on watchlists other than the no-fly list, nor the de facto banishment from the US of her US-citizen daughter, were raised in the complaint in this case, or addressed in Judge Alsup’s decision.  Nor could they have been, since they only occurred or became known later.

Judge Alsup’s finding that the “no-fly” system lacks due process is a step forward, but far from a happy ending or one that redresses the grievances of Dr. Ibrahim or her family.

What we did learn from this case is that the real decision to prevent Dr. Ibrahim from traveling was made by a single FBI agent. No matter how obvious Agent Kelly’s “mistake” was, nobody reviewed or corrected it.

So in practice, “no-fly” decisions are made by individual FBI field agents. How do FBI agents use their power to decide who is and who isn’t given government permission to fly?

Since 9/11, one of the FBI’s highest priorities has been to recruit Islamic-American informers. Not surprisingly, FBI agents have repeatedly used or threatened to use their “no-fly” nomination authority to coerce American Muslims into becoming FBI informers.

In 2010, FBI agents tried to persuade US citizen Yonas Fikre to become an FBI informer. After Mr. Fikre refused to “cooperate” with the FBI agents, they put him on the “no-fly” list while he was visiting relatives overseas, consigning him to detention and torture in the UAE when his visa expired. In 2012, after being allowed to leave the UAE (but not to return home to the US, since he was still on the US “no-fly” list)  Mr. Fikre applied for political asylum in Sweden.  Shortly thereafter, in further retaliation (and/or to make sure he never tries to come home to the US, even if his asylum request is eventually denied), the US indicted Mr. Fikre for failing to report routine money transfers from the US to family members in the UAE and Sudan. Mr. Fikre is also pursuing a civil lawsuit in the US against those US government officials complicit in his no-fly listing, arrest, and torture.

Was this an isolated case? No. Last year, Muhammad Tanvir filed a lawsuit against the FBI and other government agencies and agents for putting him on the “no-fly” list in retaliation for declining to become an FBI informer. Mr. Tanvir is a Muslim, a permanent US resident (green-card holder), and a shopkeeper in New York City.  On April 22nd, 2014, an amended compliant was filed in the case (Tanvir et al. v. Holder et al.). Three other Muslims from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, one a US citizen and two others lawful permanent residents,  have joined Mr. Tanvir in making similar claims.

These abuses are an inevitable result of having decisions about whether we are allowed to exercise our rights be made in secret at the discretion of law enforcement officers or administrative officials. Decisions on whether to restrict the exercise of rights, including the right to travel, should be made by judges, not cops, through existing legal procedures for the issuance of injunctions or temporary restraining orders.

Lawyers for Dr. Ibrahim say government acted in bad faith in “no-fly” case

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Did government lawyers lie to the judge and the plaintiff in the first “no-fly” case to go to trial?

As first noted yesterday by the Courthouse News Service, lawyers for Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim have renewed their allegation that the government acted in “bad faith” before, during, and after the trial.

Since the government chose not to appeal the decision by District Judge William Alsup, the only remaining issues are:

  1. Whether the government defendants should be required to pay Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs.
  2. Whether the government has complied with Judge Alsup’s judgement and order, which requires the government to (a) inform Dr. Ibrahim of her status on the no-fly list and (b) expunge, correct, and prevent andy future adverse consequences for Dr. Ibrahim form the FBI agent’s mistake in checking the wrong box on a form to put her on the “no-fly” list despite the fact that she posed and poses no threat.

This week, as we noted earlier,  Judge Alsup ruled that, because many of the government’s legal arguments and tactics were “unreasonable”, the government must pay some but not all of Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs.  But Judge Alsup also found that the government has not acted in “bad faith”, and therefore that Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers were entitled only to government-standard rates that are a fraction of their usual rates.

The next day, the government submitted a set of declarations purporting to show that the defendants have complied with Judge Alsup’s orders.

The day after that, Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Alsup’s decision with respect to legal fees and costs, on the basis of the government’s new declarations as new evidence of government “bad faith” justifying assessment of legal fees at full market rates.

The new declarations show that Dr. Ibrahim was on many watchlists, blacklists, and databases that the government previously failed to disclose, even in response to Judge Alsup’s previous orders granting motions to compel responses to an interrogatory to “identify any other lists or government databases into which plaintiff’s name has been placed.”

The new declarations show that, despite a letter sent to Dr. Ibrahim that “Where it has been determined that a correction to records is warranted, these records have been modified,” this had not in fact been done.

And the new declarations reveal that the government denied Dr. Ibrahim’s latest visa application, purportedly on the basis of a threat of terrorism, despite having admitted in court that it does not in fact believe that she poses any such threat, and despite Judge Alsup having found it uncontested that she poses no such threat.

There’s also more in the motion for reconsideration about the injustice and bad faith implicit in the newly-revealed but still classified and “state secret” (”state secret” like the fact that the FBI agent had checked the wrong box on the form was a “state secret”) exception to the non-binding “standards” for no-fly decisions that the government claims allows it to put people on the no-fly list and deny their right to travel even if it admits there is no reasonable basis to suspect them of anything illegal.

Decision in first “no-fly” trial finally unsealed

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The complete unredacted decision in favor of Dr.. Rahinah Ibrahim issued by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in January, following the first trial in any case challenging a US government “no-fly” order, was finally made public today by order of the court.  (Unredacted version as unsealed; version with previously redacted portions highlighted.)   The deadline for any appeal has passed, and this order is now final.

Despite the government’s claims that the redactions were of vital “state secrets”, the formerly-redacted portions of the decision, and the declarations filed yesterday by the government, shed relatively little new light on what happened to Dr. Ibrahim and her family. They do, however, contain a previously-redacted chronicle of her having been placed on and off various “watchlists” (de facto blacklists) while her lawsuit was pending, and of a previously unmentioned exception to the nonbinding “standards” for watchlisting:

45. To repeat, government counsel have conceded at trial and this order finds that Dr. Ibrahim is not a threat to the national security of the United States. She does not pose (and has not posed) a threat of committing an act of international or domestic terrorism with respect to an aircraft, a threat to airline passenger or civil aviation security, or a threat of domestic terrorism.

46. In March 2005, Dr. Ibrahim filed a Passenger Identity Verification Form (PIVF) (TX 76).  [This was a predecessor to the DHS-TRIP form.]

47. In December 2005, Dr. Ibrahim was removed from the selectee list. Around this time, however, she was added to TACTICS (used by Australia) and TUSCAN (used by Canada). No reason was provided for this at trial.

48. On January 27, 2006, this action was filed.

49. In a form dated February 10, 2006, an unidentified government agent requested that Dr. Ibrahim be “Remove[d] From ALL Watchlisting Supported Systems (For terrorist subjects: due to closure of case AND no nexus to terrorism)” (TX 10). For the question “Is the individual qualified for placement on the no fly list,” the “No” box was checked. For the question, “If no, is the individual qualified for placement on the selectee list,” the “No” box was checked.

50. In 2006, the government determined that Dr. Ibrahim did not meet the reasonable suspicion standard. On September 18, 2006, Dr. Ibrahim was removed from the TSDB. The trial record, however, does not show whether she was removed from all of the customer watchlists subscribing to the TSDB.

51. In a letter dated March 1, 2006, the TSA responded to Dr. Ibrahim’s PIVF submission… The response did not indicate Dr. Ibrahim’s status with respect to the TSDB and no-fly and selectee lists.

52. One year later, on March 2, 2007, Dr. Ibrahim was placed back in the TSDB. The trial record does not show why or which customer watchlists were to be notified.

53. Two months later, however, on May 30, 2007, Dr. Ibrahim was again removed from the TSDB. The trial record does not show the extent to which Dr. Ibrahim’s name was then removed from the customer watchlists, nor the reason for the removal.

54. Dr. Ibrahim did not apply for a new visa from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, however, she applied for a visa to attend proceedings in this action. On September 29, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim was interviewed at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for her visa application.

55. On October 20, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim was nominated to the TSDB pursuant to a secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. The nature of the exception and the reasons for the nomination are claimed to be state secrets. In Dr. Ibrahim’s circumstance, the effect of the nomination was that Dr. Ibrahim’s information was exported solely to the Department of State’s CLASS database and the United States Customs and Border Patrol’s TECS database.

56. From October 2009 to present, Dr. Ibrahim has been included in the TSDB, CLASS, and TECS. She has been off the no-fly and selectee lists….

60. On December 14, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim’s visa application was denied….

64. The TSC has determined that Dr. Ibrahim does not currently meet the reasonable suspicion standard for inclusion in the TSDB. She, however, remains in the TSDB pursuant to a classified and secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. Again, both the reasonable suspicion standard and the secret exception are self-imposed processes and procedures within the Executive Branch.

65. In September 2013, Dr. Ibrahim submitted a visa application so that she could attend the trial on this matter…. Trial in this action began on December 2 and ended on December 6. As of December 6, Dr. Ibrahim had not received a response to her visa application. At trial, however, government counsel stated verbally that the visa had been denied. Plaintiff’s counsel said that they had not been so aware and that Dr. Ibrahim had not been so notified….

70. Since 2005, Dr. Ibrahim has never been permitted to enter the United States.

The other most significant remaining questions concern Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, but was prevented from flying to the US to observe and testify at her mother’s trial. (Previous reporting about Ms. Mustafa Kamal here, here, and here.)

According to a section of Judge Alsup’s decision (pp. 24-25) about Ms. Mustafa Kamal that was previously redacted in its entirety:

On December 1 [2013], the National Targeting Center (“NTC”) within the Department of Homeland Security began vetting passengers for the Philippine Airlines flight. NTC officers determined that Ms. Kamal was matched to a record that was listed in the TSDB in a category which notifies the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security that other government agencies may be in possession of substantive “derogatory” information about the individual that may be relevant to an admissibility determination under the Immigration and Nationality Act. United States citizens, of course, are not subject to the admissibility provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act….

On December 2, Ms. Kamal’s records were updated in the TSDB to reflect that she was a United States citizen. The request for additional screening was rescinded and it was requested that Ms. Kamal be allowed to board without delay.

Since Ms, Mustafa Kamal was not a party to her mother’s case (although the government had been notified that she was a potential witness), the issues related to her were not pursued or resolved in that case.

So we still don’t know what “derogatory” information would be relevant to the “admissibility” to the US of a US citizen, or why DHS is keeping records of such information or “watchlisting” such individuals.

Also today, Judge Alsup ruled that the government must pay some, but not all, of Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs. The exact amount remains to be determined by a special master.  Judge Alsup found that the government had been “unreasonable” in many of its actions and arguments, but had not been shown to have acted in bad faith.

As we’ve previously reported, other no-fly cases are moving forward, with that of Gulet Mohamed (currently in the early stages of discovery in Disctrict Court on remand following denial by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals of the government’s motions to dismiss) likely next in line for trial.

FBI tells Dr. Ibrahim she’s not on the “no-fly” list

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Yesterday, in response to a court order, the FBI — the nominal “owner” of the US government’s “no-fly” list — sent the letter above to Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, informing her that she isn’t on that list.

This is the first time the US government has ever officially disclosed to an individual whether they are on the “no-fly” list, although of course — as the judge noted during the trial in Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit challenging her placement on the “no-fly” list — anyone can tell that they are on the list if they are prevented from flying despite having a valid ticket and all other required documents and complying with all of the rules the airline’s tariff.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper personally signed declarations under penalty of perjury that to disclose exactly this information, to Dr. Ibrahim specifically, would harm national security, and that this information was therefore a “state secret”.

Needless to say, the sky didn’t fall yesterday when the FBI told Dr. Ibrahim the “state secret” that she is not on the “no-fly” list.

The letter from the FBI to Dr. Ibrahim was included in a set of declarations from officials of Orwellian US government organizations like the “Directorate of Terrorist Identities” which were filed with the court by the government yesterday to show that it had complied with the order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

These declarations give interesting insights into the structure of the various interlocking databases, but say nothing about the criteria for “no-fly” and other blacklisting and watchlisting decision.

Despite Dr. Ibrahim not being on the “no-fly” list, and despite testimony at the trial that she poses no threat, she has repeatedly been denied a visa to return to the US on the grounds that she “has engaged in terrorist activity” and is the spouse or child (presumably this allegation relates to her husband) of a person who is similarly inadmissible to the US, pursuant to 8 U.S. Code §1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(I) and §1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(IX). Her latest visa application was refused on these grounds just this Monday, April 14, 2014, at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The declarations filed by the government say nothing about what happened to Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, but was prevented from flying to the US to observe and testify at her mother’s trial. (Previous reporting about Ms. Mustafa Kamal here, here, and here.)

In accordance with Judge Alsup’s orders, and the government’s decision not to appeal, the unredacted version of Judge Alsup’s findings (including several pages of sealed findings concerning what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal) was scheduled to be unsealed yesterday.  The decision is now officially “unsealed”, but is still being processed by the court clerk’s office. We’ll publish it as soon as we receive it.

TSA fines “Naked American Hero” $500

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

The TSA has assessed a $500 civil penalty against “Naked American Hero” John Brennan, who removed all his clothes at a TSA checkpoint at the Portland, Oregon, airport in 2012 to show that he wasn’t carrying any weapons or explosives and in protest of the TSA’s practices.

Mr. Brennan was arrested at PDX airport by Portland police on April 17, 2012, but he was found not guilty of criminal charges in June 2012 by a county judge on the grounds that, under local Portland ordinances and Oregon state law, nakedness for purposes of political protest is not a crime.

After Mr. Brennan’s acquittal, a TSA investigator proposed that he be penalized $1000 for “interfering” with TSA screening.  In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the TSA and the Coast Guard, the TSA has delegated its administrative authority to determine whether to assess such a penalty, and if so, the amount of the penalty, to an “Administrative Law Judge” (ALJ) from the U.S. Coast Guard.

(Why the Coast Guard? The TSA doesn’t have any ALJs on its own payroll, so it contracts out their functions with respect to TSA decisions to the Coast Guard as a parallel component of the DHS.)

Coast Guard ALJ George J. Jordan presided over a formal administrative hearing which we attended and reported on in Portland on May 14, 2013.

Almost a year after that hearing and almost two years after the underlying events at the airport, ALJ Jordan has finally issued an initial decision to assess a $500 penalty (reduced from the $1000 proposed by the TSA investigator) along with a set of findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Contrary to some headlines, no court has yet considered, much less upheld, the TSA’s decision, and no independent third party has yet reviewed, much less ruled on, the TSA’s complaint against Mr. Brennan.

Both the terminology and the TSA’s outsourcing of its own internal decision-making to Coast Guard employees make it easy to misunderstand what has happened.

Just as the checkpoint staff the TSA calls “Transportation Security Officers” are not law enforcement officers, so-called “Administrative Law Judges” are not judges or officers of any court. The “formal administrative hearing” was held in a courtroom (rented for the day by the TSA from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court), but it was not a trial and was not a proceeding of any actual court.

ALJ Jordan was acting not as an independent party, but as a DHS employee subcontracted by the TSA (only because the TSA doesn’t have its own ALJs, not because this was required) to make the TSA’s own initial, internal decision.  ALJ Jordan’s decision was issued on behalf of, and under the authority of, the TSA itself, as the TSA’s own initial decision on the complaint of its own investigator.

Almost two years after he was arrested, Mr. Brennan’s only day in any court has been when he was acquitted of all criminal charges in county court. ALJ Jordan’s initial decision on behalf of the TSA will be subjected to further internal review by the head of the TSA or his designee. Only after that review will the TSA’s final internal decision, as made by the head of the agency or his designee, be subject to review by any court or outside body.

ALJ Jordan explicitly recognized that he had no authority to consider whether Mr. Brennan’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment or whether the TSA’s regulations or actions were otherwise invalid. Only after the ALJ’s initial decision is reviewed internally within the TSA, and the TSA issues its final order, will Mr. Brennan be entitled to petition a Circuit Court of Appeals to review and make initial rulings on those issues.

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District Court dismisses complaint in Mocek v. Albuquerque

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Judge James O. Browning of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico has dismissed Phillip Mocek’s complaints against the city of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department, and the individual Albuquerque police officers who falsely arrested him (at the behest of the TSA) in 2009 at a TSA checkpoint at the Albuquerque Sunport, improperly seized and tried to delete his digital recordings that provided the best evidence of their misconduct, and filed false reports about what had happened.

Mr. Mocek had arrived at the airport with a valid ticket but without any government-issued ID credentials. He was trying to exercise his right to travel through a public facility and by common carrier, and to document the process of flying without showing government-issued ID credentials. (More about Mocek v. Albuquerque et al.)

Mr. Mocek has until April 29, 2014, to decide whether to appeal any or all of the District Court’s rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

We’ll have more to say about the District Court’s latest decision once Mr. Mocek decides whether to appeal.

More no-fly and “watchlist” cases on track (slowly) toward trial

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The decision last week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Arjmand v. DHS sets another challenge to a DHS “watchlist” on track toward a trial on the merits in Federal District Court, this time in Los Angeles.

Equally or more importantly, this decision reaffirms and extends the rejection by the Courts of Appeals, perhaps especially the 9th Circuit, of the government’s attempt to avoid a trial on the merits of “watchlisting” decisions or the Constitutionality of the system of extrajudicial administrative “watchlists” that includes the “no-fly” list.

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UN Human Rights Committee calls on US to effectuate the ICCPR

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Following two days of face-to-face public questioning (Day 1, Day 2) of a US government delegation earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has published its concluding observations on US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The UNHRC’s concluding observations include a strong endorsement of our call for Congress to enact legislation to “effectuate” the ICCPR by making the treaty enforceable by US courts, particularly where violations of the ICCPR do not constitute violations of any other US law.  As one of its key recommendations, the UNHRC says that:

The State party [i.e. the US] should … Taking into account its declaration that provisions of the Covenant are non-self-executing, ensure that effective remedies are available for violations of the Covenant, including those that do not, at the same time, constitute violations of U.S. domestic law, and undertake a review of such areas with a view to proposing to the Congress implementing legislation to fill any legislative gaps.

At the end of a press conference announcing the UNHRC’s concluding observations concerning the US, UNHRC Chairperson Nigel Rodley had this to say about committee’s review of US implementation  of the ICCPR the need for judicial enforcement and accountability for human rights violations:

Of course they [the US government's representatives] stressed the improvements they’ve made, so that people wouldn’t be doing the same things in the future. But absolutely not — there was no suggestion that any of those responsible for any of the past criminal violations of our Covenant [i.e. the ICCPR] would be brought to justice or that its victims would have access to their day in court.

The UNHRC’s concluding observations recommend that, “The responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior should also be established.”

We won’t hold our breath for Congress to act, but we hope that this recommendation from the only independent body officially empowered to review the state of human rights treaty compliance by the US will prompt members of Congress to consider sponsoring legislation to create a cause of action for violations of the ICCPR and give US courts jurisdiction to hear such complaints.

The UNHRC also criticized US mass surveillance, but mentioned only communication surveillance and metadata and not the closely related issue of NSA and DHS mass surveillance of travel metadata.

UN Human Rights Committee review of US implementation of the ICCPR: Day 2

Friday, March 14th, 2014

US government delegation listens to questions from the UN Human Rights Committee. (Click image for larger version.) At the head table, left to right: Scott Shuchart (Senior Adviser, Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Megan Mack (Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Bruce Swartz (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, DOJ), Roy Austin, Jr. (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, DOJ), Mary McLeod (head of the US delegation and Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State). US Army Brigadier General Richard Gross (Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense) in profile at left in front of Ms. Mack.

Questioning of a US government delegation by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concerning US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) continued today in Geneva.

Many of the same issues as were raised in yesterday’s first round of questions from members of the Human Rights Committee continued to be pursued in today’s follow-up questioning, along with other concerns including NSA surveillance and collection of communications metadata.

But as the day went on, there was an increasing focus on the “meta-issues” of applicability, enforceability, and remedies and redress for violations of the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR:

  • Does the US accept that everyone subject to US jurisdiction is entitled to human rights, as the Human Rights Committee and almost every other party to the ICCPR (except Israel) interprets the treaty to mean?  Or does the treaty only apply to US actions within its borders, allowing the US to violate human rights abroad with impunity?
  • In light of the US interpretation of the ICCPR as not being “self-executing”, and the failure of Congress to enact effectuating legislation to enable the treaty to be invoked in US courts, what “effective” means of judicial redress (as required by the ICCPR itself) are available to those whose human rights are violated, especially if those violations of the ICCPR don’t also constitute violations of domestic US law?

This latter point, raised today by at least four members of the UNHRC, was one that we had taken the lead in asking the UNHRC to address, through both an initial and a supplemental submission to the UNHRC in advance of this week’s session.

The head of the US government delegation, Mary McLeod of the State Department, responded to these questions today by telling the UNHRC that the US “sees no need” to allow the ICCPR to be invoked in US courts.

Her implicit message, and that of the other members of the US delegation in their responses to questions about specific issues, was that internal administrative measures provide an adequate substitute for judicial oversight or enforcement of human rights obligations.

But many of those claims about administrative “remedies” rang hollow:

  • DHS Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Megan Mack, who has been officially designated as responsible for implementation of the ICCPR by the DHS, said that her office “enforces” DHS administrative standards for use of deadly force by US Customs and Border Protection officers.  But she didn’t mention that her office is purely advisory, and has no authority to order any sanctions against CBP officers or any other DHS employees or contractors.
  • Ms. Mack told the UNHRC that her office “receives complaints” of violations of the ICCPR by DHS components, which is true. But she didn’t tell the UNHRC that  some of those  complaints, including some of ours, have been pending with her office for years without any response.  Nor did she mention that her office has claimed that violations of the ICCPR were “authorized” by US law, suggesting a profoundly mistaken belief that the US can derogate from its treaty obligations by enacting domestic statutes.
  • Roy Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, told the UNHRC how important it is to ensure that people who believe their human rights have been violated have a place to complain, and receive a response to their complaint.  But he didn’t disclose to the UNHRC that — as we learned in response to one of our FOIA requests — his Department has no record of ever having designated a point of contact for such complaints, or of ever having responded to any of them.
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz talked about Attorney General Holder’s policy that his “Department will not defend an invocation of the [state secrets] privilege to conceal … administrative error”, but didn’t mention that A.G. Holder personally signed a sworn declaration to the court in the first “no-fly” trial, explicitly quoting that policy while invoking the state secrets privilege to try to prevent the plaintiff, who the government admitted posed no danger, from learning or obtaining redress for her having been placed on the “no-fly” list as a result of what the government admits was a mistake by an FBI agent who checked the boxes on a form he was supposed to un-check and un-chekked the boxes he was supposed to check.

Throughout the day, there was much talk of “guidelines” and “policies”, but little talk of laws or of whether practices conform to aspirational administrative “guidance”.

The UNHRC is expected to issue its report on US implementation of the ICCPR , in the form of “concluding observations” from its review, on March 27th.

Public questioning of US government on human rights

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Today and tomorrow in Geneva (early Thursday and  Friday morning in the USA), a delegation from the US government will be questioned publicly by members of the UN Human Rights Committee about US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Here’s the schedule of the webcast public questioning:

  • Thursday, March 13, 15:00-18:30 Geneva time (7 am-10:30 am PDT, 10 am-1:30 pm EDT)
  • Friday, March 14, 10:00-13:00 Geneva time (2 am-5 am PDT, 5 am-8 am EDT)
  • tentative additional session Friday, March 14, 14:00-17:00 Geneva time (6 am-9 am PDT, 9 am-noon EDT)

This is neither the first nor the last step, but a critical step, in the review conducted by the Human Rights Committee every five years (as with each other country that is a party to the treaty) of US implementation of this international human rights treaty.

We’ll have more details after the sessions, but here are some quick links for those tuning in to the webcast: