Above and beyond ‘do no evil’

Engineers from Google, Twitter, and SayNow, a voice messaging startup Google bought last week, put their technical chops to work over the weekend devising a way around the Egyptian government’s Internet shutdown. From Google’s Official Blog:

Like many people, we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt, and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service—the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection…

It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.

We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.

NY Times denounces US court’s “brush-off” of Arar lawsuit

A scathing editorial in today’s New York Times denounces a US appeal court for having “brushed off” a lawsuit by Canadian Maher Arar. As the paper put it,  Arar “was seized in an American airport by federal agents acting on bad information from Canadian officials,” and “held incommunicado and harshly interrogated before being sent to Syria, where he was tortured. He spent almost a year in a grave-size underground cell before the Syrians let him go.”

Two courts, one in Italy and one in the United States, ruled recently on the Bush administration’s practice of extraordinary rendition, which is the kidnapping of people and sending them to other countries for interrogation — and torture. The Italian court got it right. The American court got it miserably wrong.

The Italian court convicted a CIA station chief and 22 other Americans, and two Italian accomplices, in the 2003 abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, a Muslim cleric who ended up in Egypt, where he said he was tortured. In a split decision, the US court said it had no authority to tell Congress “how to implement extraordinary rendition.”

The Times said:

The ruling distorts precedent and the Constitutional separation of powers to deny justice to Mr. Arar and give officials a pass for egregious misconduct. The overt disregard for the central role of judges in policing executive branch excesses has frightening implications for safeguarding civil liberties, as four judges suggested in dissenting opinions.

It is painful to recall that this is the same federal circuit court that declared in 1980 that even foreigners accused of torture in foreign countries can be called to account in American courts. The torturer is the “enemy of all mankind,” the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declared back then. One of the dissenters [to the Arar ruling], Judge Guido Calabresi, said that “when the history of this distinguished court is written, today’s majority decision will be viewed with dismay.”