Jackboot State Stubs Its Toe in Ann Arbor
December 4, 2007
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
A jury in Ann Arbor, Michigan took four and a half hours on the evening of December 3 to acquit Catherine Wilkerson of two criminal misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident in November 2006. Wilkerson’s alleged “crimes” consisted of intervening to assist an unconscious man who in her estimate was in grave risk of asphyxiation after an Ann Arbor cop had inflicted unnecessary and sadistic force, and a paramedic had compounded the brutality by breaking three ampoules of ammonia under the unconscious man’s nose, saying, “You don’t like that, do you.”
The entire case is a parable of current trends: the criminalization of free speech; prosecutions intended to chill lawful protest; out-of-control police conduct; a spaniel press; and most sinister of all, a witch-hunting posture towards anything a cop or a prosecutor can construe as “radical terrorism”. This posture is embodied in its most sinister guise by the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 404-6 earlier this year and now under review by a committee of the U.S. Senate.
Catherine Wilkerson runs a medical clinic for poor people in Ann Arbor. She was not arrested in the November 30, 2006 episode, which I described here last week as the case went to trial. The charges came later, clearly at the instigation of the University of Michigan and intended as a warning that exercise of First Amendment rights of free speech and protest would be dealt with harshly. Although Wilkerson was acquitted we should note that she spent unpleasant months awaiting her days in court, aware that a guilty verdict could have grave professional consequences. In a just world the president of the University of Michigan, Mary Sue Coleman, who signed off on this malicious witch hunt by her campus cops, working in cahoots with the Ann Arbor PD, would now spend as many months as Wilkerson wondering whether she had a professional future.
Both the campus cops and the Ann Arbor PD conducted themselves in a manner that should have resulted, should still result, in officers being disciplined or dismissed. Seven weeks after the November 2006 incident the campus police compiled a report stuffed with lies, designed to persuade the credulous that at least six armed police enforcers, somehow stood at risk from Wilkerson, as one of their number–a hulking brute–sadistically inflicted PPCT tactics on his physically slight and unresisting captive. “PPCT” stands for Pressure Point Control Tactics, the application of pressure to selected points on the victim’s head and neck. As complacently described on one site, “The application of these pressure points is to control passive or defensive resistance and are highly effective no matter what the size or strength level of the officer.” “Passive resistance” in this case meant no resistance at all, a state duly rewarded by the punitive application of ammonia to the victim by a medical tech complicit in this exercise of “law enforcement”.
It should be noted that a vigilant press could have torn this report to shreds and possibly averted the prosecution that followed. The Ann Arbor News’s reporting, as well as that of the Michigan Daily, was disgraceful from start to finish, to a level that objective assessment can justifiably stigmatize as complicity with the police and barely concealed hostility to Wilkerson, very possibly because her political activities have included solidarity with the Palestinian cause. This depressing example of shoddy journalism was balanced by very useful internet reporting before and during the trial done by the Committee to Defend Catherine Wilkerson.
The jackboot state in its local guise here took the form of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Brian Mackie, and assistant prosecutor Margaret Connors who, incredibly, tried to add additional charges before and during the trial. Remember that this entire legal arsenal was brought to bear on a woman who at no point did anything other than offer verbal medical advice aimed at protecting the life of an unconscious man in danger of asphyxiation. During the trial Connors made frequent efforts to demonstrate to the jury that defense witness bore the taint of having been involved in radical activities–otherwise known as lawful exercise of rights of free speech and assembly, including efforts to defend Wilkerson’s rights. To quote from the Committee to Defend’s daily web report,
“Heroes: Bill Wilkerson, [Catherine’s husband] who taught me about Ho Chi Minh, another hero and about the immorality of the US war against Vietnam.” The prosecutor made specific reference to Ho Chi Minh and his status as a hero. The intent of this line of questioning seemed to be to stress Dr. Wilkerson’s politics in an effort discredit her and her fellow protesters as dishonest radicals who contrived the whole incident last year as “political theater.”
The defense seems to have been fortunate in having a reasonable judge, Elizabeth Pollard-Hines, and–above all–a jury which had no difficulty in throwing out the absurd charges and discounting Connors’ accusations and inferences. Wilkerson’s lead attorney Buck Davis opened his final speech to the jury about telling them they should thank Wilkerson for giving them opportunity to defend the US constitution and that the University of Michigan and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie were trying to criminalize speech and protest. So they were. In this instance they failed, albeit against a darkening national backdrop.
On October 23, 2007, the House of Representatives passed the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 by a vote of 404-6. The nays were: Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Jerry Costello (D-IL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), John Duncan (R-TN).
Where was Barbara Lee? She voted for it. Ron Paul? His staff says he was campaigning in New Hampshire. Where were the other few protectors of the Constitution?
There are many lessons in the Wilkerson case and her victory — of which the central one is solidarity: Wilkerson’s fidelity to her medical principles; her supporters’ efforts in her defense; overall, solidarity in support of the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights against its many assailants.
Justices grill Gitmo detainees’ lawyer
December 5, 2007
By MARK SHERMAN
The Bush administration argued in the Supreme Court on Wednesday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have sufficient opportunities to challenge their confinement, the third round of high court review of the detentions.
The measures set out in U.S. law for the 305 men to contest their detention is a “remarkable, remarkable liberalization” of the protections historically afforded foreigners held by the United States somewhere other than on U.S. soil, said Solicitor General Paul Clement.
But attorney Seth Waxman, representing the detainees, portrayed the case as a fundamental test of the U.S. system of justice. Many of the prisoners “have been held … for six years,” he said.
Under the current system, “they have no prospect” of being able to challenge their detention in any meaningful way, said Waxman, who held Clement’s job during the Clinton administration.
The justices, who ruled for the detainees in two prior decisions, subjected both Clement and Waxman to a barrage of questions.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia pressed Waxman on whether the detainees are entitled to hearings in civilian courts.
“Show me one case” down through the centuries where circumstances similar to those at Guantanamo Bay entitled an alien to challenge his detention in civilian courts, said Scalia.
Roberts challenged Waxman’s argument that the duration of detention is important.
But most questions from the justices seemed to accept that the detainees have some rights and focused on whether procedures in place are adequate.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a pivotal vote in the case, raised the possibility of returning the issue to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the detainees’ status as enemy combatants is undergoing a highly restrictive form of review.
Waxman argued that such a move would simply cause more delays in deciding the prisoners’ fate. Clement said the appeals court would be an appropriate forum for resolving the issue.
Lawyers for the foreign detainees contend the courts must get involved to rein in the White House and Congress, which changed the law to keep the detainee cases out of U.S. courts after earlier Supreme Court rulings. The most recent legislation, last year’s Military Commissions Act, strips federal courts of their ability to hear detainee cases.
Waxman, the top Supreme Court lawyer during the Clinton administration, said that “after six years of imprisonment without meaningful review, it is time for a court to decide the legality” of their confinement.
The detainee case drew several hundred spectators who lined up outside the courthouse in a light snow. About 50 had camped out overnight for a chance to get inside to hear the arguments in the third case the Supreme Court has heard since 2004 on the administration’s detention program.
Meanwhile, two dozen protesters, some in orange prison-like jumpsuits, chanted and waved signs.
“Restore habeas corpus!” they intoned, referring to the right to court review of the legality of detention, the heart of the argument before the high court.
Clement said foreigners captured and held outside the United States “have no constitutional rights to petition our courts for a writ of habeas corpus,” a judicial determination of the legality of detention.
The case could turn on whether the court decides that Guantanamo is essentially U.S. soil, which would make the case for detainee rights stronger. Kennedy said as much in a concurring opinion in Rasul v. Bush, the 2004 case that was the court’s first foray into the administration’s detention policies.
“Guantanamo Bay is in every practical respect a United States territory,” Kennedy said in the earlier ruling.
The administration also argues that panels of military officers that review the detainees’ status as enemy combatants are adequate, even if the Supreme Court decides they have the right to contest their confinement.
The justices, however, decided to review the issue in June, after having turned down the detainees’ appeal in April. They provided no explanation, but their action followed a declaration from a military officer who criticized Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
The United States has no plans to put most of those held at Guantanamo on trial. Just three detainees face charges under the Military Commissions Act and the military has said it could prosecute as many as 80.
The consolidated cases are Boumediene v. Bush, 06-1195, and Al Odah v. U.S., 06-1196.