FTC Announcement Regarding Debtor’s Rights

January 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The FTC has announced the largest penalty ever imposed on a debt collection agency for allegedly threatening and harassing consumers; disclosing their debts to third parties, and depositing postdated checks early, in violation of federal law.  The FTC has also released this consumer education video on debt collection so that consumers can be aware of their rights and debt collectors can be aware of their responsibilities under federal law.  The video is also available in Spanish.  The press release below provides details of the case and another link to the video. 

Please let me know if you have questions and if you plan on running a story about this. 

Regards,

Lisa

Lisa Lake

Bureau of Consumer Protection/Division of Consumer and Business Education

The Federal Trade Commission

601 New Jersey Avenue, NW — Drop:  NJ-2267

Washington, DC  20580

Direct:  202.326.2345; Fax:  202.326.3574

www.ftc.gov

January 7, 2009

Debt Collection Supervisors Settle FTC Charges

New FTC Video Explains Consumer Rights

Concluding a case that drew the largest civil penalty ever imposed on a debt collection business, the Federal Trade Commission settled with the two remaining individual defendants who allegedly misled, threatened, and harassed consumers; disclosed their debts to third parties; and deposited postdated checks early, in violation of federal law. The settlement order requires each of these senior managers to pay a civil penalty and bars them from future violations.

“The FTC wants to remind debt collectors of their responsibilities and obligations under the law. Abusive collection actions are illegal, and if debt collectors use abusive tactics they could face legal action,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “At the same time, we want consumers to understand their rights if their debts go into collection. Money matters, and the more people know about managing their debt and dealing with debt collectors, the better off they will be.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, filed by the Department of Justice on the FTC’s behalf, the defendants participated in, or controlled, the actions of debt collectors whose unlawful practices included false or deceptive threats of garnishment, arrest, and legal action; improper calls to consumers; frequent, harassing, threatening, and abusive calls; and unfair and unauthorized withdrawals from consumers’ bank accounts. The complaint also alleged that the defendants failed to adequately investigate consumer complaints or discipline collectors, and collectors who were terminated for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) often were rehired within a few months.

In 2008, Academy Collection Service, Inc. and its owner, Keith Dickstein, paid $2.25 million to settle FTC charges that Academy collectors violated the FTC Act and the FDCPA while collecting debts, and that Dickstein failed to stop the violations. The settlement order announced today, negotiated by DOJ and the FTC, imposed civil penalties of $375,000 and $300,000, respectively, on Albert S. Bastian and Keith L. Hurt III, who oversaw Academy’s Las Vegas collection center. The judgments were suspended upon payment of $7,500 each, based on their ability to pay. The full judgments will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.

The order bars Bastian and Hurt from making false, deceptive, or misleading representations in debt collection efforts, such as that nonpayment will result in garnishment of wages, seizure of property, or lawsuits, or that they or their agents are attorneys. They also are prohibited from withdrawing money from consumers’ bank accounts without their express informed consent, and from depositing or threatening to deposit postdated checks before the date on the check. In addition, the pair are barred from improperly communicating with third parties about a debt; communicating with a consumer at any unusual time or place, including the
workplace; and harassing, oppressing, or abusing any person in connection with debt collection.

The Commission vote to authorize DOJ to file the consent decree was 4-0. The consent decree was entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

The Commission has released a video, at www.ftc.gov/debtcollection and www.youtube.com/ftcvideos, explaining consumer rights regarding debt collection. Consumers with questions about their rights under the FDCPA should refer to Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm.

NOTE: This consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by these defendants of a law violation. A consent decree is subject to court approval and has the force of law when signed by a judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and
unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To
file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,700 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

Diaries Recounting Zubaydah’s Torture Should Be Given to Defense Attorneys, Judge Rules

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jason Leopold, Truthout

Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah is expected to finally gain access to diaries he wrote during the years while he was being tortured by CIA interrogators. A federal court judge has ordered the government to turn over unredacted volumes of the diaries and other “specified” writings to defense attorneys representing Zubaydah.

Zubaydah was the first high-value detainee captured after 9/11. He was repeatedly waterboarded and subjected to brutal torture techniques by CIA interrogators at secret black-site prisons.

Although the order issued by US District Court Judge Richard Roberts on September 30 was filed under seal, Zubaydah’s attorney, Brent Mickum, said in a Truthout interview that while he could not discuss the substance of the ruling, it was his opinion that the order “should have been made public from the get-go” because “there’s nothing in [the order] that should be considered classified.”

In his motion, Mickum asked for original copies of the diaries to be released. It is not known whether Roberts’ order required the government to produce original versions of Zubaydah’s diaries. However, it is believed that Roberts’ order applies to three volumes of diaries Zubaydah wrote between 2002 and 2006, the time he spent in CIA custody and was tortured.

Those volumes, identified as seven, eight and nine, “were drafted while [Zubaydah] was in CIA custody,” according to court papers filed by Mickum last January. “Volumes 10 and 11 were completed in [Department of Defense] custody at Guantanamo, after September 2006; only these last two volumes, written after [Zubaydah] was transferred from CIA to DoD custody, were given to counsel in late 2008 by [Zubaydah] because they were in his possession.”

Mickum said he already has access to volumes one through six and 11 and 12. Though volumes one through six are unclassified, they have been designated by the government as “protected” and are not publicly available.

In a public summary describing his order, Roberts wrote that Mickum’s motion for “a preservation order and additional relief will be granted in part and denied in part, and [his] motion for an order requiring the [government] to return unredacted versions of [Zubaydah’s] diaries and other specified writings to him will be granted in part and denied in part.”

The diaries have been the subject of legal wrangling for years. Justice Department attorneys in both the Bush and Obama administrations have argued that releasing unredacted copies of the diaries would constitute a threat to national security because they contain names of government employees, including an FBI agent, and names of individuals who assisted in translating the diaries from Arabic to English, plus information about ongoing counterterrorism efforts.

Mickum has filed numerous motions in federal court accusing the government of improperly classifying the diaries – even after portions have already surfaced in public documents – and abusing the classification process related to other materials in Zubaydah’s case.

For example, last August Mickum filed court papers seeking additional copies of Zubaydah’s medical records and an in-person medical evaluation, both of which Mickum says he needs in order to “challenge the lawfulness” of Zubaydah’s detention. The court previously ordered the release of medical records related to the more than 200 seizures Zubaydah has suffered since being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.

The Justice Department balked and filed its opposition in the matter under seal. Mickum objected to the government’s “ongoing abuse of the classification system” in a motion he filed in federal court in June. The court hasn’t ruled on that motion yet although it has been fully briefed on the matter.

Mickum said he has not been able to mount a meaningful defense because the government continuously denies his requests for documents related to Zubaydah’s time in CIA custody.

“The government is preventing us from working up the case,” Mickum said. “They are trying to keep things closely guarded.”

A Justice Department spokesman would not return calls for comment regarding Judge Roberts’ ruling.

Zubaydah has written 11 volumes of his diary in a “slender bound notebook” and has started work on volume 12, according to court papers in the case filed last January. He wrote the first six volumes before his March 2002 arrest in Pakistan.

The government’s case against Zubaydah is based heavily on entries contained in the first six volumes of his diaries, according to court papers. But the materials were designated by the government as “protected,” even though the diaries are unclassified and both the defense team and Zubaydah have access to volumes one through six.

In a July 14 motion opposing the government’s attempt to “protect” volumes one through six, Mickum said he is not permitted to inform Zubaydah “which passages the government relied upon” in the charges it prepared against him as outlined in the “factual return.”

“The Government has redacted every reference to the unclassified volumes of [Zubaydah’s] diary from the unclassified factual return,” Mickum’s motion states. “By removing every reference to the diary, the Government leaves very few of the relevant allegations against [Zubaydah] to be seen by the eyes of the public. Moreover, what is left is an incredibly misleading picture. For example, for several pages of the factual return, virtually the only words that are left unredacted are the names: Abu Hafs al-Masri, [al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader] Abu Mas’ab al-Zarqawi, [self-professed 9/11 mastermind] and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, known al-Qaeda operative. What the public does not see if that the only reason these people are mentioned in [the government’s] factual return is that they are alleged to have been in the same city as [Zubaydah]. The Government does not even allege [Zubaydah] had direct, or even indirect, contact with them.

“What possible explanation can the Government offer to justify that the diaries are unclassified but the quotations from the diaries upon which the government relies in the factual return are classified? There is none. By doing so, the Government simply demonstrates its disregard for the fact that the authority to designate unclassified information as protected properly belongs to the court.

“It is understandable that the Government would want to avoid the public criticism that may follow from an honest discussion of who [Zubaydah] was and how the Government mistreated him, but this is not a legitimate basis for sealing information [in his] case. [This is about] the Government’s simple desire to keep information about [Zubaydah] and the case against him secret, primarily to cover up evidence contradicting its own public misstatements about [Zubaydah] as well as potential evidence of further as-yet-undisclosed government wrongdoing.”

Mickum said diaries Zubaydah kept while in CIA custody will go a long way toward establishing the brutal treatment Zubaydah was subjected to – far surpassing what the public has learned thus far from declassified \Justice Department legal memos documenting the brutal methods, such as sleep deprivation and beatings, used by CIA interrogators against Zubaydah.

He added that the diaries contain a “list of names, dates and activities” that will assist the defense in generating leads and prove that Zubaydah was not a senior member of al-Qaeda.

But by designating the material as “protected,” the government “severely hinders [the defense team’s] ability to prepare [Zubaydah’s] defense and vindicate his constitutional entitlement to habeas corpus at numerous levels.”

Mickum opined that the government would force him to have potential witnesses sign an agreement stating that they would be bound by a protective order if he were to discuss the diaries with them. Mickum said that was impractical as his investigations “are taking place all over the world” and it would also have a “chilling effect” on foreign witnesses. “Counsel are right now seeking the cooperation of witnesses in foreign countries who can corroborate the substance of [Zubaydah’s] defense, much of which is articulated in his diary,” Mickum’s July 14 court filing says. “The Government’s attempt to designate the diary as protected, if granted, would preclude counsel from conducting such crucial investigations.”

Zubaydah began keeping a diary in 1992, after he suffered a severe head injury while fighting communist insurgents in Afghanistan. The injury left “significantly impaired both his long- and short-term memory,” states Mickum’s January 14 court motion.

“He cannot remember his father’s name and dimly recalls that he looked like a movie star in the Arab world (whose name he cannot remember). He cannot remember the name of his business partner with whom he ran a news agency prior to his arrest. Long after his 1992 injury, once [Zubaydah] had recovered the ability to speak and write, he began to keep a diary. It is his memory. Without it, he is lost.”

Dan Coleman, a former FBI agent who analyzed the diaries, said he was convinced that Zubaydah was “certifiable” and was not a high-level official in al-Qaeda as top Bush administration officials had claimed. Rather, Coleman said, Zubaydah was more like heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis, who worked as a greeter in Las Vegas at the end of his life.

According to author Ron Suskind, Zubaydah’s diaries were written in the voices of three people – Hani 1, Hani 2 and Hani 3, which, Suskind wrote in his book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” helps establish that Zubaydah was mentally ill.

Furthermore, Suskind wrote, “Zubaydah was a logistics man, a fixer, mostly for a niggling array of personal items, like the guy you call who handles the company health plan, or benefits, or the people in human resources. There was almost nothing ‘operational’ in his portfolio. That was handled by the management team. He wasn’t one of them.”

Suskind’s account closely matches what Jack Cloonan, a former FBI special agent assigned to the agency’s elite Bin Laden unit, told me in a recent interview. Cloonan said the CIA and the Bush administration were flat wrong in designating Zubaydah as a top official in al-Qaeda. Zubaydah “wasn’t privy to a lot of what I would consider to be a lot of really good operational details,” getting most of his information secondhand, Cloonan said.

Mickum denies that Zubaydah was privy to any operational details of al-Qaeda.

“My client was never, ever, even a member of al-Qaeda, much less a high-level operative,” Mickum told Truthout. “The camp he was alleged to have assisted was closed in 2000 by the Taliban. Leaders of the camp known as Khalden closed it rather than allowing it to fall under the control of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda because they disagreed with al-Qaeda’s missions and attacks on innocent civilians.” Cloonan agreed, for the most part, with Mickum’s characterization of Zubaydah.

“We thought [Zubaydah] would be best described as a logistical officer who managed a series of safe houses and was a great travel agent,” Cloonan said. “But to cast him and describe him as the al-Qaeda emir or leader for the subcontinent or worse … I think was a mistake…. Based on his age and ethnicity, [he] would [n]ever be brought into the inner circle of al-Qaeda.”

There was also the question of Zubaydah’s personality. “My partner had a chance to look at a lot of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries, poems and other things that he has written and he said that after reading this you just come away with the feeling that this is a guy who can’t be trusted or be given huge amounts of responsibility,” Cloonan said. “He just seemed mentally unstable…. “I’m not at all suggesting that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t valuable. Anytime you get one of these guys and get their cooperation, I think [it] is a win. You can get information that’s really valuable from people who are further down the food chain. It’s how you get the information and whether you’re getting real cooperation or simply compliance because somebody’s either waterboarding you or gets you on sleep deprivation.

“We know, and the science tells us, that people cannot recall details accurately, they can’t look at pictures, they will make things up if deprived of the bare essentials of life over the course of time. I don’t understand how you could sleep deprive somebody for 11 days and expect this person to provide you with accurate information.

“Even if they wanted to they’re probably so debilitated at this point they need to be rehabilitated before they ever give you anything.”

Zubaydah’s 2002 torture sessions were videotaped. But CIA officials destroyed the tapes and a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate whether federal laws were broken when the tapes were purged.

As I previously reported, CIA interrogators provided top agency officials in Langley with daily “torture” updates of Zubaydah. The extensive back-and-forth between CIA field operatives and agency officials in Langley likely included updates provided to senior Bush administration officials.

In justifying his torture, the Bush administration had maintained that Zubaydah was the No. 3 official in al-Qaeda and had information about pending terrorist attacks against the US. But documents, news reports, books and former FBI interrogators familiar with Zubaydah said he was a low-level figure in the terrorist organization and was mentally ill.

CIA interrogators waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times in one month, according to recently released documents, and placed him inside a coffin-like box for hours at a time. The Bush administration claimed it obtained actionable intelligence by torturing Zubaydah – an assertion contradicted by a CIA inspector general’s report on the agency’s torture and detention program.

CIA documents from a Combatant Status Review Tribunal in March 2007 revealed that Zubaydah’s torturers eventually apologized to him and said they concluded he was not a top al-Qaeda lieutenant as the Bush administration and intelligence officials had claimed.

“They told me sorry we discover that you are not number three [in al-Qaeda], not a partner, even not a fighter,” Zubaydah said during his tribunal hearing.

Mickum said volumes seven, eight and nine of Zubaydah’s diaries would shed further light on his brutal treatment while “in CIA custody and recount his torture and damaging exculpatory admission made by [Zubaydah’s] torturers and other CIA officials.”

The diaries “are critically important to show what [Zubaydah] was doing during this time frame and contain exculpatory evidence.”

Public court filings also state that Zubaydah “created other relevant writings and drawings, none of which have been returned to him.” Although Mickum said he could not describe the drawings because they remain classified, but it appears likely that they may depict Zubaydah’s torture.

“You’ll just have to use your imagination as to what they might be,” Mickum said. Zubaydah’s “really good.”

11-44

Muslims Among Highest-Achieving American Women

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslims Among Highest-Achieving American Women
Courtesy Donna Gehrke-White, Miami Herald
April 17, 2006
She should be one of those red-white-and-blue success stories: An immigrant, she worked her way through med school and now directs the laboratories of two Florida hospitals. She passed her career drive on to her daughters: One just graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing; the other is an investigator for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
This feminist vision of a successful family, though, has a flaw: Shahida Shakir and her daughters, Sadia and Sofia, are Muslim.
They’re supposed to be downtrodden. Or so that’s what most Americans think.
In a Washington Post/ABC poll last month, nearly half of Americans admitted that they have a negative view of Islam. In a poll conducted for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, most people also said that they would feel better about the religion if they thought Islam treated women better.
The evidence is in our own back yard: While researching my book, “The Face Behind the Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America,” I found Muslims are among the most achieving women in the United States. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, social workers and artists.
Indeed, we should be exporting the success story to the rest of the world.
I found Muslim women achieving from coast to coast. They are leading worldwide humanitarian groups in Washington, presiding over juvenile court in Baltimore, delivering babies in Los Angeles, teaching in Miami and helping the homeless in Las Vegas.
Just like other American women, the Muslimah — or Muslim women—have made startling progress in the workplace in the last 30 years. In fact, except for the recent refugees, Muslim women are among the most educated in the United States. Most of the 50 women profiled in the book have at least college degrees. And they are far from the stereotype of the secluded Muslim woman. One ran for county office in northern Virginia while a University of Louisville professor crusades against “honor killings” of Third World women suspected of adultery or premarital sex.
Another risked her life to help women under the thumb of Afghanistan’s oppressive Taliban.
These women should reassure many Americans in these anxious times. They are intensely achieving — as well as patriotic. After all, they have as much to lose as any other Americans if our economic and political systems come under attack.
Since 1990, the United States has welcomed more than 300,000 Muslim refugees fleeing war and persecution. They have come from 77 nations.
Unlike the poor North Africans who went to Europe for a better life, our Muslim poor have been given more opportunities to better themselves, and have become part of the American fabric. The Arizona Community Refugee Center in a Phoenix suburb, for example, teaches many women to read and write for the first time. The center also provides programs for their children.
The great majority of these new refugees insist that their children study hard. Batool Shamil is an Iraqi Shiite single mom working two jobs in Phoenix. She demands A-studded report cards from her teenage son and daughter.
“I am working so hard,” she told me. “My dream is for my children to go to college.”
In Erie, Pa., Senada Alihodzic, a refugee from the Bosnian violence, is just as determined that her two sons and daughter will go to college.
“They can have a better life here,” she said.
Meanwhile, more American mosques are making an effort to ensure women are treated equally. In northern Virginia, Cathy Drake, an
American-born, home-schooling mom, told me that she would not have converted to Islam had she not felt comfortable.
Does more work need to be done? Yes, judging from several Muslim women who have come up to me while on a recent book tour to complain about their own mosque’s inadequacies. But Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, promises that change is coming.
“I believe,” she said, “the struggle is now out in the open and that it will get better soon.” –
Donna Gehrke-White is a features writer for the Miami Heral and the author of “The Face Behind the Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America” (Citadel). Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or oped@freepress.com.