Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
April 2006 , Vol. 5, No. 3
In this issue:
- Domestic Wiretapping
- Torture and Rendition
- Grassroots News: BORDC Launches 'Reclaiming the Message' Workshop Series, Las Vegas Resolution Inches Forward, Woody Creek, CO, Passes 406th Resolution
- In Brief: New Resources, In the Courts, In Congress
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Ed. Note: Gratitude for the Whistleblowers
This issue focuses on action opportunities for responding to two secret Bush administration programs that have made us less free and less safe: the warrantless domestic wiretapping program and the U.S. use of torture, rendition, and CIA “black sites.” We would be unaware of these shocking, illegal programs were it not for government whistleblowers who informed the press. These important stories brought Pulitzer Prizes to the journalists who broke them: James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times for their reporting on the National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless wiretapping program and Dana Priest of the Washington Post for her reporting on CIA “black sites.” Whistleblower Russell Tice of the NSA, who admits to having been a source for the wiretapping story, was fired, and Mary McCarthy was fired from the CIA for allegedly leaking the "black sites" story, a charge that she denies.
We dedicate this issue to the courageous government whistleblowers who have bravely offered up their careers to inform the media and the public about our government's misdeeds. It's now up to us to make sure those misdeeds are halted and ended.
Warrantless Domestic Wiretapping Program
Congress’s initial outrage over this program’s violations of their constituents’ Fourth Amendment rights and over Attorney General Gonzales’s stonewalling of Congress has subsided to the point where the prevailing sentiment in Congress is to amend whatever laws are necessary to make the program legal, retroactively, even though they still have not learned the most critical details such as:
- What the program is and how extensive it is. Mark Klein, a former AT&T employee and whistleblower, recently shared documents with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that indicate an enormous capability for AT&T and its competitors to use a vacuum-cleaner approach to sharing our phone calls, e-mails, and Internet travels with the National Security Agency. Read Associated Press story here.
- Whether it is the only program of its type that the president has authorized.
- Whether it is limited to international calls.
Before Congress changes the law to legalize the program, it needs to investigate what the program entails. To do otherwise would make Congress party to a cover-up. Find summaries of the proposed legislation here.
We can’t rely on Congress to do the right thing unless we remind them it is their duty to act as a coequal branch, not a rubber stamp for a president who believes he is above the law.
- On April 4, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution urging the administration to stop warrantless wiretapping, the first government body to do so.
- On March 29, the Georgetown University Law Student Government passed a resolution against illegal surveillance. Students are now urging the University to adopt a similar resolution in support of students' constitutional rights and academic freedom.
What You Can Do:
Join the Resolution Referendum on Warrantless Wiretapping
Take the BORDC model resolution to your city council, county government or state legislature! You can either ask for quick passage as Linda Ackerman of Privacy Activism did in San Francisco by sending a copy of the resolution to the Board of Supervisors, or you can start building a community campaign to stir outrage at these violations of basic Fourth Amendment rights to have a judge issue warrants for searches of our persons, houses, papers and effects. For more about how you can participate in BORDC skill-building workshops, see "Grassroots News" in this newsletter. Click here for a model resolution.
National call-in and in-district meetings
Join the BORDC, ACLU, People For the American Way, Council on American-Islamic Relations, MoveOn.org Political Action, and other organizations in the following campaigns:
- May 16-17, national call-in days. Subscribers to this newsletter will soon receive an action alert explaining how to participate, including talking points. Please alert others that it's happening, and contact us about other organizations that want to participate. If you would like to sign-up to receive our newsletter, action alerts and updates, click here.
- May 29-June 2, during Congress’s recess, organize in-district meetings with your legislators, attend their town hall meetings, and continue making calls.
Download audio of Kate Martin’s remarks to grassroots organizers
On April 18, thirty organizers from around the country participated in a telephone conference on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping programs with special guest Kate Martin, Director of the Center for National Security Studies and a member of BORDC's Advisory Board. You may listen to Kate’s opening remarks and read a transcript of questions and answers from that conference call. This was an excellent opportunity for grassroots organizers to gain a deeper appreciation for the very real danger that Congress may codify these illegal acts unless we act immediately. It also provided a chance to discuss strategies for grassroots action with Kate and others from around the nation.
But you don’t need to wait for us to give the signal: please call your legislators, write letters to the editor, and hold public educational events anytime. For more information, including responses to administration claims about the program, click here.
CIA Officer Mary McCarthy was recently fired and charged with providing information to the media about the CIA practice of secretly transferring terror suspects to "black sites" around the world for interrogations that often involve torture and abuse. Although McCarthy disputes the charge, her colleagues at the CIA know her as a courageous officer who had previously risked her job (see http://www.alternet.org/story/35387/ for more). McCarthy’s dismissal draws attention to the importance of supporting whistleblowers willing to risk their own security in order to uncover unlawful acts that are being perpetrated on individuals by our government.
Torture is secretive; it occurs behind closed doors, and governments are not likely to admit to it. Bringing awareness to this practice is a responsibility of all who believe in basic human rights.
June is Torture Awareness Month and many events are planned in support and memory of those who have suffered torture, and those who endure torture, throughout the world.
- Thursday, June 1: International 24-hour Fast
- Friday, June 23: National-Call In Day
- Sunday, June 25: International Bell Ringing, 12 noon Eastern Daylight Time
- Monday, June 26: The United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims and Survivors, commemorated annually by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), includes various events, such as a 24-Hour Vigil.
Recent practices of the U.S. government betray our human rights principles and protections. Torture Awareness Month provides an opportunity to connect personal stories to this shift in policy and to demonstrate the effect it has on our communities.
Some Other Things You Can Do throughout June 2006:
- Organize delegations to visit your local congressional offices and discuss your concerns about torture. Congress is in recess from May 27 through June 4, a good time to visit your representatives and senators in their districts.
- Host a screen of the PBS documentary, The Torture Question, or another film.
- Organize a local educational event, such as a panel of speakers on different issues relating to torture.
- Host a reading of Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom
- Organize a coalition of religious, human rights, labor, academic, legal, and other organizations and individuals to make a joint statement to the local press. If possible, arrange for radio interviews, or have the statement published in a local paper. Send copies to your congressional offices.
- Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper.
- Ask that torture be a key subject of the sermons in your church, synagogue or mosque.
- Organize a telephone campaign against torture, focusing on your members of Congress.
- Initiate formal proceedings with your local government to have your city or town declared a torture-free zone.
- Ask your city or town officials to issue a proclamation declaring June 2006 Torture Awareness Month and hold a press conference to announce it.
For more information on Torture Awareness Month, view a document (PDF) on the subject and visit the following sites:
- The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a national inter-religious campaign organized by faith leaders and theological scholars.
- Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights.
- Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
BORDC Launches 'Reclaiming the Message' Workshop Series
The second in our series of teleconference workshops, "Reclaiming the Message," will take place Thursday, April 27, with Jason Salzman of Cause Communications leading a discussion about working with the media. The series focuses on building and enhancing the skills and capabilities of grassroots organizers. The workshop series began in March with a session on writing effective letters to the editor, led by Susan Cundiff, of Women’s Action for New Directions Lane County chapter in Eugene, Oregon.
On Sunday, May 21, BORDC Board President and former Amnesty International president Chip Pitts and Sarah Manno from the Bill of Rights Supporters of Fort Collins will lead a workshop called "Changing Public Perception Through Editorial Board Meetings." Email Linda Stone or Hope Marston to participate in this and other sessions.
Future workshops will include:
1. Moving the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) Out
of Your Community
2. Building Relationships with Congressional Representatives
3. Shifting Local Dialogue through Effective Public Educational Forums
4. Building Links to Traditional and Nontraditional Community Allies
5. Effective Use of Personal Stories and Testimonials
Besides sharing and learning new tools for organizing, participants on these teleconference calls benefit from hearing what people from all over the country are doing in their communities. If you are already working on civil liberties issues with a group in your community, or if you are interested in getting started and would like to sharpen your organizing skills, contact one of BORDC’s organizers, Hope Marston in the West (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Linda Stone in the East (email@example.com). If you have expertise to share, let us know!
Las Vegas Resolution Inches Forward
Organizers in Las Vegas, NV, hope their patience and hard work will pay off in May. The Nevada Campaign to Defeat the Patriot Act (NCDPA) went before the City Council in both March and April, advocating for a resolution to prohibit law officers from enforcing provisions of the PATRIOT Act. At last, Daniel Bell tells us that it appears the mayor will bring a rewritten version of the resolution to the Council in May. Bell is hoping this version will retain language prohibiting police from acting as immigration officials, and from participating in federal PATRIOT Act efforts. The NCDPA plans to go a step further by approaching the Clark County Commission with a similar resolution later this year.
Woody Creek , CO, Passes 406th Resolution
On March 31, Woody Creek, CO, became the first neighborhood "home rule" caucus to pass a civil liberties resolution. The language of their unique resolution is strong and clearly aimed at holding public officials accountable for actively upholding the Bill of Rights. It sets out the intention of the Woody Creek Caucus to agitate for other Colorado officials to reaffirm their official oaths of office, promising to protect and defend the Constitution. The resolution urges elected officials to hold public hearings, take evidence about civil liberties violations, and adopt local policy to address Bill of Rights concerns.
New Edition: Terrorism and the Constitution by David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University, and James X. Dempsey, the policy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. The third edition of this book critiques the government’s response to terrorism by comparing recent antiterrorism measures to previous abuses, from anti-communist tactics of the 1950s to the harassment and investigation of U.S. foreign policy critics in the 1980s and 1990s. It also examines how the PATRIOT Act and accompanying executive measures have violated civil liberties since 9/11 and offers suggestions for improving national security without sacrificing constitutional rights. The book’s foreword is co-authored by the BORDC’s director, Nancy Talanian, and BORDC Board Member Kit Gage, who is the director of the First Amendment Foundation, publisher of the first edition. The authors are members of BORDC's Advisory Board.
In the Courts
Sami al-Arian to be Deported
Former University of South Florida professor Dr. Sami al-Arian has agreed to be deported after reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Al-Arian was accused of helping to lead a Palestinian terrorist group and has been incarcerated since 2003, spending much of that time in solitary confinement at a maximum-security prison. The jury did not return a single guilty verdict on any of the 17 charges against him.
A father of five, all of whom are U.S. citizens, al-Arian has been a U.S. resident for over 30 years. He has been one of the most prominent Palestinian academics in the country, as well as a staunch Muslim activist, and he was invited to the White House during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Al-Arian will serve as many as eight more months in prison before being deported to a yet-to-be determined country. The Tampa Bay Coalition for Peace and Justice has issued a statement, which includes comments from al-Arian's family. See also the 4/18 Washington Post article.
Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu al-Hakim Case Declined
The Supreme Court has declined to expedite the case of Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu al-Hakim, two Chinese Muslims who have been incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, despite being cleared of all ties to terrorism. A federal court judge ruled that their continued imprisonment is unlawful, but their release has not been granted. Lawyers for the two ethnic Uighurs sought the highest court in order to secure a quicker resolution to their ordeal.
Jose Padilla Appeal Rejected
In early April, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held for three years as an "enemy combatant," without charge and without an opportunity to defend himself. Chief Justice John Roberts and other justices have said that they will be "watching" to ensure Padilla receives the protections "guaranteed to all federal criminal defendants," but the rejection of his appeal leaves unchecked the administration’s assertion that it can indefinitely detain anyone on the grounds that here or she is an "enemy combatant." For more on the Padilla case, see the May/June article in Mother Jones.
Anti-immigrant bill triggers massive demonstrations nationwide
When he introduced the bill in December, Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner could never have imagined the enormous swelling of opposition to his anti-immigrant bill, H.R. 4437, that erupted throughout the country. Rallies and marches of hundreds of thousands of Mexican-Americans and their allies caught Republicans by surprise, and forced them to make changes to their plans to outlaw human service workers who provide assistance to illegal immigrants. Students walked out of school and workers left their jobs to join in the unprecedented outrage over plans to construct a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and to make simply being out of status a felony. Some students faced expulsion and some workers faced job loss following those rallies, yet enormous gatherings are still scheduled for Monday, May 1. Immigrant rights coalitions hope to keep pressure and attention on as the administration continues to try to push Sensenbrenner’s bill through with only minor modifications. Senate legislation currently attempts to create a narrow path for citizenship, while House Republicans continue to focus on enforcement.
New law threatens detainee lawsuits
The Detainee Treatment Act was barely noticed when it passed last year as part of what was widely lauded as the McCain Anti-Torture amendment to a major Defense Appropriations bill. But now its mission, to deny Guantánamo detainees their rights of habeas corpus, is finally being felt. The Administration is now seeking to require attorneys to prove they have authority to represent a detainee before they can even meet their client.
Federal magistrate Alan Keys recently rebuked that roadblock, ordering the government to allow Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Murray Fogler to meet with his Sudanese client. The Supreme Court still has not issued a decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Government attorney Paul Clement claims the Detainee Treatment Act disallows the Court from ruling, while Salim Ahmed Hamdan’s attorney, Neal Katyal, argues that the administration is seeking "fundamentally open-ended authority" and should not be issued a "blank check" to be judge, jury and executioner.
In 2003, the Supreme Court granted the right of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in Rasul v. Bush. In that case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rejected unbridled executive authority in her opinion: "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
Whistleblower legislation is going nowhere, at a time when government whistleblowers need it most. Employees of the National Security Agency and other security agencies are not covered by the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. Ironically, the government has been stymied for more than two years in learning who in the White House leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to distract lack of WMD in Iraq. Yet the CIA quickly made its first firing of a CIA employee this week, accusing CIA employee Mary McCarthy of leaking information about torture sites known as "black sites" to the Washington Post. Clearly the Administration is able to crack down on those who leak classified information when it chooses.
H.R. 5112, which seeks to cover employees of the CIA and other agencies involving national security, was reported "out of committee" on April 6, but hasn’t yet come before the House for a vote. S. 494, introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), was placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar in 2005, with no further action. Both bills would allow for legally safe, classified whistleblowing disclosures to Congress.
Intelligence Bill to Give Warrantless Arrest Powers to CIA and NSA
The House of Representatives votes this week on an Intelligence bill that includes a little-known provision that would revoke pensions for intelligence employees who make unauthorized disclosures, and it would give arrest powers to CIA and NSA security forces. It’s part of the CIA crackdown on government leaks, and opens the door for these international spy agencies to conduct domestic intelligence gathering. Critics call the plan a step backwards, towards "Nixon-era abuses."
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Meredith Gray, Administrator
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Linda Stone, East Region Organizer
Ashley Nash-Hahn, Intern
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
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