Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
September 2007, Vol. 6, No. 7
In this issue:
- Role for Grassroots as Era of Gonzales and Talon Ends
- Legislation: “Protect America Act”
- Grassroots News: News from San Jose, CA; Fort Collins and Longmont, CO; Piscataway, NJ; Newark, NJ; Trenton, NJ; Eugene, OR; and Friday Harbor, WA
- State Library Associations Endorse ALA Resolution
- Human Rights Abuse Database: Jaoudat Abouazza
- New Resources: New BORDC Video, FBI Unbound; RSS News Feed; Bruce Fein Teleconference on Protect America Act; Book Reviews: Less Safe, Less Free; From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America; Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program; and Founders V. Bush: A Comparison in Quotations of the Policies and Politics of the Founding Fathers and George W. Bush
- From Our Mailbag
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This Constitution Day, September 17th, Alberto Gonzales’s long-awaited resignation as Attorney General will take effect, and the Pentagon will shut down its Threat and Local Observation Notice (Talon) database of threats to military bases, or what the Pentagon considered threats, such as antiwar demonstrations and other peaceful protests. Both Gonzales and Talon were disastrous for civil liberties in America, and neither made us safer from terrorism. Now is our chance to demand a new direction, toward an America that upholds standards of which we can be proud, and toward a government that increases safety from terrorists by focusing on suspected terrorists, not on every American.
The grassroots must play a role in approving Gonzales's replacement and in exposing to constitutional checks some of the far-reaching laws and policies Gonzales supported, such as National Security Letters, warrantless wiretapping, and torture.
What you can do: Stop the Senate from confirming another rubber stamp for the Bush administration as the next Attorney General. Call both of your senators to offer your questions for the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask Bush’s choice of new Attorney General. Call them again after you have heard the answers and determined whether or not the nominee to head the DOJ can be trusted to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution, to outlaw torture, and to work with Congress to restore our constitutional rights. Find your senators’ phone numbers here.
Spotlight on FBI National Security Letters
During the PATRIOT Act reauthorization debate, Gonzales held back from Congress what he knew about serious FBI abuses of National Security Letter (NSL) powers. But even if the FBI adheres to the law, serious problems would remain.
On September 6, Judge Victor Marrero ruled to strike down NSLs as unconstitutional and ordered the FBI and the Department of Justice to stop issuing NSLs. His order is stayed to allow the administration time to appeal.
On September 9, the New York Times revealed that the FBI used NSLs to demand that telecommunications companies determine “communities of interest”—individuals who had telephone communication with a suspect or target identified in the NSL. The practice of using so-called “exigent letters” for this purpose came to light through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Although the FBI stopped using exigent letters after the March 9, 2007, publication of the Department of Justice Inspector General’s audit report on NSLs, NSLs continue to be issued without court oversight or any evidence that the people whose records are sought have any connection to wrongdoing. The gag orders that accompany NSLs limit public awareness of the FBI’s unchecked practice of issuing tens of thousands of these letters each year.
What you can do:
- Organize a showing of BORDC’s video, FBI Unbound: How National Security Letters Violate Our Privacy. Constitution Day showings are in the works in several cities. For other suggested uses, resources, and ordering information, see "New Resources" below.
- Urge your representative to support H.R. 1739, Requiring Judicial Oversight for NSLs. Ask your senators to sponsor companion legislation in the Senate. Visit BORDC's legislation page for details.
End Warrantless Domestic Wiretapping
Despite anger within Congress over Gonzales's stonewalling over the administration's secret domestic wiretapping program, Congress failed to stop the administration’s plan to gut the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to legalize the warrantless program. The so-called Protect America Act allows warrantless access of virtually all international communications of U.S. residents as long as the surveillance is “targeted at people reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.”
House and Senate leadership have promised to consider fixes of the law as early as September. See “Legislation” later in this newsletter for more information.
What you can do:
- Start organizing right now to make sure that Congress’s “fix” is a strong bill that reinstates FISA warrants as a requirement for all calls from or into the U.S. BORDC will keep you informed as bills move through Congress to correct the mistakes and restore our Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
- BORDC and more than 70 local and regional allies in 20 states joined the ACLU and other national organizations in signing a letter to House and Senate leadership, laying out the “principles that must be respected to ensure that U.S. persons’ electronic communications are protected from unwarranted government intrusion.” Read the letter here (PDF). The ACLU is continuing to add organization names to the letter, so the deadline for local organization signatures has been extended. Contact west(at)bordc.org or east(at)bordc.org with your group's name, city, state, contact email and phone number by Thursday, September 13. No further changes to the letter's content can be accepted.
As White House Counsel, Gonzales enabled torture, referring to the Geneva conventions as “quaint.” His support of inhuman and degrading treatment has substantially normalized torture practices by U.S. forces. The U.S.’s state-sponsored torture has helped recruit new terrorists and has lowered international standards of treatment, especially in countries with historically poor human rights records.
What you can do:
- Visit BORDC’s legislation page to learn about bills to roll back parts of the Military Commissions Act, shut down Guantánamo Bay prison, end torture flights, and restore habeas corpus for detainees.
- If you belong to a religious group, sign-up to show The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, a film by Rory Kennedy, to your congregation during the week of October 21-28, 2007. The goal of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is for 1,000 showings that week.
- Print your own Air Torture boarding pass to an undisclosed location by going to Amnesty International’s web page Air Torture. On the back of the boarding pass is a postcard you can mail to your congressional representative—an effective way to demonstrate the chilling reality of extraordinary rendition and torture as practiced by the U.S. government.
The Protect America Act (PAA), dubbed the "Police America Act" by civil libertarians, sailed through a capitulating Congress in early August, invigorating grassroots ire at a legislative branch that too often demonstrates servile deference to the White House. Democrats hastily crafted legislation designed to be a “lesser of two evils,” but only showed they were cowed by White House threats that those who didn’t vote for the PAA would be blamed for any upcoming terrorist attack on the U.S.
The Congressional Research Service’s analysis of the PAA shows the new law is unclear enough to spawn a variety of interpretations, including one provision that “could conceivably be interpreted” to allow electronic surveillance of “some communications between parties in the United States.”
There have been many promises from legislators that the law will be fixed this fall, though some are counting on the six-month sunset to save them from having to take a stand. On September 5, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to start a new legislative process. Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) laid out his three tests for considering new legislation: meaningful oversight, court review of any wiretaps involving Americans, and uncovering the role telecommunications companies played in President Bush’s original warrantless wiretapping program. Testimony from the ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson highlighted the importance of protecting the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy and of resisting “attempts to grant retroactive immunity to government employees and telecommunications companies.”
What you can do: Help educate your community about the PAA by distributing BORDC’s flyer The “Protect America Act” and Your Freedoms (PDF).
Anti-Rendition Resolution Passes
San Jose, CA—“We did it!” exclaimed Charlotte Casey of the South Bay Coalition to Stop Torture (SBCST). On August 28, after months of SBCST street protests and a long formal process, the Santa Clara Human Relations Commission passed a resolution supporting H.R. 1352, the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act. The legislation, which would prohibit U.S. involvement in extraordinary rendition, has become a local issue in part because a Boeing subsidiary that operates in San Jose, Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., is implicated for its role in handling logistics for CIA torture flights. SBCST has been holding weekly vigils in front of the Jeppesen offices to protest the company’s alleged involvement.
The Human Relations Commission resolution will be forwarded to the Legislative Committee of the County Board of Supervisors. Casey hopes the County Board will soon heed the Commission’s recommendation that it pass a resolution urging San Jose congressional representatives to work for passage of H.R. 1352.
Activists Give Members of Congress Earfuls During August Recess
- In Fort Collins, members of Strength Through Peace (STP) had a strong message for Senator Kenneth Salazar, but the senator kept giving them the slip. So, STP confronted him during a grand opening ceremony at the new police station (dubbed the “Police Palace”) on August 27. STP member Kevin Cross reported, “[Salazar’s] trying to keep a low profile during the recess. Not too many people are happy with him.” But one person broke through the buffer between the senator and his constituents and gave Salazar a copy of the Constitution from a high school history book, to remind him to protect the Bill of Rights when he casts votes in Congress.
- In Longmont, members of the Longmont Citizens for Justice and Democracy contacted people from miles around to meet with Senator Salazar’s aide, Meg Corwin, on August 28, to express their ire over his support of the Protect America Act. Nearly 30 people crowded around Corwin for close to an hour at a local brewery, expressing concerns about the Military Commissions Act, presidential decrees and signing statements, the war on Iraq, and Congress’s capitulation to a power-hungry executive branch. According to Ann Rick, who organized the meeting, “One intrepid attendee gave Meg foam knee-pads to pass on to the senator for the next time he genuflects before the President.”
Piscataway, NJ—On August 21, members of the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War and BORDC attended the annual town hall meeting of Representative Frank Pallone to deliver a letter pressing him, among other things, to sign on to legislation restoring the right of habeas corpus. They passed out copies of the letter to people entering the town hall meeting. The group has taken similar actions in past years to educate the public about threats to civil liberties and holding their representative accountable.
New Report Highlights Local Detention Center Abuses
Newark, NJ— On September 11, the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee launched its report, “Voices of the Disappeared: An Investigative Report on New Jersey Immigrant Detentions.” The report provides firsthand accounts of the inhumane conditions suffered by hundreds of immigrant detainees in county jails across New Jersey. The presentation included a reading of letter excerpts written by detainees along with a photo exhibit of deported and released detainees and their loved ones.
Civil Liberties Campaign Gains Steam
Trenton, NJ—Trenton Citizens for Civil Liberties is pressing the city of Trenton to uphold and protect residents' constitutional rights. Four municipalities have already adopted resolutions questioning and opposing the USA PATRIOT Act in Mercer County alone. To build support in the county's largest city for a new municipal resolution, organizers have planned a September 23rd Civil Liberties Forum at the Trenton Friends Meeting House. Speakers will include Rutgers professor and constitutional lawyer Bruce Afran; director of ACLU-NJ Deborah Jacobs; director of People's Organization for Progress in Newark Larry Hamm; and congressional representative from NJ's 12th district Rush Holt. The event will address due process and privacy rights by drawing the connections between racial profiling and new federal laws and programs that undermine constitutional safeguards against warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention. For more information click here or contact the ACLU-NJ at (973) 642-2086 or through their website.
Northwest Group Sponsors “Know Your Rights” and “Green Scare” Events
Eugene, OR—The Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) held a “Know Your Rights” seminar at the University of Oregon Law School on September 6, and plans to train leaders of future “Know Your Rights” gatherings. The seminar answered these questions: 1) What’s the difference between a detention and an arrest?, 2) When can you walk away from a police officer?, and 3) How has the PATRIOT Act altered First Amendment rights of protest in the streets? For more information go to CLDC's website.
The CLDC is also sponsoring a Northwest tour by Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC) executive director Robert Meeropol and CLDC attorney Lauren Regan. Meeropol and Regan will speak on recent government targeting of environmental activists, relating the current Green Scare to the Red Scare of the McCarthy era. The U.S. government executed Meeropol’s parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, in 1953 at the height of McCarthyism and widespread persecution of people thought to be communists. The tour, which is a benefit for RFC, begins in Portland, OR, on September 27, and continues through Ashland and Eugene, OR, ending in Seattle, WA, on September 30.
Civil Liberties Fortune Cookies Educate Fairgoers
Friday Harbor, WA—Fairgoers learned about our vanishing Bill of Rights protections in some novel ways at the San Juan Island County Fair in August. The San Juan Island Outreach Group/ACLU, Washington state gave out fortune cookies with civil liberties messages inside, placed lost-and-found ads in the local newspaper to help “Find Habeas,” and engaged 700 county fairgoers in a civil liberties game. The group plans to follow up its fair success with a September 23rd forum titled “Youth and Student Civil Liberties.”
Submit Articles on Your Grassroots Activities
BORDC invites you to submit news on your grassroots activities to be published in the Grassroots News section of our monthly e-newsletter. Articles should be 100-200 words. Please see our contributors’ guidelines.
Twenty-one state library associations have endorsed the American Library Association’s resolution condemning the use of National Security Letters to obtain library records. The resolution also calls for judicial oversight of NSLs and for a requirement that the FBI demonstrate both individualized suspicion and a factual correlation between records sought and an actual investigation before it is granted the power to search. Oregon, Tennessee and New Mexico are the latest additions to the growing list of state library associations taking a public stand to demand government accountability.
What You Can Do: If your state library association has already passed a resolution, you may have another ally in your efforts to raise public awareness about the threat of National Security Letters – your local librarian. If your state library association has not passed a resolution, contact them to determine if they have an effort underway and, if so, how you can support their efforts. If your state library association does not have an effort underway, you can work with them to start one. View the entire list of state library associations that have endorsed the ALA resolution.
BORDC will unveil its Human Rights Abuse Database later this year so that journalists, civil liberties activists, and others will be able to search it for stories of unwitting victims in the U.S. government’s post-9/11 "war on terror." Until then, we will regularly commit space in this newsletter to one individual whose life has been harmed by U.S. government policies.
Many of the stories of human rights abuses since 9/11 have certain Kafkaesque features: the accused is prevented from seeing evidence used against him or her, the government uses the inability of people accused of terrorism to prove they are not terrorists as evidence that they are, and victims find themselves trapped in a faceless legal “black hole.” The story of Jaoudat Abouazza is no different.
On May 30, 2002, the Cambridge, MA, police stopped Mr. Abouazza, a Canadian citizen and Palestinian activist, for an alleged traffic violation. Without charging him or reading him his rights, police handcuffed Mr. Abouazza and took him to the Cambridge police station. Soon after his arrival at the station, FBI agents asked him repeatedly about his connections to terrorism. He had none.
Mr. Abouazza’s hearing was scheduled for the following day, a Friday. The prosecution claimed that the speaker wiring found in Mr. Abouazza’s car was “incendiary” and that his flyers announcing a non-violent protest of the Israeli Independence Day celebration were “suspicious.” The prosecution’s request to deny bail was granted, and over the weekend, while Mr. Abouazza was in custody, the FBI questioned him seven more times.
Upon Mr. Abouazza’s release on his own recognizance on Monday, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) took him into custody at the Bristol County Correctional Facility in North Dartmouth, MA, where he was subjected to regular beatings by the guards, was frequently held in solitary confinement, and was abused by fellow inmates, because the guards had told them that Mr. Abouazza was a member of the Taliban.
While Mr. Abouazza was in INS detention, his court date for his initial traffic violation arrived. When Mr. Abouazza failed to appear (he was not allowed to appear), the judge ruled, despite Mr. Abouazza’s attorney’s protests, that Mr. Abouazza was in default for failure to appear. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
At his INS hearing, Mr. Abouazza requested that he be permitted to voluntarily leave the U.S. and return to Canada. The government objected, claiming, "This man doesn't respect the immigration laws;" therefore, "we must up the ante.” The immigration judge, however, found absolutely no reason not to allow Mr. Abouazza to return to Canada. Neither the FBI nor the police had any evidence that he constituted a security risk.
Jaoudat Abouazza returned to Canada on July 9th. His traffic violations had resulted in a month-long detention, beatings, and an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court, which prevents him from ever returning to the U.S.
New BORDC Video, FBI Unbound: How National Security Letters Violate Our Privacy
BORDC's new 26-minute DVD, FBI Unbound: How National Security Letters Violate Our Privacy, explores the repercussions of the FBI’s power to demand hundreds of thousands of Americans’ private records without any oversight by a court or by Congress within the broader context of increasing unwarranted government spying and surveillance. The video featuring Lisa Graves, Bruce Fein, and George Christian was edited by Matt Ehling of ETS Pictures, who is the founding chair of the Saint Paul BORDC and an active member of the Minnesota BORDC. BORDC plans a broad, national release around October 26th, the sixth anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act. We encourage public showings, broadcasts on public access cable TV, and house parties. Watch the trailer and find supporting materials, including a discussion guide, flyers, a transcript, a copy of the National Security Letter issued to Library Connection, and information on how to order a DVD at www.fbiunbound.org. The video may also be viewed on You Tube in two parts.
RSS News Feed Now Available
Receive current news through BORDC’s new RSS News Feed. To add a live bookmark of current news regarding Bill of Rights protections to your web browser, go to the BORDC website and click on the orange RSS News Feed icon in the upper right-hand corner of the web page.
Bruce Fein Teleconference on "Protect America Act"
Our August 15th teleconference on the "Protect America Act" featured Bruce Fein, former Deputy Attorney General for the Reagan administration. Notes and audio recording of Bruce Fein. To listen to audio recordings or read notes of BORDC's other workshops and teleconferences on civil liberties issues, click here.
Less Safe, Less Free by David Cole and Jules Lobel critiques the Bush administration’s policies of preemption and preventive arrests and demonstrates how and why the policies are not making the U.S. and the world safer, but, in fact, less safe. The authors investigate the facts behind the administration’s rhetoric about its anti-terrorism record and its use of coercive interrogations to “save lives.” They quote law enforcement experts’ criticisms of the administration’s approaches. They also compare the drawbacks of the Bush administration’s approach to those of other governments that have dealt with terrorist attacks, such as the U.K., and offer an alternative strategy that would increase our safety and restore freedoms. The New Press, 2007. (Editor’s Note: David Cole serves on BORDC’s advisory board.)
From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America by Christopher M. Finan is a fascinating journey through denials of free speech, courageous fights, defeats and victories from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, woven together by a master storyteller. Nearly a century of laws and policies from the Espionage Act to the PATRIOT Act test the mettle of a cast of hundreds, from Roger Baldwin to Bernie Sanders and countless unsung heroes and villains, who virtually come to life in honest portraiture to replay their historic roles in the endless struggle for free speech. Beacon Press, 2007. (Editor’s Note: Christopher Finan serves on BORDC’s advisory board.)
Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program by Stephen Grey details the beginnings of the CIA, its rapid expansion, and its ultimate collusion with foreign governments accused of torture and obtaining false confessions. Examined in great depth is the growth of the CIA’s rendition program in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Sources for much of the information included in the book were released victims of the program including Maher Arar, Binyam Mohamed, Osama Nasr, and Khaled el Masri, as well as government officials from the U.S. and abroad. Frightening details emerge of how prisoners were tortured upon arrival at their ultimate destinations such as the infamous prison known as “the grave,” containing cells roughly the size of coffins. Information also surfaces about the complacency of U.S. allies in aiding in rendition of individuals to countries known for their torture of prisoners. St. Martin’s Press, 2006.
Founders V. Bush: A Comparison in Quotations of the Policies and Politics of the Founding Fathers and George W. Bush by Steve Coffman. One can tell much about the character of a society's political culture by analyzing its elites' political rhetoric. So suggests Steve Coffman's independently produced book, Founders V. Bush. Coffman offers a scathing indictment of the current administration through startling juxtapositions between what Bush officials have said about key topics in American political debate and what the “Founding Fathers” said about them. Unlike many other Bush quote books, the focus is not on today's executive officials’ loss of proficiency with the English language. Coffman's lesson is more serious -- that they have lost their commitment to the constitutional principles that are supposed to bind our country together. For instance, Bush is quoted explaining to then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair on July 18, 2003, why British detainees were being held at Guantánamo Bay without judicial process: “The only thing I know for sure is that they are bad people.” In Coffman's book, it is as though the spirit of Thomas Paine were returned from the Eighteenth Century to retort, “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.” For more info: www.foundersvbush.com. One World Studios, 2007.
A BORDC newsletter subscriber objects to the terms “warrantless wiretapping” and “government surveillance” to describe what the “Protect America Act” now allows. “They are certainly doing electronic burglaries and actually stealing our property – information is property,” writes Wayne Scott. “Electronic theft of our communications, electronic incursions, electronic burglaries; virtual breaking and entering; information larceny, electronic larceny, internet larceny” are some of the phrases he suggests would be more in keeping with the real scope of what Big Brother is doing when it monitors our communications.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Susan Heitker, Administrator
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Ben Grosscup, East Region Organizer
Lauren Tomkiewicz, Haywood Burns Fellow
Sam Litton, Intern
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060