Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
November 2004, Vol. 3, No. 9
In this issue:
- Thoughts for a post-election day Thanksgiving
- Intelligence reform legislation
- Farewell to John Ashcroft; a look at the nominee for Attorney General
- USA PATRIOT Act third anniversary
- New tools and resources for organizers and educators
- In the courts and tribunals
After one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory, it is helpful to have issues that can unite people from across the political spectrum. Defending civil liberties is such an issue. As we approach our national day of thanksgiving, the BORDC offers a few observations worthy of thanks:
On election day, no federal legislator was unseated for opposing the USA PATRIOT Act or other laws or policies that have been used to take away rights. Senator Russ Feingold, the only U.S. Senator who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act, easily won re-election after he explained to Wisconsin voters why he opposed parts of the law.
Skepticism about overzealous antitorrism laws and measures continues to grow steadily. A September Newsweek poll found that 50% of respondents believed that the USA PATRIOT Act should be renewed, while 40% felt that it should not be.
Through our work, BORDC has observed that when people learn about affronts to civil liberties, they become concerned. Therefore, we believe there is a correlation between the Newsweek poll and a Cato Institute survey the following month. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed by Cato knew either "nothing" or "very little" about the USA PATRIOT Act. We consider it likely that most of the people who believe that the sunsetting sections should be renewed have not read them.
Federal judges and the Supreme Court have vindicated people's concerns about the abuse of power by the Executive Branch and of wrongful arrests, detentions, convictions, and military tribunals. In the last month alone, Yaser Esam Hamdi returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged for any offense after being held in solitary confinement for nearly three years as a U.S. citizen "enemy combatant," and a federal judged ruled that the military tribunals planned for Guantánamo are unlawful.
362 government bodies in 43 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have enacted resolutions and ordinances upholding the rights of their 55.5 million residents.
Community-based education, debate, and action in defense of civil liberties are having an impact. For example:
- At the local level, activists in Boise recently put a stop to harassment of local Muslims by the FBI and local police.
- At the national level, renewed interest in civil liberties has led to the introduction of more than a dozen bills in the 108th Congress, and we expect more progress in the 109th Congress.
- According to David Cole, "The quiet success of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's campaign may well explain the Bush administration's failure thus far to introduce most of what has been dubbed 'Patriot II.'" (November 18, 2004, "Uncle Sam Is Watching You," New York Review of Books, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17568)
Many thanks to all of you who responded to our action alerts last month concerning the intelligence reform bills H.R. 10 and S. 2845 by contacting your legislators. Local and regional Bill of Rights Defense committees also helped by informing their constituents and signing on to letters, such as a letter by the National Immigration Forum, http://immigrationforum.org/documents/TheDebate/NationalSecurity/911_bill_sign-on_letter.pdf, which had nearly 200 signatories. The Council of the City of New York sent the conference committee its own letter opposing the anti-immigrant sections of H.R. 10, http://www.nyclu.org/pdfs/hr10_council_ltr_102804.pdf, after the Council's Immigration Committee heard testimony from Udi Ofer, Project Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Campaign.
Congress's attempts at reforming intelligence have failed for the time being. House and Senate conferees worked hard, both before and after the election, on a compromise bill. Although it is widely believed that the compromise bill had enough votes in the House to succeed, House Speaker Dennis Hastert removed it from consideration on Saturday because of concerns about turf at the Pentagon, voiced by Duncan Hunter, and House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner's demand for anti-immigrant and police powers. Senate negotiators had kept anti-immigrant and "Patriot II" sections out of the negotiated bill, but they did concede in the following areas:
- Surrendered their bill's provision to make the total figure for intelligence spending public
- Weakened the national intelligence director's powers.
- Took away independent powers of the civil liberties board.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the 9/11 Commission, and family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks lobbied for passage of the bill. The next possibility for a vote is December 6-7, assuming President Bush works harder to gain Republican support.
This month, President Bush accepted John Ashcroft's resignation as Attorney General and nominated White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace him. BORDC does not expect the change in personnel at the DOJ to result in greater respect for civil liberties there.
Ashcroft's tenure. As we prepare to say farewell to Mr. Ashcroft, here is a brief analysis of his on-the-job performance.
- Collaborative? During Mr. Ashcroft's term as Attorney General, his enemies were everyone who opposed his policies or those of his boss. He reserved his best-known verbal attack, "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty...," for his former colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who had called on him in December 2001 to testify about the administration's plans for military tribunals. Mr. Ashcroft had an even worse meeting with the same committee this year, at which he refused to either provide or to classify memos prepared for the president about the use of torture in questioning prisoners, including a memo drafted by Alberto Gonzales, and risked being found in contempt of Congress (June 9, 2004, Susan Schmidt, "Ashcroft Refuses to Release '02 Memo," The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24867-2004Jun8.html).
- Logical? When librarians were getting on Mr. Ashcroft's nerves, he attempted to derail their concerns about Section 215 by declassifying the number of times it had been used, which he claimed was zero. Thinking that would settle the matter, he was unprepared when the librarians roared back that if the section had never been used, it must not be needed and should therefore be repealed.
- Budgets time wisely? Mr. Ashcroft was too busy to accommodate most House and Senate Judiciary Committee requests for meetings, but he had plenty of time for his public relations tour to promote the USA PATRIOT Act in August and September 2003 and for news conferences proclaiming success in taking terrorism suspects, "sleeper cells," and the like off the streets. He apparently didn't have time to apologize to the innocent victims of indictments and convictions that later turned out to be in error, however.
- Truthful? Mr. Ashcroft's letter of resignation states that "the objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts." No comment.
- Defends the U.S. Constitution? As a federal official, Mr. Ashcroft took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Far from praising defenders of the Constitution, he fought their efforts and equated them with the terrorists. Although he has yet to accuse the U.S. Supreme Court of aiding and abetting terrorists for their decisions on Rasul v. Bush and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, he recently accused federal judges who question President Bush's decisions on international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions of jeopardizing national security. (November 15, 2004, Curt Anderson, "Ashcroft: Judges Threaten National Security by Questioning Bush," Associated Press, http://www.nylawyer.com/news/04/11/111504f.html)
- Stands for justice? Mr. Ashcroft's cold-hearted actions and statements as attorney general belied his stated goal: to "do right in God's sight." Consider his comment on the DOJ Inspector General's reports critical of his department's slow processes of selecting and clearing thousands his department detained up after the September 11th attacks,"We make no apologies."
Nominee Alberto Gonzales. Mr. Ashcroft's imminent departure is no surprise, but President Bush's appointment of White House Chief Counsel Alberto Gonzales is ominous. In fact, some of his actions since coming to Washington indicate that he could be a worse attorney general than Mr. Ashcroft. For example, although Mr. Ashcroft ultimately defended the president's plan for military tribunals for the Guantánamo Bay detainees, he favored the use of the criminal justice system. Mr. Gonzales also backed the use of tribunals, which have now been halted by a federal judge. Gonzales's infamous "torture memo" of January 2002 is believed to have paved the way for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and it shows that he places loyalty to his boss above international treaties, the U.S. Constitution, and human rights, and above concerns for the humane treatment of U.S. soldiers who may be captured. (See David Cole's article, "Taking Liberties," in the December 6, 2004, issue of The Nation, http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20041206&s=cole.) His defense of Vice President Cheney's secret energy committee meetings indicates that he is unlikely to be interested in government accountability.
Although Mr. Gonzales's confirmation is nearly assured, BORDC hopes the Senate Judiciary Committee will question him carefully, and we invite our readers to voice their concerns about the nominee to their senators. To find contact information for your senators, go to http://www.senate.gov/.
In a recent Village Voice column, Nat Hentoff resurrected a warning from the late Justice Brandeis that applies equally to Attorney General Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." (See Hentoff's column, "John Ashcroft's Achievements: The fearsome attorney general is leaving, but his legacy, and the resistance, remain," http://villagevoice.com/issues/0447/hentoff.php.)
On October 26, 2004, BORDC observed the third anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act by sending President Bush a collection of the resolutions and ordinances enacted in its wake by 359 communities and states uphold the civil liberties of their residents. The collection of resolutions dwarfed the mammoth Act itself. The final document and a press release are online at http://bordc.org/PR-patriot3rd.htm.
We'll let you know when we receive a response from the White House.
For other recommended resources BORDC has reviewed, please visit our resources page (http://bordc.org/recom-resources.php). For literature you can adapt and distribute in your community, visit our fliers page (http://www.bordc.org/fliers.php).
Resources for religious groups
BORDC is pleased to announce a new resource for religious organizations seeking to become more involved in the movement to defend the Bill of Rights. Our new web page of Suggestions for Passing a Resolution in your Religious Organization (http://www.bordc.org/relig-tools.htm) offers tips, ideas, and links to other helpful resources. If you have feedback or resources to share, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student organizing updates
The Academic Senate of Illinois State University passed a civil liberties resolution on November 10, 2004, bringing the total number of campus resolutions to 44! Additionally, organizers at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and Miami University in Ohio are currently working to pass resolutions of their own. If you would like to get your campus involved in the movement to restore civil liberties, please visit our Campus pages (http://www.bordc.org/student.htm) for suggestions and helpful resources, or email us at email@example.com.
New method for supporting statewide resolutions
BORDC's web page on statewide resolutions passed and in progress shows the various techniques activists have used. In the last election, for example, Massachusetts residents put a nonbinding referendum on ballots in 9 state legislative districts. The referendum passed in every town and racked up an impressive 73% of the vote overall. For more information, visit our State Resolutions web page at http://bordc.org/states.htm.
The National Lawyers Guild's new report, The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent: A National Lawyers Guild Report on Government Violations of First Amendment Rights in the United States 2004, analyzes how the Department of Justice reacts to and handles local police action regarding lawful public expressions of dissent and free speech. The report evaluates the monitoring and punishment of dissenters and ultimately demonstrates that, instead of the protecting the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens and prosecuting police abuses, the DOJ under Attorney General John Ashcroft has done just the opposite. Recommended. The North River Press (http://www.northriverpress.com).
Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom debuted in the U.S. this past August and will run until December 19 at The Culture Project in New York. Written by Victoria Brittain & Gillian Slovo from interviews, letters, and testimonies of detainees, lawyers, and public officials, Guantánamo portrays the conditions of life in Guantánamo Bay's Camp Delta and asks viewers to consider the human rights implications of such detentions. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit The Culture Project's website at http://www.45bleecker.com.
After being detained without charges for nearly three years at Guantánamo Bay's Camp Delta, Yaser Esam Hamdi was released last month on the condition that he surrender his U.S. citizenship. The agreement reached by Hamdi's lawyers and the U.S. government also requires that he live in Saudi Arabia for at least five years, with restricted travel options, and forbids him to sue the U.S. government over his detention (October 11, 2004, Associated Press, "Hamdi returns to Saudi Arabia," USA TODAY, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2004-10-11-hamdi_x.htm?POE=NEWISVA).
Guantánamo Bay Update
On November 8, 2004, a federal judge ruled that the military tribunals used to try Guantánamo Bay detainees are unlawful, saying that some of the detainees may qualify as prisoners of war (November 9, 2004, Carol D. Leonnig & John Mintz, "Judge Says Detainees' Trials Are Unlawful," The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34519-2004Nov8.html). The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has since agreed to expedite the government's appeal case, but lawyers representing an accused "enemby combatant" are asking that it go before the Supreme Court (See "US court expedites Guantánamo appeal" from ABC News Online, http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200411/s1246339.htm, and Gina Holland's "Guantánamo trials appealed at high court" in the November 23, 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/apwashington_story.asp . . .). Meanwhile, the Combat Status Review Tribunals, which are not criminal trials, continue. Detainees continue to boycott the review tribunal process, as nearly half have refused to attend their hearings (November 13, 2004, Peter Prengaman, "Guantánamo Detainee Won't Attend Hearing," Associated Press, http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/10175509.htm).
Please Support the Work of the BORDC
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 (http://www.bordc.org/donate.html) or via check or money order today.
Your purchase of bumper stickers, buttons, booklets, and Bill of Rights get well cards also helps. Visit our catalogue, which includes our new button: The Patriot Act? That's SO 1984, here: http://www.bordc.org/catalogue.php.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Jessie Baugher
Contributing Writer: Rebecca Gavagan
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
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Northampton, MA 01060
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