Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
September 2004, Vol. 3, No. 8
In this issue:
Preserving safety, civil liberties
Boise, Albany respond to FBI targeting of Muslim residents
New Tools and Resources for Organizers and Educators
In the Courts and Tribunals
Update on Legislation
Other News In Brief
BORDC community news
Three years after the September 11th attacks, and shortly before a national election, BORDC evaluates how well the Bill of Rights defense movement and the U.S. government are fulfilling their missions.
U.S. government. Several events raise questions about how well our government is protecting U.S. security and public safety while protecting civil liberties:
- This week's release of so-called enemy combatant Yaser Esam Hamdi
- A steady stream of releases of other enemy combatants from Guantánamo Bay without explanation
- Yesterday's deportation of British citizen Yusuf Islam (formerly known as pop singer Cat Stevens)
- The recent barring of Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan from his teaching post at the University of Notre Dame
- The classification of documents that could embarrass the administration, such as those that pertain to the case of former FBI translator and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds
- A stream of recent setbacks in DOJ cases:
- In Detroit, the DOJ asked U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen to overturn the convictions of two members of the so-called "Detroit terror cell" due to prosecutorial misconduct, and to order a new trial of the men on document fraud charges unrelated to terrorism. They had been the Department's only jury convictions on terrorism charges since September 11, 2001. "Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000," David Cole writes in The Nation. Cole notes that while Ashcroft hailed the convictions with a news conference, he observed the turn-around with neither a conference nor an apology.
- In Albany, a magistrate reversed his earlier decision to deny bail for a mosque leader and a cofounder of the mosque who had been indicted in an FBI sting operation that had begun with the inaccurate translation of a word in an address book. What FBI translators originally thought was Arabic script labeling the mosque leader as "commander" turned out to be Kurdish for "brother" or possibly "mister." Read Reuters article.
- DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine has announced that his office is investigating allegations of DOJ misconduct and misuse of the USA PATRIOT Act in the case of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield. Read Washington Post article. The Spanish government, not the FBI, was most responsible for Mayfield's release from wrongful detention.
Attorney General Ashcroft's response to the setbacks in the DOJ cases was predictable: He held a news conference to announce a grand jury indictment of two men (one in U.S. custody since 2002, the otherheld in Egypt) on "terrorism charges related to material support of a conspiracy to commit violent jihad overseas." Read article.
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers has requested that the DOJ's Inspector General investigate the DOJ's expenditure of more than $200,000 in federal tax funds for Attorney General Ashcroft's much-maligned USA PATRIOT Act tour last year and the DOJ's public relations web site, lifeandliberty.gov.
Bill of Rights defense movement. Since Mr. Ashcroft concluded his promotional tour last year, the number of resolutions and ordinances has doubled to 356 in 42 U.S. states (total population of 55 million), making the Bill of Rights defense movement one of the largest mass movements in U.S. history. But the movement's ultimate success in ensuring civil liberties will be measured not by the number of resolutions passed but by their effectiveness in meeting their goals, such as:
- To educate the majority of U.S. residents about the issues and actively involve them in a national debate,
- To protect members of our communities from DOJ overreaches such as those that have resulted in the reversals noted above,
- To hold government accountable for making sure that all laws and policies comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Albany and Boise are two communities that are turning their resolutions' promises into reality. The following story describes how community residents are responding to the targeting of Muslims in their cities.
The next few weeks are an important time to educate voters in your area about the issues of rights, liberties and justice at stake in local, state, and national elections. In this issue, we have compiled a list of new educational tools and resources and some action ideas to help you.
Since 2001, FBI agents and a detective of the local Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) have established a permanent presence as "observers" at a local mosque and have been "interviewing" Boise Muslims, sometimes after midnight. "My community lives in fear," said the leader of the local Islamic Center. "Fear of terror ... and fear that we may become suspects of terror."
When Boise Patriots, the organization responsible for passing Boise's civil liberties resolution, learned of the ongoing FBI intimidation and harassment of Muslims recently, they joined with other groups in meetings with the leader and member of the local mosque and with local city officials and law enforcement to hold Boise public officials responsible for ending the abusive practices. They have met with Mayor Dave Bieter to discuss the incidents and are pursuing the possibility of disbanding the CIU. Furthermore, they are calling on the Boise City Council to review the civil liberties resolution it approved on October 1, 2003, and to take further action to assure that local law enforcement can no longer intimidate Boise's Muslims.
Albany, New York
Albany Women Against War, the impetus behind the Albany Common Council civil liberties resolution, had already been working to build bridges with the Muslim community for several years when the story broke that the leader and a cofounder of a local mosque had been arrested following a year-long FBI sting operation. In response to the arrest, members of several area social justice, civil liberties, and peace groups formed a coalition--the Solidarity Network--to raise awareness of racial profiling and acts of discrimination. Projects include:
- Placing an ad in a local paper or a message on a billboard demanding an end to prejudice against Muslim and Arab neighbors in their area
- Collaborating with local mosques to develop open forums and community dialogues to dispel myths about Islam
- Raising money for the families of the two men arrested
- Working with lawyers for the two men, and with the Albany chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
This November, Women Against War will hold their third Ramadan dinner at a local mosque, where they will once again deliver toys for the children of detainees. This past summer they held a scarf party, where local Muslim women explained the religious significance of the hijab. They sold scarves to raise money for a local woman whose husband was held without charge for ten months and then deported. They are planning another scarf party to raise funds for others.
The women note that Muslims in their community are especially fearful after the recent sting operation and a separate case in which Muslim men were harassed for praying in a shopping mall parking lot. They have been approached by some local Muslim women and hope to meet with them soon, but the women are leery of those outside their community, with good reason.
Help End National Targeting of Arabs and Muslims
The FBI periodically updates its justification for continuing to question Arabs and Muslims. Most recently it claims that terrorists are planning to disrupt the November elections, and so they must interview mosque members and others to find out what they know. The steady stream of questioning, intimidation, roundups, detentions, and deportations on the basis of profiling has been going on for three years, and it will continue indefinitely unless we speak up. If your community has passed a resolution and is using it to help end profiling, please share your story with us. If it has not passed a resolution or hasn't yet implemented its resolution for that purpose, we hope the work of the Boise and Albany communties inspires you. For other suggestions, please visit our bridges web page.
Gwen Sanchirico, Janice Nissen, and Erin O'Brien contributed to this article.
Source List of Key Laws and Policies that Threaten Civil Liberties
Whether you are researching a new law or policy, discussing it with friends, or speaking before a group, BORDC's new source list can help you link the common name of the law or policy with its source. It can also help you avoid a common criticism commonly heaped on the new laws' critics by DOJ spokesperson Mark Corallo, that we are all "mischaracterizing the PATRIOT Act."
Who's Been Hurt?
Demonstrating how real people have been hurt by new laws and policies helps many people understand why the laws need to be changed and checks and balances restored. The stories in this newsletter from Boise, Albany, and Detroit; the Muslim family portrayed at the beginning of the documentary Unconstitutional, and written stories in the National Immigration Forum's new 10-page document Violations of Civil Liberties and Basic Rights in the Wake of September 11: Stories from Across America can help people put complex legal issues into a real-life context.
Reading Your Rights is a year old but new to BORDC. The 27-minute documentary tells the story of the famous Tattered Cover bookstore's defense of customer records sought by police investigating a methamphetamine lab and compares it to the issues at stake in USA PATRIOT Act Section 215. Recommended. Read the review by Bookselling This Week. Order copies (DVD is $35 plus shipping; video is $30 plus shipping).
Unconstitutional: The War on Civil Liberties is an hour-long Robert Greenwald presentation sponsored by the ACLU. It immediately grabs viewers with real-life stories of people affected by the Act and other administration policies and practices, from immigrants to protestors. It also explains how the USA PATRIOT Act was passed without markup or debate, and without having been read. It uses the resolution movement to illustrate public opposition, including an interview with Arcata (CA) city councilor Dave Meserve and footage of the 2002 vote of the Eugene City Council. Recommended. Visit the Public Interest Pictures web site to watch a trailer, see where the film is being screened, or order a copy online. DVD is $9.95 plus shipping; video is $14.95 plus shipping.
The Cost of Freedom: Civil Liberties, Security & the USA PATRIOT Act is a Duncan Entertainment production presented by Iowa Public Television on select PBS stations nationwide beginning September 17. Through historic footage and interviews with law professors, scholars, and activists with diverging views, the hour-long documentary puts the USA PATRIOT Act in an historical perspective. Recommended. For more information and to order copies (DVD is $19.95 plus shipping; video is $14.95 plus shipping). Ask your PBS station to broadcast the documentary.
Elaine Cassel's new book, The War on Civil Liberties, quickly lays out the laws and policy changes that affect civil liberties, illustrating each with stories of real people or groups who have been affected and of the popular resistance. Recommended. Lawrence Hill Books, distributed by Independent Publishers Group.
Mark Dow, American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons, is a shocking look inside the public and private detention centers run by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, now known as Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). An eye-opening resource, and a must-read for activists working to reform the system or to assist its victims or their families. Recommended. University of California Press.
Mount Vernon, New York will soon fly three Constitution flags throughout the city--over City Hall, the city park, and the armory. Constitution flags have been purchased by constitutional law professors and law firms throughout the country. To purchase your own Constitution flag, and for more information, visit www.constitutionflag.com.
Is there an immigration detention center near you?
In past issues of this newsletter, we have invited activists to find out if there is an immigration detention center near them and offered suggestions for community assistance to the detainees and their families. We have also reported the work of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee--Tacoma (WA) to oppose a private facility and to offer the community's help to detainees and their families. Mark Dow's book, American Gulag, reviewed in this issue, paints a bleak picture of the ICE system. A September 8 article in The Bond Buyer described a bond issue for a 1,020-bed ICE detention center planned in Frio County, Texas, as a promising opportunity for investors. Correctional Services Corp., a private prison operator that has been removed as the operator of other prisons in Tallulah, Louisiana, and Pahokee, Florida, would operate the Texas facility.
Call for campus organizers
Now that colleges and universities are back in session, BORDC seeks your help in making students and faculty aware of our Campus Organizing Handbook and other resources for campus organizing. We also have four Work-Study employees who are available to reach out to other students, to advise and assist campus organizers, and to formulate new tools for campus activism. If you know of students or campus groups in your area who are interested in civil liberties, or if you are working with students in your area, please contact us to let us know how we can help. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 413-582-0110.
Reminder: 1984+20 Project
The 1984+20 Project, a nationwide reading of Orwell's book 1984, takes place next month. If your school, library, or community-based organization plans to participate, take a look at the 1984 buttons in BORDC's catalog.
Hamdi To Be Released After Two-Year Imprisonment
Yaser Esam Hamdi’s lawyer announced recently that a deal has been reached with the U.S. government that will release Hamdi from the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Hamdi’s lawyers have been negotiating for his release since the Supreme Court’s June ruling that enemy combatants have the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. In exchange for his release to Saudi Arabia, Hamdi is expected to give up his U.S. citizenship.
Guantánamo Bay Update
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green ordered the Bush Administration to justify the continued detention of 60 men it is holding at Guantánamo who have sued the government. She gave a deadline for written arguments of October 4 and a final deadline for charges or factual basis of October 18.
New Abu Ghraib Abuse Allegations Surface, Report Places Blame on Leadership
An Army investigation released in August revealed that Iraqi teenagers were threatened and harassed with dogs while detained at Abu Ghraib. In a Washington Post article, an Army officer familiar with the report asserted that, "It has nothing to do with interrogation. It was just them [the MP dog handlers who threatened the teens] on their own being weird." However, both an independent panel and an Army investigation found that high-level leadership failures helped produce an atmosphere conducive to the abuse of detained prisoners. According to the reports, the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military command in Iraq contributed to the abusive environment by failing to sufficiently monitor interrogation policies and practices, and by responding too slowly when problems arose. Despite these revelations, no top officials will by prosecuted. The government will finally have to release documents regarding the treatment of detainees held at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, however. On September 15, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government to produce these documents within 30 days. The ACLU submitted FOIA requests for the documents nearly one year ago.
In yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the SAFE Act and the USA PATRIOT Act, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and other defenders of the Act continued to mislead about the issues. Comey claimed no knowledge of any charges of misuse of the USA PATRIOT Act. BORDC is surprised that the second in command of the DOJ is unaware that his department's inspector general is looking into such allegations in the case of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield.
BORDC is observing the progress of several proposals and legislation, and we will issue an Action Alert if any of these bills seems likely to come up for a vote. Here are some of the recent proposals and bills we are currently watching:
- House plan to revive parts of Domestic Security Enhancement Act (PATRIOT II)
- Sen. John Kyl's proposed bill, S. 2679, the Tools to Fight Terrorism Act of 2004. Find complete bill information on Thomas.
- To standardize birth certificates and drivers' licenses, which may result in a national ID card
- Proposals in Congress to restructure intelligence, including:
- Removing barriers to internal covert intelligence operations targeting Americans
- Transfering authority for FBI counterterrorism operations from the Attorney General to an Intelligence Director
- Creating a "Shared Information Network" that would enable federal and local officials to employ data mining, accessing multiple databases, to find information on individuals without judicial oversight
Appeals to FISA court, but no process
Several controversial provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act, including Section 215, involve the government's use of a the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The DOJ has assured librarians, booksellers, and others that they can challenge a FISA subpoena. However, as Dan Eggen reported in an August 30 Washington Post article, the five-page list of FISA court rules does not include a process that would permit anyone outside the government to do so.
No Free Speech outside Republican National Convention
Police arrested more than 1,800 people during the convention, about 20 percent of whom were not involved in demonstrations, and held them in allegedly contaminated facilities nicknamed "Guantánamo on the Hudson" for up to 45 hours--much longer than necessary. Attorneys for the protestors claimed that hundreds of protestors were being kept in detention until after President Bush's acceptance speech. A Manhattan Criminal Court Judge, John Cataldo, determined that the detentions violated state law and threated to fine the city $1,000 per day for each person confined for more than 24 hours without arraignment.
White House Press Corps inadvertently diverted to "free speech zone"
The treatment of demonstrators in New York City mirrored a pattern throughout President Bush's term of sweeping dissenters far from the path of the president and his entourage into areas euphemistically called "free speech zones" to give a false impression that the public overwhelmingly favors the president's policies. A busload of White House Press Corps members, including NPR correspondent Don Gonyea, en route to a Bush campaign stop in Ohio earlier this month, got a taste of that treatment when a policeman mistook them for demonstrators and directed their bus to a church parking lot.
Arcata, California City Councilor David Meserve was honored with a Courageous Resister award from Refuse and Resist! at an August 26th event. Meserve not only worked to pass civil liberties resolutions in Arcata and Humboldt County, but also sponsored the Arcata ordinance that makes voluntary cooperation with unconstitutional investigations or arrests under the USA PATRIOT Act a crime punishable by a $57 fine.
Chip Pitts, the chair of BORDC of Greater Dallas, was recently elected to chair Amnesty International USA's board of directors. Pitts is an international attorney, technology entrepreneur, law educator, and longtime human rights activist with expertise in foreign policy and issues of ethical globalization. He was instrumental in helping pass the Dallas civil liberties resolution.
Thank you to all our subscribers who have supported the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's work with your tax-deductible contributions. If you value our work, please help keep us going by making a contribution online or via check or money order today.
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Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Jessie Baugher
Contributing Writers: Allison Ciullo, Jennifer DuBois, Janice Nissen, Erin O'Brien, Gwen Sanchirico
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