Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
July 2008, Vol. 7, No. 6
In this issue:
- Realistic Expectations for the 2008 Election
- FBI Considering Racial Profiling for Terrorism Investigations
- Legislation: Senate Fails on FISA
- Grassroots News: Norwalk, CT - People's Campaign Kicks Off in Connecticut; Raleigh, NC - Constituents Inspire New Congressional Call for Torture Investigation
- New Resources: Subscribe to BORDC News Digest; People's Campaign for the Constitution Brochure, Flyer and a Blog; "A Declaration for Our Times" Video, MP3 and New Print Version
Please support BORDC's work to defend the Bill of Rights! 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 sometimes ask us at BORDC why we continue our work to restore constitutionally protected freedoms. "Don't you think those problems will go away after the 2008 election?" they ask.
That depends on the grassroots and the power it wields. After all, substantial majorities in the House and Senate, including the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, have just voted away our Fourth Amendment right to be free of federal government wiretaps without court-approved warrants. By granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms, Congress also removed the courts' authority to uncover and rule on illegal actions by the executive: actions carried out secretly that may affect you.
If Congress was willing to grant all those powers to an executive branch that has been accused of breaking several laws and committing war crimes, can we expect the new Congress to remove those powers when a new president with a clean record takes office?
No. Not unless we organize and reclaim the freedoms and rights to which we are entitled under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. That is what the People's Campaign for the Constitution is all about.
The campaign is a simple, grassroots approach to some of the greater challenges that have denied us the full protection of our constitutional rights.
- Reach out and build a coalition. Unless we are willing to build coalitions in our communities and congressional districts that cross issues, politics, races, ethnicities, and economics, we will continue to suffer partisan politics as usual in Washington.
- Educate the community. Until we educate ourselves about constitutional rights, what happens when they are gone, and the candidates' voting records and views on civil liberties issues, people will continue to be swayed by misleading speeches made on the campaign trail, in Congress, and in the Rose Garden.
- Hold a public forum. Until constituents in congressional districts across the U.S. use their power to organize meetings with legislators and candidates at which they present demands for fully restoring constitutional rights and freedoms, we can expect to be ignored.
- Hold representatives accountable. The work does not stop on November 4. We need to revisit our representatives after election to remind them of our demands and continue our vigilance throughout their terms of office.
We thank the hundreds of you who have already pledged to support the People's Campaign for the Constitution and are now beginning to form committees in 49 states and the District of Columbia. We recognize the many challenges we face - public apathy, corporate money in politics, government propaganda and scare tactics, partisan politics, and corporate media, to name just a few.
But we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights that are worth saving and a potential pool of more than 300 million people who are the beneficiaries. Let this be the election year when we the people come together, community by community, to demand - and win - our constitutional rights and freedoms.
We invite you and your organization to pledge your support for the People's Campaign for the Constitution. Our campaign organizers for the East and West are ready to help you begin organizing in your community or congressional district.
According to news reports released earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is drafting new guidelines for investigations that would allow profiling of potential terrorism suspects based on race and ethnicity. In 2001, President Bush denounced racial profiling, and current FBI policy prohibits it, requiring agents to provide evidence that supports their suspicions before investigating an individual as a terrorism suspect. The policy now being drafted would change all that. It would allow investigators to target Muslims, Arabs, or members of any other race or ethnicity without any reason to suspect that they are involved in any wrongdoing.
At a Senate Judiciary hearing on July 9, Attorney General Michael Mukasey denied that the FBI would begin using racial profiling. Senator Russ Feingold inquired as to whether "the fact that a person is of a certain ethnicity or national origin [would] be enough, without any evidence of wrongdoing, to justify a preliminary inquiry," and Mukasey said it would not. However, Mukasey did not rule out the possibility that race or ethnicity would be used in conjunction with other potentially innocuous factors, such as travel or organizational memberships, in profiling efforts.
The fact that the FBI would consider any policy that permits racial profiling as the basis for an investigation is troubling. Our Constitution requires that searches be reasonable and based on evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing, and racial or ethnic characteristics can never constitute such evidence. See the Associated Press's recent article for more information on this issue.
Senate Fails on FISA
On July 9, the Senate passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 by a vote of 69 to 28, effectively legalizing the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program and granting immunity to the telecommunications companies that illegally assisted the National Security Agency. In voting on this legislation, the Senate rejected three amendments introduced by Senators Dodd, Specter, and Bingaman - amendments that would have mitigated or removed the bill’s provision of retroactive telecom immunity.
President Bush signed the FISA Amendments Act into law the next day, July 10, declaring, "This law will protect the liberties of our citizens while maintaining the vital flow of intelligence." While this legislation will indeed ensure the uninterrupted flow of information to the NSA, it will not protect our civil liberties.
This legislation, which is now law, denies Americans their constitutional right to due process by halting more than 40 lawsuits filed against telecommunications companies including AT&T and Verizon. Further, the Act effectively sanctions the Bush administration's outrageous assertions of executive power and sets a precedent whereby the Judiciary is rendered irrelevant as a co-equal branch of government with a constitutional responsibility to exercise oversight.
The battle is not quite over, however. Shortly after the FISA Amendments Act became law, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a variety of human rights organizations and journalists alleging that the Act is unconstitutional because it violates Americans' Fourth Amendment rights. Additionally, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is responsible for many of the controversial lawsuits filed against the telecommunications companies, plans to challenge the constitutionality of the immunity provision contained in the recently enacted legislation.
People's Campaign Kicks Off in Connecticut
Norwalk, CT - On Thursday, July 17, 16 residents of the 4th Congressional District of Connecticut met to kick off a local People's Campaign for the Constitution (PCC). BORDC Campaign Coordinators Ben Grosscup and Jim McNamara spoke with the group about how they can use the PCC to organize a local coalition to get the candidates for national office to respond to their demands for restoring constitutional rights and protections. Ben and Jim emphasized that putting candidates on record through questionnaires and public forums is the first step towards holding the winning candidate accountable to the oath to defend the Constitution all representatives take once elected.
The 4th Congressional District has a hotly contested seat this year. The Cook Political Report rates the district as a "toss-up." Meeting participants agreed to work together to put tough constitutional questions to all the candidates. The group established a contact list and is planning future meetingts. The contact for the local campaign is Bill Gaston.
People in 49 states and the District of Columbia have signed up to join local coalitions to demand that 2008 election candidates restore our constitutional rights. We invite you to send us news of your group’s progress to share with our readers.
Constituents Inspire New Congressional Call for Torture Investigation
Raleigh, NC - After three years of diligent and skillful advocacy by his constituents, including in person meetings and regular contact, Rep. David Price (D-NC) sent a letter on July 16 to the chairs of two House committees that oversee the CIA, calling for an investigation of CIA rendition contractors. It was Price's first public statement directly supporting the cause of ending North Carolina's role in rendition. The letter specifically called for an investigation of Aero Contractors - the CIA-linked company based in North Carolina that has flown detainees to be tortured in foreign countries in the CIA's so-called "extraordinary rendition" program. Christina Cowger, a leader of North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN), said, "This is exactly the kind of thing we've been urging Rep. Price and other representatives to do. Now comes the challenge of turning this call for investigation into reality."
Price writes, "Press reports indicate that the CIA . . . has transferred [detainees suspected of terrorism activity] to the custody of foreign nations known to engage in torture and abuse of prisoners. This practice is almost certainly in violation of the United States' commitments under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." The letter says the investigation should examine the CIA's use of renditions, the role of private contractors, the possible violations of federal law, and the need for corrective legislative measures.
Rep. Rush Holt, chair of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel,
and long-time opponent of warrantless wiretapping and torture, was
one of the recipients of the letter. Members of NCSTN are already
coordinating with a group in Holt's district, the Mercer County Coalition
for Civil Liberties, to plan strategy going forward. The other recipient
is Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee
on Intelligence. As constituents mobilize, they ask people everywhere
in the U.S. to call the two committee chairs to support Rep. Price's
call for an investigation of CIA rendition contractors.
Rep. Rush Holt: 202-225-5801 (DC office), 609-750-9365 (district office, West Windsor, NJ)
Rep. Silvestre Reyes: 202-225-4831 (DC office), 915-534-4400 (district office, El Paso, TX)
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People's Campaign for the Constitution
We continuously update the web site and add new resources to support local campaigns around the country. Here are a few recent additions:
Brochure - detailing the PCC. Download and print the brochure for distribution to friends and family and at local events.
Flyer - complete with tear-off tabs for posting on community bulletin boards to help spread the message of the PCC and organize in local communities throughout the country.
Blog - explores strategies for a grassroots campaign to restore the constitutional checks and balances that have been cynically unchecked and unbalanced by the post-9/11 so-called "war on terror." This blog focuses on the need for a People's Campaign to hold members of Congress accountable to their constitutional oaths in light of Congress's complicity with constitutional violations including warrantless surveillance, torture, indefinite detention, and preemptive war. We invite comments from the PCC community.
As the People's Campaign evolves, this blog will serve as an outlet through which all of us can share the progress of the PCC across the country in effectively engaging and motivating our communities to reclaim our fundamental constitutional rights and protections.
"A Declaration for Our Times"
This new declaration was published July 3 as a signature ad in the The New York Times. See July 4 story in The Nation here. The declaration is also available in other forms:
Video & audio (MP3) versions are available for your use at meetings or as television or radio broadcasts. The recording (3 minutes 22 seconds) features Christopher Pyle (the declaration's author), two attorneys who represent Guantanamo detainees, a survivor of torture in Sudan, and BORDC staff, among others. Matt Ehling of ETS Pictures produced the video and audio recordings.
In the video's first week on YouTube, it was viewed more than 5,000 times and maintained a 5-star rating. If your local television station will agree to broadcast the video, contact us to request a high-resolution DVD.
New 8.5 x 11 print version of the declaration including nearly 600 signatures is now available for easy printing, along with the version as it appeared in The New York Times. The ad was designed by Emily G. Lewis.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Ben Grosscup, Campaign Coordinator
Jim McNamara, Campaign Coordinator
Amy Ferrer, Web and Publications Coordinator
Matthew Fairman, Summer Intern
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
Email: [info (at) bordc.org]