Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

BILL OF RIGHTS Defense Committee - Working with communities to uphold the Bill of RightsWe the People
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Dissent Is Patriotic

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter

February 2008, Vol. 7, No. 1


In this issue:

  • People's Campaign for the Constitution
  • Legislation: FISA Amendments Act; Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act; Real ID; American Freedom Agenda Act
  • Jan 11 Day of Action to Close Down Guantánamo: Public Conversations and Demonstrations; Other Guantánamo News; New Film: Taxi to the Dark Side
  • Grassroots News: Bill of Rights Day Proclamations; Anchorage, AK - Lost Resolution; Santa Monica, CA - Patriot Acts and the Habeas Lounge; Palo Alto, CA - A Tool to Stop Targeting; San Jose, CA - Skate Against Renditions; Boulder, CO & Allentown, PA - Stand Up for the Constitution
  • In Brief: Padilla's Lawsuit against Yoo; Special Prosecutor for Destroyed CIA Videotapes
  • BORDC News: Human Rights Abuse Database: Update on Abdullah Higazy

Thanks for your support!

Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed more than $28,000 to BORDC in our year-end fundraising effort. $13,000 of the donations we received will be matched by the Open Society Institute (OSI) $40,000 challenge grant. That leaves $27,000 to match new donations or increased donations. So, if you have been meaning to contribute, be assured that your support of grassroots civil liberties work is critical in this pivotal election year, and your gift in 2008 will go farther thanks to OSI's generous challenge grant.

To contribute funds or stock online, click here, or mail a check or money order to:

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060


People's Campaign for the Constitution

In the six years since the 9/11 attacks, we have all witnessed mounting evidence that the executive branch of our government has abused its powers, our civil liberties, and human rights worldwide. Congress has alternately failed to correct abuses such as the FBI's exploitation of National Security Letter powers, or it has supported them with legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the Protect America Act. Neither the evidence of abuses nor the best efforts of people like you to hold members of Congress accountable have yet produced the desired result - full restoration of constitutional rights, checks and balances, and the rule of law.

We recognize that focusing on one abuse, one violation, one war at a time keeps our energy scattered and makes us less effective. This election year, we at BORDC propose a "People's Campaign for the Constitution" to harness the collective power of the people in our communities who are already working on various aspects of the so-called "war on terror" and of many more people who would do so if they saw the potential for making positive change. Organizing our issues and coalitions around the Constitution to which all elected officials must adhere increases our power to hold them accountable for post-9/11 violations of the Constitution. And exercising that power in an election year, when politicians (legislators and candidates for public office) are most vulnerable and in closest contact with the electorate, further strengthens our power.

Our Constitution
Government Violations of Our Constitution

1st and 4th Amendments of the Constitution

Congress's failure to remedy the executive branch's secret warrantless wiretapping program, initiated as early as February, 2001.

Congress's failure to remedy abuses of FBI powers to issue National Security Letters.

Congress's passage of the Protect America Act legalizing executive branch authorization of warrantless domestic wiretapping.

Article 1, Section 1 (role of the legislative branch)

Congress's failure to remedy the use of presidential signing statements to flout its laws.

Article I, Section 9
(powers forbidden to Congress)

6th 6th and 8th Amendments of the Constitution

Article VI, Paragraph 2 (Supremacy Clause estblishing the Constitution, US Laws, and relevant international treaties as "the supreme law of the land")

Congress's passage of the Military Commissions Act condoning torture and denying habeas corpus, in violation of international treaties the US has signed, which have harmed our nation's stature and put our country and the world at greater risk of terrorist attacks.

We see the People's Campaign as a logical follow-up to the passage of a civil liberties resolution or as a stand-alone piece, whereby a community-based coalition prepares its demands and presents those demands in person to their legislators. Through strength and reputation, local coalitions will be able to compel their representatives to meet with them in a public space (ultimately selected by the coalition), thus establishing and demonstrating a local power base to which elected representatives must answer for their work and votes in Congress. Real, nonpartisan debate and action in Congress to restore constitutional rights cannot take place unless there is grassroots education and debate in our communities.

Please join us in launching a People's Campaign for the Constitution in your community. Contact Hope Marston if you live in the western US and Ben Grosscup if you're in the eastern US.


Legislation

FISA Amendments Act Votes Postponed

Your calls to senators and other grassroots actions taken to show opposition to warrantless wiretapping and to granting immunity to telecoms may be paying off: Unable to reach agreement before the February 1 sunset of the Protect America Act (PAA), the House and Senate each passed a 15-day extension that expires February 16.

Summary of Senate roll-call votes. Senate rules require at least 60 votes for "cloture" - the process of cutting off further debate on a bill or amendment and moving to an up or down vote. The 15-day PAA extension was allowed to proceed to a non-recorded voice vote, but no FISA-related amendment survived a recorded cloture vote.

One bright spot this week came from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller, who sponsored his committee's bill, yet was among those who opposed a vote on his own amendment, because he was dismayed by the process that prevented votes on other amendments that would have strengthened privacy protections or barred telecom immunity.

What You Can Do:

Keep your calls to senators coming, and call your senators' staff members now to set up meetings with local aides in these next 14 days. Take a local delegation and press your case to the senator's staff. Also ask about town hall meetings or other opportunities to meet your senators during their upcoming, week-long district work period from February 16 to February 25, when most senators will be in their home states.

  • See how your senators voted on the following cloture votes from January 24 to 29:
    • Judiciary Committee amendment to the FISA Amendments Act, S. 2248, which would tighten restrictions on warrantless wiretapping involving Americans and which does not award immunity to telecommunications companies. Blocked on Jan. 24, 36 Yeas, 60 Nays.
    • Intelligence Committee amendment to the same act, which provides weaker protections of Fourth Amendment rights and gives blanket immunity to the telecoms. Blocked on Jan. 28, 48 Yeas, 45 Nays.
  • Look up your senators' votes last August on the Protect America Act.
  • Find both of your senators' Washington office phone numbers at www.senate.gov OR dial the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask the operator to connect you to both of your senators.
  • For sample phone script and talking points, go to this action alert.

Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act

Last October, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1955 by an overwhelming majority - 404-6 (with 23 representatives not voting). Grassroots opposition was immediate across the political spectrum, and that outcry may have slowed down the speed with which the Senate is considering its version of the bill, S 1959. We are concerned about the ambiguous language that creates a commission to study groups that plan or threaten to use "force" to intimidate or coerce the United States government. Force and violence are two different concepts, and to study groups using force could include groups organizing marches or demonstrations. The word "force" equates ordinary political groups with terrorist groups, as this 10-minute video by Goodman Green for Brasscheck TV illustrates.

What You Can Do:

  • The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is charged with bringing S 1959 to the Senate floor for a vote. Committee member Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who introduced the bill in the Senate, says she is willing to listen to constituents' concerns about the bill. Click here to see if one of your senators is on this committee. It will be easier to defeat or amend the bill in committee than to wait until it reaches the Senate floor.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama is also on the committee. If Obama will be campaigning near you in the coming weeks, this could be an issue to press with him.
  • Your published opinion editorials and letters to editor that you clip and send to senators can have an impact. Another useful tactic is to set up a meeting for your group or coalition with senators' aides.
  • Find talking points in this Fact Sheet prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Real ID

Federal authorities and state governments are moving towards confrontation over implementation of the national identification system known as Real ID. On January 11, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued final regulations for implementing the Real ID Act. According to a thorough study by the ACLU, the regulations address only 11% of the problems found in the original Act. A week later, Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer, sent a letter to governors in all of the 17 states that passed legislation rejecting Real ID urging them to "resist coercion" by the DHS to comply with the provisions of Real ID. If enough states resist, the federal government may not be able to implement Real ID. But in New York state, Governor Eliot Spitzer appears poised to undo the gains of those 17 states. He has signed a memorandum of understanding with DHS, saying New York will implement Real ID. A coalition of New York organizations is holding public forums in an active campaign to challenge Spitzer's compliance.

The DHS set a deadline of 60 days after its final rule publication for states to commit to implementing the cumbersome requirements of Real ID. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has threatened that citizens in states that refuse to cooperate will be forced to either obtain passports or undergo extensive pat down searches to get on airplanes. Meanwhile, Schweitzer says in the letter that "If we stand together either DHS will blink or Congress will have to act to avoid havoc at our nation's airports and federal courthouses." If Real ID goes into effect, however, it may also be required on the job, for government services, for gun registration, and for voting.

American Freedom Agenda Act

When a bill is referred to several different committees, it's hard to get the bill to the floor for a vote. That's the case with Rep. Ron Paul's American Freedom Agenda Act (H.R. 3835), which was introduced in October and referred to Committees on Intelligence, Judiciary, Armed Services and Foreign Affairs, where it has sat for 3 months. It is the only bill before Congress that actually restores a number of constitutional protections.

  • Repeals the Military Commissions Act
  • Disallows testimony obtained through torture
  • Reaffirms FISA as the sole means for executive wiretapping
  • Allows challenges to presidential signing statements
  • Prohibits extraordinary rendition
  • Prohibits the use of secret evidence

It will take some real grassroots power to move this bill out of committee to the House floor so that its many constitutional issues can receive the public discussion they deserve.

What You Can Do:


Jan 11 Day of Action to Close Down Guantánamo

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee was one of 100 groups internationally that endorsed Witness Against Torture's International Day of Action marking the sixth anniversary of prisoners arriving at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. More than 83 events took place around the world, including London, the Philippines, Turkey, Australia and Ireland. Here are highlights from actions around the United States.

Public Conversations

Amherst, MA - On January 10, local peace and civil liberties groups, SAGE and the Pioneer Valley Coalition Against Secrecy and Torture (PV-CAST) in collaboration with BORDC, hosted "What Has Our Country Become? A Public Conversation on Torture and Holding Our Government Accountable." The event moderated by BORDC East Region Organizer Ben Grosscup began with a screening of excerpts of Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and was followed by facilitated conversations in small groups.

Norma Akamatsu, a co-organizer of the event and a member of PV-CAST, described the Public Conversations model used as "a form of dialogue that can facilitate people's awareness of their own deep commitments and beliefs when confronting moral outrages like torture. Clarifying these connections can strengthen our resolve to respond authentically, substantially and with integrity to these problems despite the enormous challenges we face," she said. Following the facilitated conversations, participants met in small groups organized by type of action (media work, contact with legislators) to discuss various actions people are taking and can take in their community to educate about and to be effective in opposing US use of torture.

For information on ways that you can hold a public conversation on torture and other abuses of constitutional rights, contact Ben Grosscup.

Demonstrations

Fresno, CA - A demonstration to close Guantánamo and Restore the Bill of Rights was held at the Federal Building.

San Francisco, CA - Hundreds marched and some marchers, kneeling in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, blocked Market Street.

Corvallis OR - A rally and march led to the resolution of a misunderstanding. According to Jeanne Raymond of the Benton County Bill of Rights Defense Committee, "One student thought we were asking for the close of Guantánamo, because we wanted them all to be let free. We informed them that what we desired was a charge and a fair trial with legal representation, or release."

Columbia, SC - Demonstrators gathered outside in the rain at the Strom Thurmond Federal Building, with BORDC's Field Organizer, Michael Berg, among those on their knees and dressed as Guantánamo prisoners. At the demonstration organized by BORDC, the ACLU and Amnesty International USA, Marshall Derks of the ACLU noted that the conditions claimed as reasons for opening Guantánamo, namely combatants without uniforms, is not new. In fact, our own revolutionary army at times used the same tactics.

Seattle, WA - Activists set up a demonstration of waterboarding in a busy downtown shopping area.

Washington, DC - More than 400 demonstrators marched to the Supreme Court building, where justices are considering the habeas corpus case of Boumediene v. Bush. Eighty people were arrested and charged with "unlawful free speech on Supreme Court grounds." Some were additionally charged with "causing a harangue within the Supreme Court." Though many were denied food or water for the 30 hours they were held, all were released by 8 p.m. the next evening. 70 of those arrested withheld their legal names, and instead gave the name of a prisoner at Guantánamo, achieving one goal of the action, which was to have prisoner names on the court docket.

Other Guantánamo News from January 11

  • A federal court ruled that former prisoners at Guantánamo have not exhausted administrative remedies for their claims of torture and abuse, and that because the plaintiffs don't live or own property in the United States, they can't sue here. The suit was brought against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse. The plaintiffs have names that you'll recognize from the play, "Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom". Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith were imprisoned for more than 2 years in Guantánamo before being released in 2004. It's likely the January 11 ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • US Navy Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby stepped down from command of Guantánamo on January 11. Buzby is the commander who alleged that prisoner attorney Clive Stafford Smith smuggled Speedo swimsuits and Under Armour briefs to his clients - a charge Smith denied with righteous aplomb. Buzby's successor, Rear Admiral David M. Thomas, is the sixth to serve as commander.

New Film

Taxi to the Dark Side, recently nominated for a "Best Documentary" Oscar, will have early showings in Seattle on Feb 4, Chicago on Feb 6, San Francisco on Feb 7, and Philadelphia on Feb 20.

For more information on theatre locations and show times, or to RSVP for your group to attend one of the four scheduled showings, contact Katie Andriulli by email or at 202-628-7772.


Grassroots News

Bill of Rights Day Proclamations

Last month, we reported on some of the efforts around the country to officially recognize December 15 as Bill of Rights Day on a local level. It may seem strange to celebrate the Bill of Rights at a time in our history where the government is abandoning the Constitution's promise of a government dedicated to protecting our rights. The oft-quoted saying, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance", reminds us that people must organize in order to reverse the government's tendency to violate rights protections. Local governments can play a positive role in restoring basic civil liberties even when the federal government does not. When local people convince local governments to mark Bill of Rights Day, community groups gain opportunities to partner with their city or county, and can receive official support for events to help raise public awareness about the importance of defending our rights.

In 2007, communities in California including El Cajon, Santee, and Glendale; cities and counties in North Carolina including Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Durham County, and Orange County; Oxford, Ohio; and Allentown, Pennsylvania all passed proclamations declaring December 15 Bill of Rights Day and affirming these constitutional principles. Linda Musmeci Kimball of the Oxford Bill of Rights Defense Committee reported that 11 representatives of the Oxford BORDC, the Oxford Citizens for Peace & Justice, and Talawanda High School's S.P.E.A.K. (Students Promoting Equality and Kindness) - ranging in age from 6 to 70 - were present at the last City Council meeting to accept the Proclamation by Mayor Prudence Z. Dana of December 15 as BILL OF RIGHTS DAY in Oxford, Ohio.

To see texts of all the proclamations, click here.

Alaska's Lost Resolution

Anchorage, AK - Anchorage lost its Bill of Rights resolution on Tuesday, December 18, after an assembly member proposed giving police the authority to check for citizenship during routine police stops. As a compromise, the assembly rescinded AR 2003-223. Assembly member Dan Sullivan falsely claimed the resolution made Anchorage a sanctuary city for undocumented workers, convincing 7 assembly members to vote for its repeal. The vote has spurred local residents to look for ways to raise public awareness, and they began by participating in a talk radio program recently. Most callers on the right-wing radio program were outraged that the resolution had been rescinded.

Patriot Acts and the Habeas Lounge

Santa Monica, CA - Curator Linda Pollack has been searching for a way to blend constitutional concerns and art for more than a year. The culmination of her search is a January through March exhibit at the 18th Street Arts Center called "Patriot Acts," combined with a civic dialogue component called "The Habeas Lounge." The show is a meditation through sculpture, paint, music and film on many dimensions of our Constitution - voting, jury participation, free speech, and habeas corpus. If you live in the Los Angeles area, and want to attend or organize an event in "The Habeas Lounge," contact Linda at 310 450-0383.

A Tool to Stop Targeting

Palo Alto, CA - On January 8, the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center (PPJC) showed the documentary, REEL Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. The film "explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs - from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding 'terrorists.'" Paul George, from PPJC urges local groups wishing to use the documentary as a public education tool to visit the Media Education Foundation website for more information.

Skate Against Rendition

San Jose, CA - On the first day of 2008, about 50 protesters gathered at the downtown Holiday Ice Rink for the Second Annual Skate Against Torture. "Jeppesen is a San Jose company that is implicated in the CIA's torture flights," said Charlotte Casey from the San Jose Peace Center. "We are here today, skating and protesting, because the Ice Rink features an advertisement for Jeppesen. We feel that it is wrong for the city to advertise the services of the company that is involved in this dirty business." Submitted by Charlotte Casey - San Jose Peace Center.

Stand Up for the Constitution

Boulder, CO - The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC) is holding two events in February, to stimulate public discussion about the Constitution and the war on terror. The first, on February 6, focuses on Step One in Naomi Wolf's book, The End of America - Invoking an Internal and External Threat. It starts at noon at Broadway and Canyon.

On February 26, RMPJC hosts a left/right debate called "Civil Liberties and the War on Terror" from 7 to 9 p.m. More information upcoming here.

Allentown, PA - Eleven people turned out for the first in an ongoing series of events intended to raise public awareness titled "Stand Up for the Constitution". It took place at Allentown's City Hall on Monday, January 7th. The local group that sponsored the rally is also working to bring a resolution to the Allentown City Council to uphold the Bill of Rights. For a television clip of the event, click here.


In Brief

Saga of Jose Padilla Continues

On January 22, Jose Padilla was sentenced to 17 years and 4 months in prison for "conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas." Judge Marcia Cooke set the sentence below mandatory sentencing guidelines because of the government's harsh treatment of Padilla. On January 4, attorneys working with the Yale Law School filed a civil case, at Padilla's request, against John Yoo, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the US Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. The suit claims Yoo is legally responsible for violating Padilla's First, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights by denying Padilla access to attorneys, legal process, and information; approving cruel and unusual punishment in his imprisonment and interrogations; and infringing on his right to practice his religion while in the brig.

Update on Investigation into Destroyed CIA Torture Tapes

In early January the Justice Department appointed Special Prosecutor John Durham to investigate why the CIA destroyed videotapes presumed to show agents engaged in torture. The tapes were made in 2002 and destroyed in 2005. Durham has enjoyed a reputation during his 25 years of service at the Justice Department for aggressively discovering and prosecuting government corruption.

Despite that reputation, however, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and 18 other House Democrats recently asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to replace Durham with an outside counsel to investigate the matter. Their issue is not with Durham but with the chain of command in the process. Durham is to report to a Deputy Attorney General, who then reports to Mukasey, who then reports to President George Bush. Conyers claims that this chain undermines the independence of the investigation.


BORDC News

Human Rights Abuse Database - Update on Abdallah Higazy

We are pleased to announce that BORDC recently received a gift of $10,000 from William and Camille Cosby to support our Human Rights Abuse Database project. We expect to unveil the online, searchable database this coming spring, so that journalists, civil liberties activists and others can search online for stories of innocent victims in the US government's "war on terror."

The July 2007 newsletter included a story from our database about Abdallah Higazy, who had been a guest at the Millennium Hotel in Manhattan, across from the World Trade Center, on September 11th. After a hotel security guard claimed that a ground-to-air radio had been found in Higazy's hotel room, Higazy was detained and then questioned by an FBI agent, who used threats against Higazy and his family to coerce his confession to owning a radio that he had never seen. Higazy was held in solitary confinement for more than a month, but he was freed before his trial after the pilot who owned the radio returned to the hotel to claim it.

In October 2007, the Second Circuit reinstated liability against FBI Agent Templeton for violating the Fifth Amendment by using Higazy's coerced confession in his criminal bail hearing. The decision allows Higazy's suit for damages associated with his prolonged detention to go forward in District Court.


Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers:
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Ben Grosscup, East Region Organizer
Michael Berg, Field Organizer
Charlotte Casey of the San Jose Peace Center

 

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060

Web: www.bordc.org/
Email: info(at)bordc.org
Telephone: 413-582-0110
Fax: 413-582-0116