Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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Dissent Is Patriotic

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

November 2008, Vol. 7, No. 10


In this issue:

  • After the Election: We Can't Stop Now!
  • PCC News: Organizations: Become a Partner in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution!
  • New Resources: Liberty and Security: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress; The PATRIOT Act and American Business; Updated Resolutions Book
  • Law & Policy: What Will Obama Do About Guantánamo?; BORDC Joins in Amicus Brief in Iqbal v. Ashcroft
  • In Brief: December 9: National Day of Action for Victims of Extraordinary Rendition
  • BORDC News: Executive Director Change; Welcome Emma Roderick, BORDC's New Grassroots Campaign Coordinator; Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship—Law Students Apply Now!

Please support BORDC's work to defend the Bill of Rights! Contribute funds or stock online, or mail a check or money order to:

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


The most important office of government is CITIZEN.
- Justice Louis Brandeis, 1856-1941

After the Election: We Can't Stop Now!

For seven years, we watched as the Bush administration, aided by a complicit Congress, stripped away some of the most fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution. Now, as we prepare for a new president and a new Congress to take the reigns, we cannot become complacent.

Many of us spent the last several months consumed by political campaigns, but we must not rest now that these races are over. The decimation of civil liberties and constitutional protections will not be undone just because the Bush administration will no longer be in power. Historically, we have seen that expansions of executive powers and infringements on rights and liberties often endure long past the supposedly exigent circumstances that initiated them—especially when the establishment continues to support a permanent, so-called "war on terror."

We must begin now to strategize and work with the members of the new Congress and the Obama administration. We must remind them of the importance of restoring our rights and liberties. We must tell them that we will hold them accountable to their campaign promises and the oaths they will take to protect and defend the Constitution. And we must organize a strong movement, without which our nation's new leaders will not have the political capital necessary to take decisive action to reverse the policies that have damaged our constitutional protections.

The People's Campaign for the Constitution is designed to create grassroots efforts that will force the new Congress to take notice. If we organize locally, educate our representatives, hold them accountable for fulfilling their oaths, and insist that they reinstate civil liberties and governmental checks and balances, we can make a real difference.

The new administration and new Congress will not reverse the constitutional violations of the past seven years unless we make our voices heard. The time to act is now!

What you can do right now:

  • Join the People's Campaign for the Constitution and help build a coalition of individuals and organizations in your area to take advantage of this historic moment.
  • Check out our new resources (listed below) and follow up with the action points for each.
  • Sign on to the ACLU's Close Gitmo letter to President-elect Obama.
  • Visit change.gov, the Obama-Biden Transition Team website, and tell them about the issues you think are most important.

PCC News

Organizations: Become a Partner in the People's Campaign for the Constitution!

The People's Campaign for the Constitution offers tools that groups and individuals in local coalitions can use to demand that their local representatives restore the constitutional rights and protections curtailed by the Bush administration's policies. As we begin this new phase of our campaign, we need the support of local, regional, and national organizations from across the political spectrum. After all, organizations can be much more effective by collaborating and combining efforts rather than solely working on their own issues. This is the time for organizations (and individuals, of course!) from across the political spectrum to join together to demand that our representatives restore our fundamental constitutional protections. Whether your organization is nonpartisan or politically affiliated, business-oriented or non-profit, large or small, working on civil liberties and constitutional issues specifically or on anti-war issues, environmental matters, pro-choice or anti-abortion activism, immigration issues, crime issues, gun owners' rights, gun control, or any number of other causes, we want you to join us.

The Bush administration's "war on terror" policies affect all of us, because we all value the civil liberties and constitutional protections upon which our national pride and reputation is based. Since the dawn of the "war on terror," the Bush administration has systematically undermined those principles and allowed the FBI and state and local police to investigate—without cause—peaceful, law-abiding activist groups and individuals. These issues are every activist organization's concerns.

What you can do right now:

  • Join the People's Campaign for the Constitution as a partner organization.
  • Engage other organizations in your area using the new resources listed below and encourage them to join the PCC as partner organizations.

New Resources

Liberty and Security: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress

BORDC has joined with more than 25 organizations and more than 75 individuals to draft Liberty and Security: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, a 20-chapter document that provides specific recommendations for actions the new administration and new Congress can take to restore liberties and constitutional protections. Three of BORDC's board members, Flavia Alaya, Kit Gage, and Chip Pitts, participated in reviewing the document, which is now available for reading and downloading (either as a whole or by chapter).

What you can do right now:

  • Identify the particular recommendations that are of interest to groups in your area—especially those relevant to groups to which you already belong.
  • Use those recommendations as talking points to invite local groups to a start-up meeting of your own local People's Campaign for the Constitution coalition.
  • Write a letter to the editor introducing these recommendations to your community.

The PATRIOT Act and American Business

These are tough times for American businesses, and not just because of the economic downturn. The USA PATRIOT Act and associated laws and policies have damaged the open climate in which American business thrives and have imposed more stringent reporting requirements that can dramatically increase operating costs.

In response to these changes, BORDC has just released The PATRIOT Act and American Business, a new 16-page booklet outlining the sections of the PATRIOT Act and other policies that hurt businesses and providing insight into how business owners can protect their businesses and their clients' privacy from illegal government intrusion. The booklet also includes stories of how several businesses successfully stood up against illegal government information requests and advises businesses on how to respond should they receive a similar request. Download The PATRIOT Act and American Business to learn more.

What you can do right now:

  • Identify local businesses that may have been impacted by the PATRIOT Act.
  • Write letters to those businesses enclosing a copy of the booklet.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about the booklet and express your concerns for businesses in your area that may have been impacted by the PATRIOT Act.

Updated Resolutions Book

Since 2002, eight states, more than 400 municipalities, and numerous religious organizations, campus organizations, labor unions, and other organizations have passed resolutions in support of the Bill of Rights. Now, as we work to educate our newly elected representatives about the need to reverse Bush administration policies that infringe upon our civil liberties and constitutional protections, BORDC has updated and re-released our compilation of these resolutions. The 428-page book is a great resource to distribute to legislators to illustrate the magnitude of public support for reversing anti-terror policies that violate constitutional rights. Download the book today.

What you can do right now:

  • If your community is one that has passed a resolution, write a letter to the editor or compose an email or blog post expressing congratulations to the community for having helped to create the present post-election climate where real change is possible, and invite local activists and organizations to a start-up meeting for a local People's Campaign for the Constitution coalition to confront the continuing challenges.
  • If your community's resolution effort has flagged, seize this moment for change in a letter to the editor or other communication calling for those who had been active to come together again with new allies and begin a local People's Campaign for the Constitution coalition.
  • If there has been no resolution effort in your community, write a letter to the editor or email to activists using the cumulative example of resolution campaigns across the country to express the confidence that your community can be part of that change and issue an invitation to a start-up meeting for a local People's Campaign coalition.

Law & Policy

What Will Obama Do About Guantánamo?

After Barack Obama assumes the presidency, how will he uphold his recently reiterated campaign promise to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center? The controversies surrounding detainee treatment, the use of torture, the Military Commissions Act, and even the very founding of Guantánamo itself represent some of the worst consequences of implementing anti-terrorism policies that are driven largely by fear. This policy climate places President-Elect Obama in a difficult situation.

Most of the 750 or so Guantánamo detainees, originally all labeled the "worst of the worst," have now been released. Some of the detainees (only a small minority of the 250 left, by the military's own admission) really are dangerous and an even smaller number could be found guilty of war crimes, in which case a military or international court would provide the most appropriate venue for prosecution. However, creating a system of detention and trial that complies with constitutional mandates will not be easy for President-elect Obama. Simply transferring the most dangerous of the detainees from Guantánamo to federal prisons to await trial might further complicate their status, but if Obama maintains the current system or establishes a new system of detention independent of the federal courts, he would be abandoning the wishes of the voters who elected him by continuing President Bush's failed doctrine.

Even worse, most of the remaining detainees are not guilty of terrorism and should never have been held at Guantánamo, meaning that the United States now faces the legal and ethical problem of having arrested and held innocent men for months or years without charge. Additionally, many of the innocent cannot be legally transferred to their own countries because they will likely face torture there. Other nations hesitate, or flatly refuse, to accept them. Obama faces some momentous decisions in the next few years. Whatever he chooses, he must act swiftly, yet cautiously, to repair the wounds that the Bush administration has inflicted on this country's core principles and to restore justice to our legal system.

Read more about Obama's plans for Guantánamo Bay from the New York Times.

BORDC Joins in Amicus Brief in Iqbal v. Ashcroft

On October 31, BORDC joined with 32 other civil rights and human rights groups across the country in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Iqbal v. Ashcroft, the outcome of which will deeply affect the future of civil rights litigation.

The coalition brief, organized by the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights and Yale Law School's National Litigation Project, argues that the Supreme Court should uphold the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in favor of Javaid Iqbal and hundreds of other Arab, Muslim and South-Asian men in the New York area who were arbitrarily detained by the federal government in the wake of 9/11. None of the men were ever convicted of terrorist activity, but while in detention Mr. Iqbal and many others suffered verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of federal employees. Though former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller did not personally take part in the abuse, Iqbal and the other plaintiffs argue that their unconstitutional mistreatment was the direct result of policy authorized by those top officials.

Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller, petitioners in this appeal to the Supreme Court, argue that because of post-9/11 national security concerns, the plaintiffs must present exactly detailed allegations against high-ranking officials, not the general allegations of unconstitutional behavior allowed by the Second Circuit. The amicus brief argues against this, stating, "Were this Court to adopt Petitioners' interpretation, then only in the rarest of cases where a 'smoking gun' was already a publicly-known fact would a plaintiff have any possibility of surviving the pleading standard." It goes on to say, "Although Mr. Iqbal's claims arose under extraordinary circumstances, there is nothing unique about the violations he suffered or his need for judicial recourse."

Finally, the brief closes with examples of plaintiffs who won their cases alleging "failure to supervise officers who abuse their authority," "unconstitutional policies and practices in criminal investigations," "failure to supervise violent subordinates," and "supervisory indifference to sexual harassment." If the petitioners in Iqbal prevail, such plaintiffs in the future will not even get a hearing and the top level officials who authorized, or at least permitted, the unconstitutional actions of their subordinates will remain unaccountable.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in this case on December 10.


In Brief

December 9: National Day of Action for Victims of Extraordinary Rendition

On December 9, 2008, a number of organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and United for Peace and Justice, are sponsoring a national day of action to seek justice for the U.S. government's practice of extraordinary rendition - secretly taking prisoners to other countries for torture and interrogation that would be illegal here.

The day of action is timed to the rehearing of the case of Maher Arar. In 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK airport on his way home from a family trip. He was interrogated, prevented from having assistance from a lawyer, and sent against his will to Syria, where he was interrogated, tortured and held in a grave-like cell for more than ten months. No country, including the U.S., has ever charged him with any crime.

U.S. courts have given in to officials' efforts to prevent justice from being served by refusing to determine whether it was unconstitutional to send Mr. Arar to Syria to be tortured and arbitrarily detained. In 2006, a federal judge dismissed Mr. Arar's claims, not on the merits, but because of national security and foreign policy concerns. In June 2008, a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided 2-1 that Mr. Arar's case could not proceed, on largely the same grounds. The dissenting judge found that this decision gives federal officials the license to "violate constitutional rights with virtual impunity."

However, in an extremely rare occurrence, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided to rehear Maher Arar's case on December 9, 2008. This time around, we need to make sure that the court knows that United States officials do not have license to ship people off to other countries to be tortured or disappeared. That is why the goal of the National Day of Action is to hold high levels of the Bush administration accountable for the torture and rendition of Maher Arar.

Visit UFPJ's page about the National Day of Action for Victims of Extraordinary Rendition to find out what action you can take, such as organizing a local event or writing a letter to the editor. Be sure to let us know if you are organizing a local action by emailing us at info@bordc.org.


BORDC News

Executive Director Change

After years of valued service to the organization as founding executive director, Nancy Talanian's last day with BORDC was October 24, 2008. BORDC wishes to thank Nancy for her tireless activism and for helping stimulate a nationwide grassroots movement to defend the Bill of Rights.

The board of directors is searching for a new executive director. The job description, qualifications and application process can be found on our website.

Welcome Emma Roderick, BORDC's New Grassroots Campaign Coordinator

BORDC is pleased to announce a new addition to our staff, Emma Roderick. Emma is our new grassroots campaign coordinator and will be managing our organizing efforts for the People's Campaign for the Constitution across the country. A 2007 graduate of Smith College, Emma has previously worked on national organizing efforts for United Students Against Sweatshops and Wake Up Wal-Mart and was a leader in the successful student effort to end Coca-Cola's exclusive contract with Smith College because of the company's involvement in human rights abuses.

Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship—Law Students Apply Now!

BORDC invites second-year law students who are concerned about 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 16. Download the NLG Haywood Burns packet containing an application form and instructions (PDF).


Editor: Amy Ferrer, Web and Publications Coordinator
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Bethany Singer-Baefsky, Smith College Intern

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