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    « Locking-up people who look dangerous | Main | Daphnis' new shed »

    Lawyers, guns and money

    The manufacture and sale of the Second Amendment ... Armed vigilantism insulated from the law ... Litigation damages toll mounts for CIA's illegal programs ... The undisciplined Alfreda Frances Bikowsky out from the shadows ... From Roger Fitch, Our Man in Washington

    IN its 2008 Heller decision, the Supreme Court re-interpreted the Second Amendment to include a personal right to possess firearms. 

    Previously, the Second was not held to include an individual right to keep and bear arms.

    It's a notion rejected by all but three of the 188 countries in the world. 

    In Heller, the court limited gun possession to one's home. Yet, on December 11, the Chicago-based 7th Circuit discovered a broader right, to carry guns outside the home - something even the Supreme Court hadn't discerned. More here.

    Two days later, the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature passed a law making it legal to carry concealed weapons in schools, churches and day care centres.

    Both actions were badly timed.

    On the day the Michigan law was revealed, the shocking gun massacre occurred at a primary school in Connecticut.

    The semi-automatic weapon involved is one of the most popular in the US.

    The spread of such weapons is no accident. Gun manufacturers, their retailers and the industry groups they liberally support, e.g. the National Rifle Association, promote permissive - even reckless - laws, to encourage gun ownership - and obviously, purchase. 

    Where does the money to promote this originate? ProPublica has the story.

    The gun lobby finds willing allies in needy state legislators as well as venal or frightened members of Congress.

    Working with the NRA on this project have been the largest gun retailer in the US (Wal-Mart) and the business-funded, highly secretive, lobby group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

    Together, they've produced a bizarre array of state and local legislation directed at maximising gun ownership and its unimpeded use. 

    ProPublica reported some of the wacky state laws inflicted on Americans by politicians intimidated or owned by the NRA. 

    Most of the "model bills" secretly drafted for states by the NRA and its ally ALEC have now been exposed.

    These days, the NRA seems a virtual terrorist group, a successor to the Ku Klux Klan in its implicit support of armed vigilantism

    In fact, it was a 1977 coup that turned a mere shooters group into the modern NRA. The New Yorker has more

    *   *   *

    IN all this, the approach of gun manufacturers and retailers bears an eerie resemblance to that of tobacco companies, e.g. targeting child customers.

    Like Big Tobacco, the gun lobby has pushed a product they know is harmful and dangerous, so dangerous that they have enacted laws prohibiting suits against weapons makers and dealers for their products' use by customers, including the mentally-ill, gangs, Mexican drug cartels and foreign arms-dealers.

    The manufacturer of this particular school massacre rifle is part of the Orwellian-named "Freedom Group" of arms makers owned by Cerberus Capital Management, profiled in the New York Times last year.

    Just after the massacre, former New York AG and governor Eliot Spitzer suggested the private equity group might want to unload its gun manufacturing operation rather than lose its public pension fund investors, e.g. in California, where the offending Bushmaster rifle is illegal. 

    The next day, Cerberus announced its intention to do just that.

    Bushmaster could still face litigation over the Sandy Hook deaths; it previously paid millions to settle the "Beltway Sniper" killings involving the same-type weapon. 

    There are precedents for tort liability, despite the NRA-engineered Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act designed to insulate manufacturers from the lawsuits of those injured by their products.

    For the moment, churches, if not schools, may be safe. The Supreme Court has rejected a gun group's attempt to conflate the first and second amendments. had claimed that their state's ban on guns in places of worship burdened religion by "regulating how or what a worshipper can do with a weapon while he is worshipping."

    *   *   *

    FOR a long time, no "war on terror" prisoner wrongly detained or mistreated by the US has received damages or even an apology, but that may be changing. 

    One precedent is in the UK, where the government is believed to have made 400 settlements with Iraqis mistreated by British forces.

    In addition, the British have settled claims that they colluded with the United States in mistreating Gitmo detainees, including payment of a rumoured £1 million to former British resident Shaker Aamer.

    Aamer remains at Guantánamo despite years of British demands for his repatriation, and now he is suing MI5 and MI6 for defamation, asserting they gave false evidence to the Americans that resulted in his mistreatment. 

    There's more here on what appears to be a first of its kind.

    *   *   *

    al-Saadi: $3.5 million settlement

    IN another case, the British have agreed to pay Libyan dissident Sami al-Saadi $3.5 million for the UK's participation in his family's abduction by the CIA and his rendition to torture in Libya.

    More here.

    Such suits were inevitable. With every avenue of legal redress in America cut off, aggrieved "war on terror" victims and tortured "enemy combatants" were bound to turn to foreign courts or international fora - the "lawfare" so dreaded by some bloggers at the eponymous "Lawfare" website.  

    Things are happening outside the US judicial system, not just in Britain, but in the European Court of Human Rights (three cases) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the human rights tribunal for the Americas.

    At the IAC, José Padilla has a torture suit against the United States (petition here) where his complaint joins the pending claims against the US of Gitmo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, and German citizen Khaled El-Masri.

    Khaled El-Masri: the wrong man tortured

    The last named claimant, Khaled El-Masri, just won a case in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

    As a result of his case in the ECHR, El-Masri will receive compensation from Macedonia for his CIA abduction. 

    El-Masri lost every previous claim, including against the CIA, and in Germany itself, where the government - under pressure from the US - declined to issue arrest warrants for CIA agents. 

    More here and here.  

    The CIA agents responsible for El-Masri's mistaken rendition have meanwhile been promoted, especially the woman in charge, now identified as Alfreda Frances Bikowsky.

    Scott Horton notes that Bikowsky was never disciplined. She later became head of the Bin Laden unit where she is identified with a character in the film Zero Dark 30

    The ECHR judgment is here and well worth reading: it marks the first time any individual, anywhere, has obtained court-ordered redress for the CIA's illegal RDI (Rendition, Detention and Interrogation) program.

    Other investigations of the CIA are listed here.  

    Obama has continued renditions "without legal oversight" - as the Post delicately describes extrajudicial "snatch and grab operations" that ignore legal rights and extradition requirements.

    At Lawfare, the generally liberal Steve Vladeck doubts these renditions "to justice" are "extraordinary".

    A person on Obama's "disposition matrix" database might disagree. 

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