Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
December 2007, Vol. 6, No. 8
In this issue:
- Legislation: Protect America – with the Constitution!; Targeting “Thought Crime”; American Freedom Agenda Act
- Guantánamo: What Would it Take to Make This the LAST Anniversary?
- Grassroots News: Long Beach, CA - In Memoriam: Edith Pollach; Wichita Falls, TX – 414th Resolution!; Public Outrage for Criminals Appearing in Public in FL, CO and NY; Bill of Rights Day and Human Rights Day; and news from Port Townsend, WA, West Hartford, CT, and San Jose, CA
- In Brief: Brandon Mayfield Speaks; New Group Forms to Abolish Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act; Muslim Charity Organizer Released on Bail; Anti-Torture Group Receives Award
- Book and Film Reviews: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein; Ghosts of Abu Ghraib by Rory Kennedy
- BORDC News: Our First Field Organizer!; BORDC Welcomes New Administrator; Volunteers Needed; Law Students Invited to Apply for Haywood Burns Fellowship
Matching Gift Opportunity for Year-end Gifts to BORDC
It is not too late to make a tax-deductible contribution to our end-of-year fund drive. Consider making a contribution to BORDC on behalf of someone on your holiday gift list. The Open Society Institute (OSI) has awarded a $40,000 challenge grant to BORDC that matches all first-time donations to BORDC and all increases in gifts over the previous year dollar for dollar. It’s a great opportunity for you to support grassroots civil liberties work and to know that your gift to BORDC will go farther with OSI’s help.
To contribute funds or stock online, go to http://www.bordc.org/donate.php, or mail a check or money order to:
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
Your purchase of buttons, bumper stickers and booklets also helps. See our catalogue to order materials.
Election year is upon us, and as candidates for all levels of government travel through our communities to court voters, it is up to us to test them on a job requirement that is so fundamental that all those who are elected must swear to an oath: to uphold and defend the Constitution. Parroting the words is not enough: They must commit to the Constitution and be held accountable for upholding it—at all times.
Legislation moves to the forefront in this issue as before Congress recesses for the year in mid-December, the Senate is likely to consider its own versions of two bills that have already passed in the House: The first would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Protect America Act. The second would create a commission to study “violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism” in our society.
Protect America – with the Constitution!
Last August, the administration successfully used the fear card to convince Congress to pass its Protect America Act (PAA). Right now the administration is appealing to the Senate for more giveaways to the administration and telecommunications companies that broke the law and now seek immunity.
The PAA gave the executive branch, not the courts, the authority to determine when a search is permitted. It eliminated the need for reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing or connection to terrorism in order to tap communications involving a US citizen or legal resident. Without congressional intervention, the PAA will expire on February 5, 2008.
The outcries and editorials condemning Congress for passing the PAA led Congress’s leadership to promise it would correct that mistake as early as September. On November 15, the House passed H.R. 3773, the Restore Act, which fixes several, but not all, of the PAA’s flaws and loopholes. To its credit, though, the Restore Act does not include immunity for the telecommunications companies that broke the law.
This week or next week, the Senate is expected to consider two versions of S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments, one passed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and one passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Intelligence Committee passed the administration’s bill, which fails to restore Fourth Amendment protections AND grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that permitted wiretapping without warrants. It includes no provision for auditing the administration’s wiretapping program, and it would not expire until 12/31/2013.
The Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of S. 2248, which contains several fixes, although not full restoration of 4th Amendment privacy rights, and no immunity, and which the Senate will consider as a substitute for the Intelligence Committee’s bill.
What You Can Do:
The administration’s disapproval of the Judiciary Committee bill may trigger a filibuster that could lead to a repetition of the August passage of the Protect America Act. Don’t let that happen. Pick up your telephone today and ask that both your Senators either allow the PAA to sunset in February or support the Judiciary Committee version of S. 2248. Remind them that:
- the people’s security from unreasonable searches as set forth in the Fourth Amendment is at stake and
- immunity for the telecommunications companies that broke the law sets a pitiful precedent that Congress’s laws are meant to be broken, and that when they are broken by the administration, the corporations or both, Congress will simply rewrite the laws to legalize their crimes and misdemeanors.
Look up your Senators’ direct telephone numbers at www.senate.gov or call the Capitol switchboard at 1-202-224-3121 and ask the switchboard operator to connect you to both of your senators.
Grassroots activists from across the political spectrum are outraged about a House bill that passed overwhelmingly (404-6) on October 23. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, H.R. 1955, would create a 10-member commission and name a university as a “center of excellence” to study “the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence in the United States.”
The chief question is, Who will this study scrutinize? Activists are concerned that their actions may be labeled as “force or violence,” even if they involve no violence. For example, sitting in at a congressional representative’s office, or blocking traffic to make a political statement. Iraq war protesters in large cities like Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco blockaded large parts of their cities’ downtowns in protest as the invasion began in March 2003. Would such actions and the groups that carry them out be “studied” for using force “to intimidate or coerce the United States government…in furtherance of political or social objectives?”
This quote from Representative Jane Harman (D-CA-36th), the bill’s sponsor, suggests that the bill veers close to establishing George Orwell's concept of “thoughtcrime” in US law. Harman said, “We must intervene before a person crosses the line separating radical views from violent behavior…” Her words echo the Bush Administration’s “preventive paradigm,” discussed in David Cole’s book, Less Safe, Less Free, in which Cole writes that a government that attempts to apprehend individuals before they’ve committed a crime relies on suspicion and gut feelings, and veers away from the rule of law and checks and balances. “Predicting future threats is not an exact science,” writes Cole, “and the judgments made are not ordinarily susceptible to proof.”
What You Can Do:
The Senate version, S 1959, has not been brought to the floor for a vote, so you can still contact your senator, especially if she or he is a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where the bill awaits committee approval to move to the Senate floor. See the BORDC legislation page for more links and information on this bill.
American Freedom Agenda Act
Among all the bills introduced this session, there is one that actually
begins the task of restoring the Bill of Rights. The Americacn Freedom
Agenda Act H.R.
3835, was introduced by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14th) on October 15
and referred to four committees: Intelligence, Judiciary, Armed Services,
and Foreign Affairs.
Paul's bill would: 1) Repeal the Military Commissions Act, 2) Eliminate testimony gathered through torture, 3) Permit foreign intelligence wiretapping only through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 4) Allow members of Congress to challenge signing statements, 5) Prohibit kidnapping and extraordinary rendition, and 6) Prohibit the use of secret evidence to name individuals or groups as terrorists.
No other bill currently before Congress goes as far as HR 3385 towards restoring the Constitution. For more information, see BORDC's legislation page.
January 11, 2008 marks the sixth year of indefinite detention at Guantánamo. What will it take to make this the last anniversary of the U.S Military's Guantánamo Bay detention center? The Supreme Court's 2004 decision in Rasul v. Bush that detainees do have the right of habeas corpus was circumvented when the President replaced that right with the military’s own Combatant Status Review Tribunals, and when Congress passed the Military Commission Act of 2006, denying the right of habeas corpus to detainees. Congress has abdicated its constitutional duty to safeguard basic constitutional rights to habeas corpus, due process, and freedom from torture. Since the constitutional system is not correcting itself at this crucial time, our best hope is that the people can form an independent check on all three branches of government.
Local coalitions can help build that power by organizing on and around January 11 to raise awareness about our threatened rights and to demand accountability from the elected officials responsible for dismantling the Constitution.
What You Can Do:
Ultimately, we need to build the strength of our local coalitions to hold elected officials accountable to the people for their oaths to the Constitution.
- Ask your organization and allied organizations to join BORDC in endorsing the January 11th Day to Shutdown Guantánamo.
- Join the day of action in Washington, DC, or organize a local event on January 11 – Click here for suggested local actions.
- Many local groups are organizing film screenings of Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Find other action suggestions here.
In Memoriam: Edith Pollach – Long Time Rights Supporter Dies
Long Beach, CA – As a high schooler in the 1930s, Edith Pollach protested against President Roosevelt’s failure to take action against the Nazis, and as a young adult, she campaigned to stop the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Into her 80s, she was still active in many progressive causes in Long Beach, including the Long Beach Civil Liberties Defense Coalition. Edith Pollach died on December 1, with her family present and singing to her. In July 2006, she was active in organizing three readings of the play, Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, which raised close to $3000. Edith was also involved in the Coalition’s effort to pass a local Bill of Rights resolution. On September 6, 2005, the group sacrificed its own local resolution, asking the city council instead to write letters to the state legislature – in support of a California resolution opposing the PATRIOT Act and other federal laws and orders violating the Bill of Rights, an act that strengthened the statewide effort even as it removed attention from the local resolution for which the group had been campaigning. Edith and others in the Coalition hoped the letters would convince their state representatives to support the state resolution. The California resolution, SJR 10, passed on February 16, 2006 with the support of all of Long Beach’s state representatives. Edith Pollach said of the council letters, “To me, it’s the same as a resolution. It puts Long Beach on record against the unconstitutional PATRIOT Act.” Long Beach activists and members of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee will miss Edith Pollach, who lived a life committed to justice.
Edith said of her life, “In my 70 years of activism, I have seen that nothing we do in organized groups and actions is ever lost; it becomes part of people’s consciousness and later may inspire them to act in other struggles.”
Watch a video of the 2005 Long Beach City Council meeting. (Click on "View Video" for the 5 hr 53 min September 6 council meeting, and then forward video to 1 hour and 56 minutes.)
Wichita Falls, TX – On December 4, Wichita Falls, TX, got a big star by its name on the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s growing list of local resolutions. For two years, the Wichita Falls Bill of Rights Defense Committee struggled to convince its city council to pass a resolution opposing post-9/11 government violations of the Bill of Rights. Their collaboration with the schools and local newspaper last year in soliciting Bill of Rights essays by local students for awards created goodwill for the group, but it wasn’t until a BORDC conference call that their campaign turned the corner.
According to Wichita Falls BORDC coordinator Kelly Mestas, the advice received from former Reagan administration attorney Bruce Fein on a BORDC conference call enabled the group to focus its message to the city council on privacy and getting government out of people’s personal business and bank records without probable cause. “That really made a difference to the city council," said Kelly Mestas. "I got through to them. I knew I had them because they weren't sitting back; they were sitting up in their chairs listening to me."
- Link to local television coverage.
- Link to the Wichita Falls resolution.
- Link to August 15 conference call with Bruce Fein.
Public Outrage for Criminals Appearing in Public
FL, CO & NY - Two former Bush-appointed attorneys general have made some recent public appearances at college campuses and encountered vocal protest from students and community members to draw attention to the officials' involvement with secret torture and warrantless surveillance programs.
On November 20, Alberto Gonzales spoke at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Two students confronted Gonzales in a peaceful and principled display of protest as many audience members booed him. The first was hooded and clad in an orange jumpsuit similiar to those worn by Guantánamo detainees. He had the words “civil liberties” inscribed on his shirt. The second displayed a banner that said “Habeas Corpus?”, a message that recalled Gonzales' astonishing assertion that “There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” After police arrested and removed the embodiments of civil liberties and habeas corpus from the stage in handcuffs to allow the war criminal to give his speech, it was bitterly ironic that Gonzales claimed that “our young men and women fight overseas to preserve this kind of freedom of speech.” Watch a video of the protest on YouTube.
On November 27, John Ashcroft spoke at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and on November 30, he visited Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Summarizing the underlying logic of preemptive war and preemptive security, Ashcroft said, "Prosecution is the re-creation of the past. My directive from the president was to prevent, so we changed the way we did things." At both appearances, students and community members protested by rising from their seats, turning their backs to Ashcroft, and placing hoods over their heads.
Bill of Rights Day (December 15) and Human Rights Day (December 10)
Glendale, CA – The Glendale Education and Social Justice Committee presented a Bill of Rights Day proclamation to the Glendale City Council on November 27. The group hopes for passage before Bill of Rights Day.
Boulder, CO – “Stand Up for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights!” read the banners and signs at a noon rally on Thursday, December 6. The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, El Centro Amistad, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and the International Social, Economic and Environmental Justice Collective to stage a rally in solidarity with the national “Sit Down for the Constitution” campaign started by Naomi Wolf, in which communities gathered on November 6. The Boulder group took some extra time and joined the national event a month later, on December 6, closer to Bill of Rights Day. Read a news story on the event.
Orange County, NC - The Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee has organized celebrations of the US Constitution and its ten amendments by reading proclamations affirming the local government's commitment to the Bill of Rights in three jurisdictions: the Chapel Hill Town Council Meeting on November 19, the Carrboro Town Aldermen Meeting on December 4, and the Orange County Commissioners Meeting on December 3. On December 15, there will be a Bill of Rights Day Ceremony with a reading the Bill of Rights at Chapel Hill's Peace and Justice Plaza and rereading of the three proclamations. Since 2002 the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee has joined members of the American Civil Liberties Union to read the 10 Amendments and have proclamations read, this year to honor Joe Herzenberg, who initiated the tradition.
Turning Resolutions Into Ordinances
Port Townsend, WA – After its city council passed a Bill of Rights resolution on June 16, 2003, many of those who worked to convince the city council moved on to anti-war and impeachment organizing. But this fall, a group of residents sat down to discuss strengthening Port Townsend’s resolution by presenting the city council with an ordinance, as 9 other communities nationwide have done. Port Townsend area resident Ramona Lee organized a “Democracy School” in November presented by Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund - a training in how to take back democracy by organizing a number of local campaigns to compel the city council to pass local ordinances that protect values of the community, including an ordinance to truly protect the Bill of Rights. The group continues to meet, and plans to hold another Democracy School next spring.
NSL Discussion: National Threat and Community Strategy
West Hartford, CT - On November 15, the West Hartford Citizens for Peace gathered to discuss the threats of National Security Letters (NSLs) to constitutional rights, and revisited the efforts they had made a few years prior to get the West Hartford City Council to pass a resolution upholding the Bill of Rights. First, they screened the 26-minute film, FBI Unbound: How National Security Letters Violate Our Privacy. George Christian, executive director of Library Connection in Connecticut, who is featured in the film, participated on a panel afterwards. He elaborated on how the specific case in which Library Connection was issued an NSL highlights urgent dangers to our privacy rights. Ben Grosscup, BORDC’s east region organizer, spoke about how NSLs and other threats to our rights break the promise of the Constitution and how we can organize to demand that elected officials fulfill the oaths they pledged to the Constitution.
Torture and Extraordinary Rendition
San Jose, CA – "Orwell Was an Optimist," says the South Bay Coalition to Stop Torture (SBCST), a group that is putting pressure on the San Jose site of Jeppesen Dataplan, a Boeing subsidiary based in Britain that is being sued by a number of men at Guantánamo Bay for providing logistical support to the CIA in extraordinary rendition and torture. The coalition holds regular vigils in front of Jeppesen's corporate headquarters in San Jose and is waiting for the county board’s decision on a resolution opposing extraordinary rendition. On November 21, SBCST members took a train to Jeppesen's headquarters carrying signs and passing out flyers on the train ride. Watch the video of their trip, “The Jeppeson Airplanes”.
Brandon Mayfield Speaks at American Muslim Voice Convention
Newark, CA – American Muslim Voice (AMV) held its 4th annual Peace Convention on Sunday, December 9, honoring individuals who have demonstrated courage in protecting civil liberties and contributing to peace and social justice. Brandon Mayfield, who successfully challenged the government’s Muslim targeting in court, was awarded the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Award and spoke at the convention. Other speakers included anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan; attorney Neal Katyal, who successfully argued the Hamdan case before the Supreme Court in 2006; Brandon Mayfield’s attorney, Elden Rosenthal; and co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Dolores Huerta. Hope Marston, BORDC’s west region organizer, spoke on a panel with Mayfield and Rosenthal. The convention’s goal, as AMV founder Samina Faheem Sundas brings people together each year, is to build an inclusive community – in the words of 1960s civil rights workers – a “beloved community.”
New Group Forms to Abolish AETA
Eugene, OR – The Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) has joined with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City and the International Humanities Center of Los Angeles to form an organization working to abolish the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) passed by Congress in November 2006. According to the CLDC’s Lauren Regan, the law “criminalizes legal, constitutionally protected activity in order to silence political dissent targeting animal and natural resource abusing industries.” More information about the AETA is available on the CLDC website. A tri-fold brochure to distribute at events is available here. The new group held a national conference call on November 28 and will continue to work against laws that threaten our liberties.
Muslim Charity Organizer Released on Bail
Ashland, OR – Friends and allies welcomed home peace activist Pete Seda after his release from jail in Eugene, Oregon, pending his trial on federal tax and conspiracy charges for work he did at Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now defunct Ashland Islamic charity. Seda had left the US in 2004 shortly before a federal grand jury indicted him, but he returned in August 2007 to face charges that he and the foundation smuggled $150,000 to help Muslim rebels in Chechnya who were later labeled terrorists by the US government.
The government has pointed an accusing finger at many Muslim charities since 9/11, seizing assets and deporting charity organizers. The first Bill of Rights resolution passed was in response to the government’s persecution of Rabih Haddad in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Haddad was deported in 2004. But the recent mistrial in the Holy Land Foundation case (jurors acquitted or hung on all charges) may represent a turn in public perception. Government accusations that Islamic charities support terrorism have only occasionally been upheld by the courts. Pete Seda’s case is scheduled for April 2008.
Anti-Torture Group Receives Award
NC - The Independent Weekly, a paper that serves the Raleigh–Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina, has honored North Carolina Stop Torture Now for its activism and civic participation. The group has been raising public awareness about the CIA's “extraordinary rendition” program in which people pegged as suspected terrorists are kidnapped and sent to be tortured abroad. Because of NCSTN’s efforts, the state legislature is considering a bill that would create a grand jury empowered to investigate Aero Contractors, a local airline company that charters torture flights for the CIA. To bear witness to the crime of torture, group members have twice brought their protest directly onto the Aero Contractors base and have been arrested.
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
Are today's torture regimes driven by economics? Canadian journalist Naomi Klein analyses multiple applications of “economic shock therapy,” in which governments and corporations turn crises like wars, economic meltdowns, and natural disasters into opportunities for transferring public wealth into private hands. Klein argues that when this shock fails to subdue populations into accepting these unpopular policies, regimes apply shocks directly to human bodies.
The underlying theory of power behind this approach, which Klein calls the “shock doctrine,” has been developed since the 1950s and applied in the real world since the 1973 US-backed coup in Chile. Now it has matured into the so-called “War on Terror,” which Klein says is best understood as a “new economy” based on privatizing the state's core function: security. As for-profit companies come to administer the police and the military, “security” serves only those who can afford it. Simultaneously, surveillance, detention, interrogation, and other operations become less publicly accountable, and people become more vulnerable. The best protection from the disorientation caused by these multiple shocks, says Klein, is to become aware of what they are and the specific economic and political objectives that drive them. For more information on this book and Alfonso Cuaron’s accompanying 6-minute video click here.
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib by Rory Kennedy
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, a film by Rory Kennedy, portrays Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison under US occupation, by exploring the lead-up to and aftermath of the widely publicized torture images that emerged in spring 2004. The film's strength is in its interviews with Abu Ghraib torture survivors (all of whom had been released without charge) and low-level soldiers who carried out the torture. We come to see that the low-level guards were neither malevolent nor innocent of responsibility. The torture occurred under tremendous pressure from high-level military commanders – including then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – who were desperate for information about an exploding Iraqi insurgency the US military didn't understand. Kennedy shows Abu Ghraib in the early years of the occupation as an understaffed, dangerous, and extremely stressful environment, in which low-level soldiers without training in prison administration were encouraged and even expected to torture detainees. The only officers ever held accountable for crimes at Abu Ghraib were either low-ranking soldiers who photographed their own crimes or officers who raised questions about the conditions that made the crimes possible, such as the former head of Abu Ghraib, Janis Karpinski, who was demoted. The film shows that the commanders who issued and carried out the orders were either congratulated or promoted, creating an environment of complete disregard for human rights. For information on the film, click here.
Our First Field Organizer!
In October, Michael Berg joined BORDC as our very first field organizer. Michael is based in Columbia, South Carolina, and is responsible for BORDC's organizing efforts in the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Michael is the former director of the Carolina Peace Resource Center, where he led the effort in Columbia for a Bill of Rights resolution, which passed on October 26, 2005. He also co-hosted a daily morning radio show with South Carolina lawyer and politician Tom Turnipseed. Most recently, Michael worked for the Peace Corps in Paso Yobai, Paraguay.
Currently Michael is working to make connections with people in the three states he serves, including the religious community. He has visited area mosques to discuss their concerns about civil liberties violations, and introduced a resolution to the South Carolina Christian Action Council that is expected to be passed in January. Michael's articles have appeared in area newspapers, including South Carolina’s most popular daily, The State, and he has questioned several presidential candidates who have campaigned in South Carolina about their commitments to civil liberties
If you live in South Carolina, Georgia or Florida and work on civil liberties issues or want to start a local campaign, please write to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 803-760-9208.
BORDC Welcomes New Administrator
BORDC is pleased to announce that Barbara Haugen has joined our staff as administrator, replacing Susan Heitker.
Barbara's work history is eclectic: She has worked as a VISTA lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of Albuquerque, NM; as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield, MA; and as assistant to the director of MassAudubon's Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, MA. At BORDC, Barbara manages our financial and administrative operations, updates our web site, supervises interns and volunteers, and serves as the managing editor of this newsletter. We are glad to have Barbara with her wisdom, experience, and good natured personality working with us in the Northampton office!
BORDC Needs Volunteers
BORDC is a small organization with a big vision for restoring protections of fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. We act quickly on projects to provide needed resources to the grassroots civil liberties movement, and the involvement of volunteers helps us extend our capacity.
Please let us know about your talents and interests, and we will help you find a rewarding role in our efforts. We can use help with grant-writing and other fundraising, with video and audio production, lobbying, marketing, legal research, and more.
Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship - Law Students Apply Now!
BORDC invites second-year law students who are concerned about diminishing civil liberties to convert their concerns into action. Those interested are invited to apply for a ten-week fellowship in BORDC's Northampton, MA, office through the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship for Social and Economic Justice. The application deadline is January 15. You may download the NLG Haywood Burns packet containing an application form and instructions here (PDF).
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Ben Grosscup, East Region Organizer
Michael Berg, Field Organizer
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060