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Truthdigger of the Week: Stephen F. Downs

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Posted on Apr 20, 2012

Attorney Stephen Downs speaks at a news conference in March organized by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms in Washington, D.C.

Every week, Truthdig recognizes an individual or group of people who spoke truth to power, blew the whistle or stood up in the face of injustice. See past winners here, and nominate the next awardee here.

It’s safe to assume that Big Brother would still have prevailed over Winston Smith had the ill-fated protagonist of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” been helped by public defender Stephen Downs. But we have reason to believe that Downs, who represents Muslim activists in trials that amount to little more than terrorist witch hunts, would not have backed down.

For six years now, Downs has battled the domestic legal consequences of the Cheney “One Percent” doctrine. The rule states that if there is a 1 percent chance of a suspected terrorist attack against the United States, then the interest of national security demands that the U.S. government treat that chance as an absolute certainty. Former Vice President Dick Cheney justified the idea in a case where the Bush administration claimed Pakistani scientists were helping al-Qaida build an atomic bomb: “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaida build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis ... It’s about our response.”

According to Cheney, such “low-probability, high-impact” events justified the government’s adoption of an aggressive new defense strategy.

Those of us who watched U.S. forces invade Iraq and Afghanistan almost a decade ago know that strategy as pre-emptive war. So far, those wars together have cost the lives of more than 150,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilians and tens of thousands of combatants. But armed conflict is only one consequence of pre-emptive thinking.


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As Downs would point out, pre-emptive war has its domestic correlation in what he has termed “pre-emptive prosecution.” This is the act of targeting people on the basis of ethnicity, religion, race, ideology or some other identifying factor that has nothing necessarily to do with criminal conduct, and trying them in a criminal court.

The most recent, well-documented case of pre-emptive prosecution is that of Tarek Mehanna, an American citizen sentenced to 17½ years in prison for aiding al-Qaida and conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But evidence against Mehanna was scant to nonexistent. As Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges reported earlier this week: “His real ‘crime’ ... seems to be viewing and translating jihadi videos online, speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and refusing to become a government informant.”

Mehanna’s conviction suggests the U.S. government is using the threat of terrorism to suppress dissent. In the introduction to a book titled “Victims of America’s Dirty Wars,” published by Project Salam—a website devoted to investigating the likelihood that U.S. officials have falsely convicted American Muslims on charges similar to Mehanna’s—Downs writes: “Today, the U.S. government has launched its own ‘dirty wars’ against citizens whose ideology it wants to repress. People who have committed no crime are taken into custody, isolated without adequate recourse to legal advice, railroaded with fake or contrived charges, and ‘disappeared’ into prisons designed to isolate them.”

In the same book, Downs recounts the history of similar abuses of American minority groups, many of them institutional, and identifies Muslims as only the latest terreur du jour: “Islamophobia is just the latest in a long string of backlashes that have included the COINTELPRO repression by the FBI against Black Power advocates and Vietnam War protesters; Communist witch-hunts; the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; anti-Semitism against the Jews; Palmer raids against immigrants and leftists; Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the Ku Klux Klan against African Americans; and many other periods of bigotry against different racial, religious, ethnic, and ideological groups.”

It is known that Muslim-Americans suspected of no crimes have been the subject of secret investigations by the NYPD. But much of the public still regards such abuses as improbable or, when they do occur, irrelevant to their lives. However, the threats to civil liberties are real, Downs says, and the targeting of Muslims today suggests that similar persecution awaits all Americans who find themselves on the wrong side of power tomorrow: “The allegation that the FBI and the Justice Department deliberately create fake or contrived cases against innocent people ... may be shocking to some; but in the context of the unconstitutional and illegal activity in which the government has engaged under the guise of fighting the war on terror, fake criminal prosecutions are just one more step.”

For those courageous words, and for his efforts to defend those unjustly charged, Stephen Downs wins our regard and is our Truthdigger of the Week.

Hear Downs lay out his case before an audience of legal scholars in his own voice below.

—Alexander Reed Kelly


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By Cliff Carson, April 27, 2012 at 11:42 pm Link to this comment

For anyone who really wants to learn the truth about the “Threat” to America of those at Gitmo, you should read from these two links.  There is a lot of material in those links, including the actual Senate Report.

The below excerpt is from the Wikipedia Link:

An editorial by the BBC’s John Simpson summarized the study concluding that:
•  92% of the Guantanamo detainees had not been al-Qaeda fighters.
•  only 5% of the Guantanamo detainees were captured by the Americans themselves.
•  440 of 517 detainees appeared to have been captured by bounty hunters, in return for a $5,000 reward.

Here are the links

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By heterochromatic, April 26, 2012 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

freetinkler——- if you’re so chicken that you object to fowl language, that’s not
sad and I’m sorry that you get a gander of it ......

I am gratified that you suspect me of a bit of moderation, as most miss that part
of my make-up.

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By heterochromatic, April 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment

el—- because Downs SAYS that it’s falsehood don’t make it so…...

clearly, the defense team for the felon failed to demonstrate anything like that to
the satisfaction of the jury.

the real question here is not whether the government is lying about Mahenna’s
actions (and they’re not) but rather whether the actions are protected under the
First Am….....

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By berniem, April 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

Like all other authoritarian and repressive regimes, you can never have enough scapegoats! FREE BRADLEY MANNING & TIM DeCHRISTOPHER!!!!!!!Oh, and hetero…, besides being an inane butt hole, you’re mind is narrow to the point of being 2 dimensional!

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By Free Thinker, April 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am sick and tired of hearing the sickening venom and evil propaganda coming from the rectum of the most hated poster on these Truthdig threads, always using the fowl language such as “Down’s bullshit” and calling the of Stephen Downs’ choice for the Truthgigger of the week as “fucking terrible choice.”

I am amazed at Truthdig moderater who banned me from posting under my previous name “Arabian Sinbad” for no apparent serious reason of using fowl language even closer to the one this sick Zionist keeps using on all these Truthdig threads. I am even started to suspect that this so-hated heter is possibly the so-called moderator of Truthdig!

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By Cliff Carson, April 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment

elisalouisa, April 21 at 10:46 am

“Trust me when I tell you that this would not be the first time the government has used falsehoods to build a case.”

Absolutely elisalouisa, On another Truthdig Thread, about torture, I commented about a fact finding examination of the case for “terrorists” detainees at Gitmo.  The Senate had commissioned A Professor Denbeaux at Seton Hall to take the Records of the 571 detainees there at the time of the investigation and see what evidence there was according to the Army Records that they were Terrorists.  Denbeaux was to determine from the Army records how they came to be at Gitmo and what was the evidence against them.

As I recall the report data showed 93% of the detainees had no evidence against them other than the say so of their captors when those captors delivered them to the Army.  And the U S Forces did not require any proof of terrorism committed before paying the bounty. 

Seems I recall only one detainee was captured on the battlefield.  Yet these people, who had no evidence posted to their Gitmo records, were kept at Gitmo for years, some are still there, and many were tortured.

And the only reason they were there was because they had been sold to the army for the bounty offered by the Armed forces.  Rumsfeldt characterized them as “The Worst of the Worst”.

They weren’t tried in open court and obviously never will be for one simple reason - they are innocent.

Would the Government lie to you or me?

What do you think?

Possibly the Denbeaux Report is still on the net.
If you can find it please read it.

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By elisalouisa, April 21, 2012 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

In, “First they come for the Muslims,” Chris Hedges quotes Downs:“I was unprepared for the fact that the government would put together a case that was just one lie piled up on top of another lie,” Downs said. “And when you pointed it out to them they didn’t care. They didn’t refute it. They knew that it was a lie.
The facts of most of these pre-emptive cases don’t support the charges. But the facts are irrelevant. The government has decided to target these people. It wants to take them down for ideological reasons.”
Do I believe that? Absolutely.

Trust me when I tell you that this would not be the first time the government has used falsehoods to build a case. Cheney or no Cheney. Difference is, now they just come out and say it.  As in Germany most people do not care and/or may find such action(s) justified. Does that ring a bell? The far Right may even celebrate such activity.

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By heterochromatic, April 21, 2012 at 9:31 am Link to this comment

that Cheney’s “1% threat” dictum is reprehensible is an
obvious truth, but trying to say that it’s an
operational rule for us at present is a falsehood and
using that falsehood as a basis for claiming that
people are being framed by the government is piling
bullshit atop of bullshit.

people can see the darkness into which Cheney would
lead us and see that we’ve taken some steps in that
direction without swallowing the dopey Downerism that
we’re dwelling in that domain.

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By Cliff Carson, April 21, 2012 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

Downs has spoken a truth that too many still refuse to see:

The Power that has seized our Government is leading the people into accepting their being herded down the road leading to Perdition.

Perdition is defined as: “A state of final spiritual ruin, loss of the soul,damnation,the future state of the wicked,hell, utter destruction or ruin.”

To point this truism out to the public is also becoming a “Terrorist” act to be squelched by the Power.

Those that refuse to recognize the evil inherent in the 1% solution are possessed of a mind devoid of “good” moral decision making.  They have already entered the gates of Perdition.

Downs one day may stand in front of a Judge and Jury that have no moral compass.  And one day if this Nation survives and recovers, he may have statues raised in parks that celebrate this Nations heroes.

We need more Stephen Downs.

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By elisalouisa, April 20, 2012 at 9:54 pm Link to this comment

Yes. Stephen Downs is a great choice for Truthdigger of the Week.

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By heterochromatic, April 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment

el——you think that prison management issues have much of anything to do with
Down’s bullshit claim that the govt is framing innocent people based on their
religion rather than their actions?

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By elisalouisa, April 20, 2012 at 8:16 pm Link to this comment

Great choice. Excerpt from “New York State Capital Takes Stand Against Pre-
emptive Prosecution of Muslims.” by Stephen Downs, Esq.

“The Federal Prison System’s Experiment in Social Isolation.

In 2006, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP or “Bureau”) secretly created the Communications Management Unit (CMU), a prison unit designed to isolate and segregate certain prisoners in the federal prison system from the rest of the BOP population. Currently, there are two CMUs, one located in Terre Haute,
Indiana and the other in Marion, Illinois. The CMUs house between 60 and 70 prisoners in total, and over two-thirds of the CMU population is Muslim, even though Muslims represent only 6 percent of the general federal prison population.

Unlike other BOP prisoners, individuals detained in the CMU are completely banned from any physical contact with visiting family members and friends, and other types of communication are severely limited, including interactions with other prisoners and phone calls with friends and family members. Individuals detained in the CMU receive no explanation for their transfer to the unit or for the extraordinary communications restrictions to which they are subjected. Upon designation to the unit, there is no meaningful review or appeal process that allows CMU prisoners to be transferred back to the general population. Many CMU prisoners have neither significant disciplinary records nor any communications-related infractions. However, bias, political scapegoating, religious profiling and racism keep them locked inside these special units. The Bureau’s purpose and process for designating federal prisoners to the CMU remain undisclosed.”
—Center for Constitutional Rights

Scary stuff.

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By heterochromatic, April 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm Link to this comment

was ?and the Mysterians a manifestation of “mass mysteria.”

were there 96 tears in the social fabric?

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By Igor Slamoff, April 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anyone who characterises US imperialism as largely targeting Moslems is clearly a Mohammedan fanatic and can be expected to commit acts of terrorism.
My reasoning is the following:
It is true that the US has attacked many countries with large Moslem populations. However in most of these countries there was a small or middling non-Moslem minority that suffered just as much as the Moslem majority. Iraqi Christians suffered from the 1990s embargo just as much as Iraqi Moslems did Accordingly, to claim that only Moslems have suffered implies that the sufferings of non-Moslems don’t count. This reflects a long Islamic tradition of contempt for non-Moslems and readiness to cut their throats at any moment.

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By gerard, April 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment

Suggestions for stopping the dangers of “preemptive prosecution”:
  1. Stop fear-mongering tactics being used by edia and government to control and suppress open discussion and opposition to public policies.
  2. Stop encouraging mass and ungrounded fear and suspicion of Muslims (and all other minorities, groups, agencies), and stop making accusations of “illegal,” “disloyal”, “secret” “suspicious”,“un- American” activities, also stop encouraging “if you see suspicious activities, them to ,,, etc.
  Recognize that the injustices permitted against others can and will be permitted against you.
  Paranoia is a form of insanity. Paranoiac people are easily manipulated into mass mysteria.

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By Michael Carano, April 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Though not naive about the history of my country, I still find it unbelievable that this can happen in what is supposed to be a country where the rule of law and the right to a fair trial is supposed to be what the foundation upon which it is built.  What a travesty for the family and their friends.  This is about engendering fear in the public so that those in power can break what are laws fundamental as to who we are suppose to be as a people and so the nation can continue spreading its neoliberal, economic dystopia on the rest of the world.  Home of the brave, land of the free my butt.

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