Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
August 2005, Vol. 4, No. 6
In this issue:
- USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization: NOT the End
- Take Action: PATRIOT Act Reauthorization vote, Questions for Judge Roberts, Sibel Edmonds Petition
- New Resources: Constitution Day, League of Women Voters report, UConn Poll, New TV Series
- Resolution News: California Senate Passes State Resolution, Resolutions Affect Congress
- Local Highlights: Evanston reading of "Guantánamo" play, California activists meet with legislator
- Other News: FBI uses National Security Letters to gain library records, Guantánamo Bay update
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What can we do now that Congress is about to reauthorize the 16 USA PATRIOT Act sections and subsections that expire this year?
First, consider the scope of the challenges we face. They have never been limited to the 16 sections, or even to the USA PATRIOT Act alone. Rather, they are a complex web of new and old laws and policies that our government has used to increase surveillance, searches, and detentions without probable cause; to turn the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head; to expand executive branch powers and reduce oversight; and to abuse claims of "state secrets" and "national security" and punish whistleblowers in order to hide its actions and mistakes from the people. It is up to us to make these policies and actions "sunset."
Second, take note of what we've all accomplished. In nearly 400 communities and counties, local people have set in motion a strategy of local education, debate, and action concerning threats to civil liberties that has resonated not only in their own communities but across the country and in Congress. See "Resolution News" below for details.
Third, reflect on who we are. The struggle to restore civil liberties is uniting people with a broad range of interests, without regard to political affiliation, including librarians, booksellers and publishers; gun owners; the faith community; people speaking out against government policies; medical professionals; bankers and business people; and many more. Consider who else you can bring to the table.
Fourth, remember the weaknesses of the arguments for retaining the questionable laws and policies. They rely on greatly exaggerating the numbers of their successes in order to claim that the PATRIOT Act is actually making us safer, covering up the pre- and post-9/11 failures of the FBI and CIA, and repeating the statement, recently debunked, that the Justice Department has no interest in library records. (Read the 8/26/05 story in the Washington Post.) The Bill of Rights Defense movement, the League of Women Voters' "Local Voices" project, and a recent survey by the University of Connecticut Center for Research & Analysis all show that the more people know about the PATRIOT Act, the more critical they become (see New Resources below).
Fifth, stay focused on your ultimate goal. The BORDC wants every U.S. resident to know and enjoy the rights and liberties set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. When everyone is firmly committed to upholding our liberties, the government will not be able to take them away.
Thank you for all that we have accomplished so far. Together we have learned that the key to success is making people aware of the laws and policies and of how the government has used them. We look forward to your continued involvement, support, and creativity for the work ahead.
"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
-- Samuel Adams
PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Vote
A conference committee is expected to produce a compromise version of the House reauthorization bill, H.R. 3199, and its Senate companion bill, S. 1389, around mid-September. Attorney General Gonzales has recently gone on the offensive by criticizing the minimal reforms of the Senate bill, implying that raising standards for secret searches and roving wiretaps would endanger the country. He prefers the House version.
What you can do: "Dear Conferee" letters urging the conference committee to keep the Senate reauthorization bill are circulating in both the House and Senate. Please urge your representative and senators to sign the House letter from Reps. Sanders and Otter or the Senate letter from Durbin and Craig if they have not already done so, to support the Senate reforms, and to work for further reforms. Find contact information for your representative and senators.
Questions for Judge Roberts
In our July newsletter, we reported that President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts, was part of the three-judge panel that sided with the Bush administration on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The panel allowed the tribunals to go forward after it overturned a lower court ruling that the administration's planned military tribunals for Guantánamo detainees violated the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions.
More recently, the timing of the case in relation to Judge Roberts's nomination has come to light. Attorney General Gonzales interviewed Roberts as a candidate for Supreme Court Justice days before his panel heard the case in April. On May 3, Roberts met with Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, and others. A few days after the panel's July 15 ruling, President Bush announced his selection of Roberts as his nominee. Read 8/25 story in the New York Times.
Some senators have raised questions about whether it was proper for Judge Roberts to hear the case after his interview. The timing of President Bush's announcement also raises serious questions as to whether Roberts's ruling, which favored executive privilege over constitutional and international law, was a condition for his selection by President Bush.
What you can do: Please ask your senators, especially if they are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to question Judge Roberts closely in his confirmation hearings. The Senators must know specifically:
- How does he define the constitutional privileges and limits of the Executive Branch?
- What is his philosophy on the Geneva Conventions? On other international treaties of which the United States is a signatory?
Sibel Edmonds Petition
Sibel Edmonds was fired in 2002 for exposing problems in the FBI translation department, including allegations supported by an investigation conducted by the DOJ's Inspector General (IG). Read 8/28 article in the St. Petersburg Times. The DOJ invoked the "state secrets privilege" to cover up the IG's report.
What you can do: Sign Ms. Edmonds's petition to Congress calling for the release of the DOJ-IG's report.
Observe Constitution Day, September 17
Constitution and Citizenship Day is an opportunity to educate people of all ages about the U.S. Constitution and to engage them in discussions about the importance of preserving our constitutional rights. It is also a chance to discuss post-9/11 civil liberties infringements due to the PATRIOT Act, Attorney General guidelines, designation of enemy combatants, Guantánamo Bay, and more.
- BORDC's August 18 Action Alert contains more information about the new mandate instituted by Senator Robert Byrd, which requires every school receiving federal funding to organize an event on or around September 17 to mark the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
- For K-12 resource suggestions, go to BORDC's K-12 web page.
- Resources for engaging adults on Constitution Day are on our Constitution Day web page. Consider organizing your own public event or teaming up with a community college.
League of Women Voters "Local Voices" Report
The League of Women Voters (LWV) has completed the first phase of its program “Local Voices,” in which 10 U.S. communities weighed the balance between civil liberties and homeland security. According to the League’s Sara Conrath, "Local Voices" has engaged a wide range of people in discussion on ways in which our liberties have been altered since 9/11.
The LWV's experience matches those of hundreds of locally based organizations that have engaged their communities in debate about this issues: The more people learned, the more they questioned national policies. On September 7, the League will deliver its final report to Congress, to coincide with Congress’ consideration of reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act’s sunset provisions. Look for the executive summary on the League web site, http://www.lwv.org/, the same day.
University of Connecticut Poll on the USA PATRIOT Act
On August 30, the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research & Analysis released the results of a national poll that compared the respondent's knowledge about the PATRIOT Act to his or her opinion. For example, it found that "the more the public knows about the PATRIOT Act, the less they support it – 57% of those who know the intent of the legislation support it, compared to 70% of those who do not know the intent of it."
ACLU Freedom Files Series Premiere: "Beyond the Patriot Act"
"Beyond the Patriot Act" is the 30-minute opener of a ten-week TV series called the ACLU Freedom Files. The series will be broadcast beginning in early September on several venues, including the web. Go to http://www.aclu.tv/ to learn more. Information on how to order a DVD of the premiere and how to host a house party showing is at http://www.aclu.tv/getinvolved.html. Tomorrow (September 1) is the deadline for requesting DVDs.
California Senate Passes State Resolution
California, the most populous state in the union, is on the verge of becoming the eighth state to pass a resolution opposing the PATRIOT Act. On August 22, the California Senate passed SJR 10 by a vote of 22-9. The California Civil Rights Alliance is spearheading this campaign.
What you can do: If you live in California, now is the time to contact your assemblyperson in the California House, whether he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, and urge a “yes” vote on SJR 10. The vote in the Assembly is expected by Friday, September 2.
More on Resolutions' Impact on Congress
In the July issue, we reported that a high number of resolutions were passed in the districts of House members who opposed House bill H.R. 3199, to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act. Prior to the vote on the bill, the House voted on a motion that would have sent the bill back to committee with instructions to reinstate four-year sunsets for the 16 provisions set to expire. If only 5 House members had voted differently, the motion would have prevailed.
- 312 civil liberties resolutions passed in the districts of the 209 representatives who voted in favor of that motion.
- 74 resolutions passed in the districts of the 218 who voted against it.
The motion's failure allowed the vote on H.R. 3199 to go forward. Again, the resolutions' impact was apparent:
- 301 civil liberties resolutions passed in the districts of the 171 House members who opposed HR 3199.
- 85 resolutions passed in the districts of the 257 members who supported it.
California activists persist in meeting with legislator
Following BORDC's call for local action and legislative visits this summer, the Placer County (CA) Coalition to Safeguard Liberties (PCCSL) set about planning a meeting with their House member. After numerous attempts to set up a meeting proved fruitless, the coalition tried other means. They learned that another group had scheduled a meeting for August 15th, and -- as coalition member Carol Norberg described -- "we boldly walked in 15 minutes before they were due." Even this took some doing, as the office was "hidden at the rear of a new complex and not accessible through the main door of the address given." The extra effort paid off, however. PCCSL members were able to meet with their representative's chief aide, who expressed surprise that they had been trying to set up a meeting for so long and promised to give the legislator the book of resolutions and other materials they had brought. The PCCSL members also helped the group that had scheduled the meeting to find the legislator's office, and they too had a successful meeting.
Evanston reading of "Guantánamo" play a huge success
Following the June 19 performance of Guantánamo: ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’ in Northampton, MA, organized by the Rosenberg Fund for Children to kick off readings nationwide, other communities have begun planning local readings of this powerful play. On August 14, over 100 people showed up to an Evanston, IL cafe to see a reading of the play. After the performance, the backdrop (a bed sheet with poems written by detainees beautifully scrawled on it) was raffled off as a fundraiser, and audience members engaged in a productive talk-back session. An attorney representing the Guantánamo detainees read about the event in the local newspaper and showed up with his colleagues, who fielded questions and shared experiences. As Nora Fiffer -- one of the organizers of the event -- said, "I think a lot of people were very moved . . . Moved emotionally and moved to action, I hope." Readings and performances are currently scheduled in Lincoln, NE; Chicago, IL; and Washington, D.C.
Visit BORDC's web site to learn how to put on your own local reading: http://www.bordc.org/grp/index.php.
FBI uses National Security Letters to Gain Library Records
For nearly four years, the DOJ has scoffed at the suggestion that the FBI had any interest in using PATRIOT Act Section 215 to obtain library records. Nevertheless, it should come as no surprise that the FBI has in fact sought records from a Fairfield County, Connecticut, library using PATRIOT Act Section 505, Miscellaneous National Security Authorities. The ACLU filed a lawsuit, ACLU v. Gonzales, on August 9, challenging the FBI's authority to use National Security Letters (NSLs). The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order today to lift the gag order on its clients so that they may tell the public why they oppose the NSL, which requires no court approval. Read 8/30 article in Government Technology.
Guantánamo Bay Update
For years, military attorneys assigned to defend terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay military trials have criticized their unfairness. Recently, two senior prosecutors agreed. Their confidential messages, reported in an 8/1 article in the New York Times, stated that the system was heavily weighted toward the prosecution to ensure convictions. For example, the system deprived defendants of access to information exonerating them.
The prosecutors' messages may soon have an impact. The Pentagon today revealed that it is about to make procedural changes to the military trials, including allowing defendants to attend their trials and to see evidence against them. See the 8/31 story in USA Today.
British human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who represents several clients at Guantánamo, has revealed that more than 200 detainees have been on hunger strikes for about three weeks. Smith told a crowd last weekend, “The world needs to know that these guys are going to die in the next two to three weeks. They are starving themselves to death.” Read 8/29 article in Christian Today.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Jessie Baugher, East Region Organizer
Contributing Writer: Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
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Northampton, MA 01060
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