Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's E-mail Newsletter
November/December 2005, Vol. 4, No. 9
In This Issue:
- USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Delayed
- New Actions and Resources: Anti-torture Campaign Update, Bill of Rights Day/Human Rights Day, New Books
- Local Highlights: New Resolutions, North Carolina Groups Demonstrate Against Torture, Communities Observe 4th Anniversary of the PATRIOT Act
- In the News: Threat to Habeas Corpus Continues, Privacy Under Attack, Secret Detentions and Torture
- In the Courts: Sibel Edmonds, Jose Padilla, David Hicks, Lynne Stewart and Steven Kurtz
- In Brief: Remembering Robert Rees, BORDC Receives Award, New BORDC Board Members
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On November 17, lawmakers from both parties held a press conference to explain why they were preventing a vote on a poorly written “compromise” of the House and Senate bills to reauthorize the 16 expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act. Their statements echoed the sentiments of city councilors, county commissioners, and state legislators nationwide who have passed 399 resolutions and ordinances critical of the PATRIOT Act: Neither the Act itself nor the reforms in the reauthorization draft protect Americans’ civil liberties. (Read the conference report and dissenting opinions.)
The conferees are expected to produce a revised draft in time for House and Senate votes the week of December 12, shortly before the provisions expire on December 31. The bipartisan coalition that stopped the bill heard the voices of their constituents and dozens of organizations that have fought hard for civil liberties since the PATRIOT Act was passed in October 2001. Congress also reacted to several recent news stories about how the FBI has used its expanded PATRIOT Act powers, notably Barton Gellman’s exposé on National Security Letters, The FBI’s Secret Scrutiny, which appeared on the Washington Post’s front page on Sunday, November 6. In October, the Electronic Privacy Information Center revealed cases of FBI intelligence violations, which it had uncovered in records it received via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.
What you can do: The delayed vote presents an opportunity to make sure your voice is heard. The few weeks remaining before that vote are we have left to reiterate our concerns to senators and representatives via phone calls and faxes, group meetings to district offices, and questions posed at their town meetings. Read our latest action alert for other suggestions and talking points.
Anti-Torture Campaign Update: Petitions, Sign-On Letter Sent to Congress
Congress is still working on a conference report to reconcile the House and Senate Defense Appropriations bill, and we are doing all we can to assure that Sen. McCain’s anti-torture amendment is included. Earlier this month, we sent our anti-torture petition to the Defense Authorization Act Conference Committee and faxed our anti-torture sign-on letter (PDF) to President Bush and every member of Congress. See the press release here.
To date, more than 2,000 people have signed the petition, including nearly 400 from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, alone. The sign-on letter was endorsed by dozens of national organizations, veterans’ groups, retired military officers, and local governments. The Amherst (MA) Select Board, Bloomington (IN) Human Rights Commission, and Eugene (OR) City Council all endorsed the letter.
Thank you to all of the community organizers and concerned individuals who gathered signatures for the petition and asked your local governments to sign on to the letter. We will continue to collect signatures, so please continue to distribute the petition at meetings, public events, and elsewhere.
What you can do: In addition to gathering signatures for the anti-torture petition, you can educate your community about the realities of torture by putting on a reading of the play Guantánamo: ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’. See our new sample publicity materials at http://www.bordc.org/grp/readings/publicity_materials.php.
Bill of Rights Day/International Human Rights Day
December 15 and December 10—Bill of Rights Day and International Human Rights Day, respectively—are days to celebrate the liberties granted by the Bill of Rights, to recognize the rights we have lost, and to agitate to win them back.
We encourage you to mark either or both days in a simple, time-honored tradition: schedule a public reading of the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in your community. Look for more tools for building your own Bill of Rights or International Human Rights Day on BORDC's website.
For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire by James Yee is the gripping personal story of a converted Muslim, West Point graduate and former Muslim Chaplain at Guantánamo Bay. Yee provides a rare, firsthand glimpse of the treatment that Guantánamo Bay detainees received while he was stationed there for ten months. Yee describes his arrest in September 2003, two days after receiving a glowing evaluation that recommended his immediate promotion, and his treatment during 76 days in solitary confinement. Yee was charged with espionage and threatened with the death penalty. Eventually all charges against Yee were dropped, and he left the Army with an honorable discharge, but without an apology from the Army for the harm caused to Yee’s personal and professional life. Public Affairs Books, 2005.
Rethinking the PATRIOT Act: Keeping America Safe and Free by Stephen J. Schulhofer explores the positive and negative effects of the law and concludes that many of its powers are too broad, threatening liberty and privacy, wasting effort, misdirecting resources, and misusing legitimately acquired information for illegitimate purposes. The author, who is a Law Professor at New York University Law School and former director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice at the University of Chicago, concludes the report by recommending changes that would address the secrecy and lack of accountability resulting from the PATRIOT Act. The report is a part of The Century Foundation’s Homeland Security Project. The Century Foundation Press, 2005.
No Greater Threat: America after September 11 and the Rise of a National Security State by C. William Michaels is now available in a second revised edition. Michaels provides a comprehensive review and analysis of the USA PATRIOT Act, as well as a description of the "12 common characteristics of a national security state," which he believes the United States is coming close to fulfilling. The new edition includes updates, expanded commentary and examinations of various anti-terrorism developments since 2002. Algora Publishing, 2005.
Documentaries, plays and other books are listed and described on our Recommended Resources page.
Four New Resolutions Bring Total to 399
As Congress debates PATRIOT Act reauthorization bills, communities continue to speak out against the Act and other post-9/11 threats to civil liberties. Recently, the governing bodies of three cities and one county adopted local resolutions upholding civil liberties:
- Columbia, SC—On October 26, the fourth anniversary of the PATRIOT Act, Columbia City Councilors signed a resolution, making the city the first “civil liberties safe zone” in South Carolina. Congratulations to the Carolina Peace Resource Center and Living Room Group! Residents of Charleston are already organizing to become the next SC community to pass a resolution.
- Muskegon County, MI—The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution on November 9. Students from Muskegon Community College initiated the resolution campaign after researching and writing about the PATRIOT Act for a political science class.
- Silver City, NV—The 398th local resolution was adopted unanimously by the Town Council in Silver City, making it the fourth Nevada community to pass a resolution protecting civil liberties. The group that spearheaded the effort, the Nevada Campaign to Defeat the PATRIOT Act, continues to hold public meetings to educate Nevadans about post-9/11 threats to fundamental freedoms.
- South Brunswick, NJ—The resolution passed by the South Brunswick Township Council on October 11 marks the 18th civil liberties resolution in New Jersey. Community members throughout the state continue to organize in defense of civil liberties and are working to create even more “civil liberties safe zones.”
North Carolina Group Demonstrates Against Torture
by Margaret Misch
On November 18, 2005, three members of the Orange County and Durham Bill of Rights Defense Committees joined protestors from the Center for Theology and Social Analysis of St. Louis, Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness of Chicago, and about fifty local peace and justice activists in a protest at the Johnson County Airport in Smithfield, NC. The participants gathered to protest the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of a local company, Aero Contractors, Ltd., to supply pilots and jets to fly terror suspects to countries that use torture to extract information.
The participants split into three groups, one to deliver an indictment to company officials, another to march with signs opposing torture down Highway 70, and the third to carry posters in the opposite direction to a larger intersection on Highway 70. Some protestors wore orange prison jumpsuits with their heads under black hoods. The patrolling police and sheriff were present throughout the two hour demonstration while two helicopters flew overhead. Fourteen protestors were arrested.
Jennifer Harbury, director of the Unitarian Universalist Campaign to Stop Torture Permanently, made sure the media were aware of this event, which received national attention. For more information see stories in the Independent Weekly and The Herald.
Communities Observe 4th Anniversary of PATRIOT Act
During the week of October 24, community groups across the country held local events and actions to mark the fourth the anniversary of the PATRIOT Act and to demonstrate widespread concern about post-9/11 threats to civil liberties. Community members in Colorado, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and elsewhere held public events, mounted letter-to-the-editor campaigns, planned congressional call-in days, and took other action to educate and organize in defense of civil liberties. Thank you to all who participated! More information and a list of activities that took place are at http://www.bordc.org/involved/4thanniversary.php.
Threat to Habeas Corpus Continues
The right to challenge detention, which is known as "habeas
corpus," is fundamental to all our liberties. Outraged over recent
attempts to alter this right, nearly 1,500 of you faxed your Senators
in mid-November, urging them to uphold habeas corpus for Guantánamo
detainees. While the faxes had a discernable impact, habeas corpus
is still under attack:
USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization
Section 507 of the current PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill gives
the Attorney General the power to determine whether a state is adequately
supplying counsel to indigents in post-conviction proceedings. This
power was previously held by federal courts. Transferring the power
to the Attorney General puts an advocate in charge of the process,
rather than a neutral party—disrupting the balance of power, and
the fundamental right of prisoners to ask that an impartial judge
examine the legality of their imprisonment.
Defense Appropriations Act of 2006
As a result of your faxes, calls, and emails, many Senators supported
amendment to the Defense bill, which would have guaranteed judicial
review for Guantánamo detainees. However, the measure ultimately
failed by 10 votes, and the Graham-Levin amendment that strips
habeas corpus rights prevailed. The amendment allows detainees
to challenge their detention, but only in a limited way in the court
of appeals or if sentenced by a military trial to 10 years in prison
or death. Detainees can remain in prison forever and never have a
What you can do: Conference committees must reconcile the House and Senate versions of both the PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill and the Defense Appropriations bill before Congress adjourns in December. There is still time to remind your Senators and Representative that all human beings are entitled to habeas corpus!
Secret Detentions and Torture: "We do not torture."
President Bush’s blanket statement, “We do not torture,” in response to a question regarding the CIA’s secret detention centers at a press conference in Panama earlier this month has raised a firestorm of international condemnation and more questions for his administration. Here is a roundup of news stories this month:
- The U.S. Senate defied a presidential veto threat by approving Senator John McCain’s amendment outlawing torture by a 90-9 vote. Conferees have not yet resolved the Defense Appropriations bill to which the amendment is to be attached.
- Former inmates at Guantánamo Bay, including Moazzam Begg, held a conference to apply pressure on the Bush administration to end its use of torture and detention without charges. Read the Washington Post article.
- U.N. investigators cancelled a scheduled fact-finding visit to Guantánamo Bay detention center when the DOD refused the U.N. delegation’s request to interview detainees.
- News of CIA secret prisons, including some allegedly in former gulags of eastern Europe, prompted requests for information from the Red Cross and the European Union. EU member countries are also investigating the use of their airspace to transport detainees and the CIA’s kidnapping of their citizens on their country’s soil. Read EU wants details on CIA prisons.
- The Eugene (OR) Register Guard has published a short editorial titled with President Bush’s statement, “We do not torture,” every day since the president made that statement.
News stories throughout the EU about CIA flights and secret prisons
imply that they do not believe President Bush's denial of U.S. use
of torture. The denial clearly contradicts President Bush's threat
to veto the Defense spending bill if Senator McCain's amendment is
attached and Vice President Cheney's plea to Senator McCain to exempt
What you can do: When you call your Congressional representatives about amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill affecting habeas corpus, also urge them to reject the bill if the compromise version (known as the "conference report") does not contain Senator McCain's amendment banning abuse and torture of detainees. Find contact information here.
Privacy Under Attack
PATRIOT Act section 215 affects the privacy of medical and mental health records
Among the many troubling aspects of the House-Senate PATRIOT Act compromise bill is the likelihood that section 215 will not be amended to require a connection between records sought and a suspected terrorist or spy. This leaves the door open for "fishing expeditions." Section 215 gives federal agents sweeping powers to access personal and confidential information, including medical and mental health records, without probable cause. The FBI merely must establish that the information is relevant to an ongoing investigation. Furthermore, a permanent gag order prevents physicians and therapists from telling anyone, including their patients, that their records have been taken. For more information, visit the Therapists for Social Responsibility & Therapists for Peace and Justice website.
What you can do: Tell your health care providers, Senators, and Representative that you are concerned about section 215 and the privacy of your medical records. If your city, county or state has passed a resolution to protect civil liberties, be sure to mention it! View the text of your local resolution on our website.
U.S. passports to contain RFID chips
The State Department recently announced new regulations requiring Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chips on all new passports. Each chip will include personal information such as the name, nationality, sex, date of birth, place of birth, and a digitized photo of the passport holder. Many people feel the RFID chips are a threat to personal privacy and security, leaving American travelers vulnerable to identity theft and attacks both at home and abroad. The RFID chips are intended to be read by scanners from about four inches away, but high tech devices can be used to read private information from as far as 160 feet. To address these concerns, the front cover of the passports will contain antiskimming material; however, while the passport is open, the chip is unprotected. For more information, go to CNET news.
Wiretap upgrades spell financial trouble for universities, decrease privacy
Under an August Federal Communications Commission order, universities and other internet and broadband providers will have to upgrade computer networks by 2007 to comply with an 11-year-old wiretap law. The upgrade will allow the FBI and other law enforcement to monitor information traveling through a network remotely, decreasing privacy for all users, including those not suspected of criminal activity. The upgrade is expected to cost universities over $7 billion. The American Council on Education is asking the FCC to reconsider the order. Read the 10/26 Washington Post article.
On November 28, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal by Sibel Edmonds, the former F.B.I. translator who was fired for trying to expose blunders and espionage in the federal agency. Two lower courts had dismissed her case, citing the “state secrets” privilege. Edmonds’s attorneys argued that “state secrets” should not be used to silence whistleblowers, especially when the prosecution did not object to arguing its case publicly. Edmonds is founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.
U.S. citizen "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla's
criminal indictment on November 22 does not mention
a plot to set off a "dirty bomb." The charges based on second-
and third-hand hearsay evidence seem designed to short-circuit a Supreme
Court challenge that could limit President Bush's power to designate
U.S. citizens as "enemy combatants" and to hold them indefinitely
without allowing them access to courts. But Marjorie Cohn is among
those who believe the Bush strategy may backfire. Read Cohn's
article on truthout.
The military tribunal of Australian citizen and Guantánamo detainee David Hicks, which was scheduled to begin on November 15, was postponed by a federal judge pending the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court by Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Read the Associated Press article.
On October 25, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl rejected Attorney Lynne Stewart's appeal of her jury conviction for "conspiring to provide material aid to terrorists" and her request for a new trial. She is to be sentenced on January 20, 2006, for up to 30 years. Stewart was convicted for ignoring a prohibition against conveying messages from her client, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman. Visit Stewart's web site to learn how you can help.
Earlier this month, artist and University of Buffalo professor Steven Kurtz was released from pretrial supervision at the recommendation of his pretrial supervisor. No trial has been scheduled, and motions are pending for dismissal of the charges of "wire and mail fraud" for transporting unregulated, harmless bacteria. The FBI originally detained Kurtz in 2004 as a "bioterrorist." Read more about the case at the Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund web site.
Remembering Robert Rees, Organizer of First Statewide Resolution Campaign
The Bill of Rights defense movement has lost a passionate and innovative champion of free speech and civil liberties, Robert Rees. He died on November 1 at his home in Kailua, Hawai'i, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 67.
BORDC director Nancy Talanian remembers her first conversation with Bob Rees nearly three years ago, in December 2002. "The national movement was still in its early stages, with just 21 local resolutions passed nationwide, when Bob called to tell me that he wanted to get a resolution passed in Hawai'i. I was excited that a campaign was starting in that state, but I was not prepared for what he said next: that he didn't want to work on a local resolution; he planned to start with a statewide resolution."
Rees was well positioned to succeed. He moderated a weekly community television show, "Counterpoint," hosted a program on Hawai'i Public Radio called "Talk of the Islands," and contributed columns to the Honolulu Advertiser. On April 25, 2003, Hawai'i's House of Representatives approved the country's first statewide resolution upholding civil liberties. Alaska and Vermont followed suit the next month. Hawai'i's resolution, drafted by Rees, makes clear the powerful connection between the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the loss of liberties due to post-9/11 anti-terrorism laws.
On October 29th, the ACLU Worcester County (MA) presented its annual civil liberties award to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. The award was given in recognition of BORDC's outstanding work and leadership in protecting civil liberties in the cities and towns of Massachusetts. Nancy Talanian accepted the award at the ACLUM Worcester County annual meeting and banquet in Worcester, MA.
New BORDC Board Elected
The BORDC is pleased to announce the following new board members, who were elected in October: Dr. Flavia Alaya, Elizabeth L. (Betty) Ball, Krishna Bhavsar, and Glenn C. Devitt. The following officers were also elected: Joe W. (Chip) Pitts III, president; Glenn C. Devitt, treasurer; Nancy Talanian, clerk. We thank our outgoing, founding board members Arky Markham, Martha Nathan, Harold Raush and Irvine Sobelman for their service and support. A full list of our board members can be found at http://www.bordc.org/about/board.php.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Meredith Gray, Administrator
Jessie Baugher, East Region Organizer
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Margaret Misch, Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Ashley Nash-Hahn, Intern
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
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