Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's email newsletter
January 2009, Vol. 8, No. 1
In this issue:
- What President Obama Means for the Bill of Rights
- PCC News: Get Ready for Sunshine Week!; Conference Calls, Local Coalitions and Affinity Groups
- Law & Policy: Guantánamo Passes Seventh Anniversary—Will This One Be Its Last?; Expanded Police Spying in Maryland; Minnesota Jury Finds Constitutionally Protected Demonstration Is Not Trespassing
- Grassroots News: Tacoma BORDC’s Efforts to Stop Expansion of Northwest Detention Center
- BORDC News: BORDC’s Year-End Fundraising Campaign Surpasses Last Year’s; Guantánamo Attorney Sabin Willett to Speak in Northampton, MA; BORDC Endorses 100 Days to Stop Torture Campaign
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
On January 20, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. For the first time since the inception of the “war on terror,” we have a new leader with new priorities, and this means a new opportunity for change. Over the past seven years, civil liberties and constitutional protections—including the First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and dissent; the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure; the writ of habeas corpus, and others—have been eroded by anti-terror policies that the government has erroneously claimed make us more secure. Just how President Obama will or will not change these detrimental policies remains to be seen, but his inaugural address provides some insight:
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
Now that he is president, we must demand that Obama work with Congress to reverse policies that undermine the Bill of Rights and restore all of the rights and protections guaranteed in the Constitution.
In his first days in office, President Obama has given us reason to be hopeful: on his first day he instructed prosecutors to suspend trials at Guantánamo Bay, and on his second day he issued executive orders instructing his administration to “work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration,” and to “adopt a presumption in favor” of Freedom of Information Act requests. He also issued executive orders to shut down the Guantánamo Bay detention center within one year, to direct all U.S. personnel to follow U.S. Army Field Manual guidelines on the interrogation of suspects, and to end secret CIA imprisonment of terrorism suspects.
Unfortunately, these actions, which are discretionary and could be easily reversed in a time of perceived crisis, are not nearly enough. Obama’s actions on Guantánamo are an important first step, but they leave the door open for the creation or continuation of many problematic policies, such as the possibility of detaining so-called “enemy combatants” within the United States. If we are to be successful in achieving full restoration of civil liberties and constitutional protections, we must closely monitor the President’s actions and call for further changes. We must demand that he resist pressure to retain overreaching executive powers for national security. We must demand that Guantánamo be closed much sooner than one year from now, and that detainees there be immediately released or formally charged and tried in a constitutional process. We must demand that Obama strengthen and stand by his actions to improve government transparency so that they cannot be reversed on a whim in the future.
However, to focus on the President’s actions alone is to accept the dangerous inflation of Executive Branch power inherited from the Bush administration. We must demand that Congress take back the power ceded to the Executive and begin once more to exercise its own responsibilities regarding the safeguarding of Bill of Rights protections. We must make our representatives aware that we hold them both individually and collectively accountable to restore the checks and balances required by our Constitution.
On January 6, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with co-sponsors Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced the Lawful Interrogation and Detention Act (S.147), an important step in fulfilling Congress’s responsibility to restore basic rights in these areas. We must urge our senators to co-sponsor this bill and introduce other legislation needed to reclaim the constitutional powers and duties of the Legislative Branch.
Our calls for reform must be vocal and insistent, and our movement must be strong, diverse, and united in pursuit of full restoration of constitutional rights and protections. The People’s Campaign for the Constitution is already building just such a movement. Join us today.
Get ready for Sunshine Week!
March 15-21, 2009, is Sunshine Week! Begun by thein 2005, Sunshine Week brings together people from across the American Society of Newspaper Editors political spectrum in an annual national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.
Participating in Sunshine Week is a great way to build your local coalition, coordinate with other coalitions across the country, and hold Congress and the Obama administration accountable to promoting government openness and transparency. Read Sunshine Week’s transparency recommendations for the Obama administration.
Conference Calls, Local Coalitions and Affinity Groups
Ready to get involved? Sign up with the People’s Campaign for the Constitution now and Emma Roderick, our campaign organizer, will be in touch with you shortly.
Already signed up? Email us and let us know what you and your local group are up to!
Interested in participating in a conference call for the PCC? Let us know! Learn about how to form a local coalition and network with others in your region.
Have experience forming a local coalition that you want to share? Email us your thoughts for inclusion in our next newsletter.
The PCC is forming affinity groups for students, educators, clergy, attorneys, librarians, and people fluent in languages other than English. To be involved in one of these groups, email Emma and put the group you’re interested in joining in the subject. Interested in a group not listed? Let us know that too.
January 11, 2009, was Guantánamo Bay Detention Center’s seventh anniversary. Many prisoners marked the day with hunger strikes, protesting their continued detention and inhumane treatment. This anniversary is a sobering reminder of just how long this illegal prison and its unconstitutional trials have marred America’s reputation.
However, just nine days later, President Obama was sworn in and, in one of his first official acts, “instructed military prosecutors…to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Obama has warned that closing the prison, which currently holds approximately 250 men, will take some time, but he has promised to make doing so one of his first priorities as President. Much remains to be seen about what exactly Obama will do on this issue, as his administration is considering a number of options, some little better than the current process.
Police Spying in Maryland Was Broader than Previously Thought
Last July, we learned that police in Maryland had infiltrated and spied on a number of peaceful activists and activist groups, including groups who oppose the Iraq war and the death penalty. This month, news came out that this surveillance effort affected even more people and groups than initially indicated. The Maryland police spied on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Amnesty International, gay rights organization Equality Maryland, and a group fighting energy bill increases. The surveillance of these and other groups was uncovered by a Freedom of Information Act request made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in which the ACLU “guessed” 250 individuals and 32 groups that might have been victims of this police effort. Their guesses turned out to be 66 percent accurate.
The ACLU, the Defending Dissent Foundation, and other groups in Maryland and across the country are fighting back against this unprecedented and illegal use of police powers. Because of public outcry, the Maryland state legislature is expected to consider legislation explicitly prohibiting spying on peaceful, law abiding activists and activist groups without suspicion of wrongdoing, and Congressional hearings may be suggested to illuminate the full scope of this police surveillance effort.
BORDC supports these efforts, and we encourage local PCC groups and members to take action against illegal surveillance of activists. What can you do to help? This issue is of national importance, and you can help raise awareness in your community by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper stating your opposition to the Maryland police’s violations of activists’ rights to assembly and dissent. If your letter is printed, let us know!
Minnesota Jury Finds Constitutionally Protected Demonstration Is Not Trespassing
On January 14, a six-member jury in Hennepin County, Minnesota found seven anti-war protesters not guilty of trespassing. The demonstrators were arrested at a Minneapolis National Guard recruiting office last March after refusing to leave when police insisted that “the building owner doesn't want you here.” Their occupation of the building was part of a larger protest of the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq.
Not all of those arrested chose to go to trial, but the seven who did argued that under the First Amendment, they had not been trespassing because they had a right to be there to “peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances." The jury agreed, finding that the protestors’ presence in the building was protected by the First Amendment.
Tacoma BORDC’s Efforts to Stop the Expansion of the Northwest Detention Center
Tacoma, WA - In 2000, the city of Tacoma, Washington agreed to allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to set up a detention/deportation facility, the Northwest Detention Center, on highly contaminated industrial land near Commencement Bay.
Since its founding in 2004 (and after winning a Bill of Rights Resolution Campaign in Tacoma), BORDC-Tacoma has been a consistent watchdog group of the Northwest Detention Center. As the Center plans for a 50% expansion, BORDC-Tacoma has been educating city and county officials regarding many of the unapproved changes regarding length of detention, citizen oversight, and the number and type of detainees. They are attempting to ensure that the residents of the center retain their rights, receive proper treatment, and are kept under safe and healthy conditions.
The GEO Group, Inc., the national privatized correctional and detention management corporation responsible for building and expanding the center, has a history of OSHA violations, avoiding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, and disregarding required code compliances. Because of BORDC-Tacoma’s efforts, the EPA investigated the facility. In a major victory for the BORDC-Tacoma, the Washington State Department of Ecology recently confirmed that GEO is in violation of the environmental protective Restrictive Covenant due to failure to disclose their plans and the type of construction occurring on this property.
For information about how to start a similar watchdog project in your community, or to contact BORDC-Tacoma for more information, email our grassroots campaign organizer, Emma Roderick.
Want your group's actions included in our next newsletter? Send information about your actions and events to Emma!
BORDC’s Year-End Fundraising Campaign Surpasses Last Year’s
We at BORDC want to express our sincere gratitude for your consistent support and generosity. Each year, we ask you to help us to continue our important work in support of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution by making a financial contribution. We receive donations large and small from people of all walks of life and political persuasions, and each and every one is essential to our continued ability to work for the preservation and restoration of civil liberties and constitutional protections.
This year, we are pleased to report that you responded to our call for financial support and surpassed our expectations. Our total from this year’s fundraising campaign was 11% higher than last year’s—a truly outstanding fact given the difficult economic situation in the country. We’re also very excited that nearly two-thirds of the donations we received were from new donors, lapsed-and-returning donors, and donors who already contributed this year, because these donations are eligible for a dollar-for-dollar matching grant, doubling their impact.
We are truly grateful for your continued support of BORDC, financial and otherwise. Our existence and our effectiveness depend on you.
Guantánamo Attorney Sabin Willett to Speak in Northampton, MA
On February 12, 2009, at 7 p.m. at Smith College’s Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton, MA, Guantánamo attorney Sabin Willett will speak about the challenges that remain in dealing with the prison. Guantánamo Bay detention center’s seventh anniversary fell January 11, just days before Barack Obama was sworn in as president. Since taking office, President Obama has halted military commissions and issued an executive order calling for the closure of the prison by January 22, 2010, but there are still questions about just what will happen to the approximately 250 remaining detainees and where and how they might be tried.
Attorney Sabin Willett is a partner in the Boston law firm of Bingham McCutcheon who has litigated for a number of detainees at Guantánamo, resulting in the release of three prisoners thus far. His editorials have appeared in national publications including the Boston Globe and Washington Post. The February 12 program is organized by the Pioneer Valley Coalition Against Secrecy and Torture and is co-sponsored by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and other local organizations. We look forward to seeing you at this important event.
BORDC Endorses 100 Days Campaign to Close Guantánamo and End Torture!
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the People’s Campaign for the Constitution have signed on to endorse the 100 Days Campaign to Close Guantánamo and End Torture. The 100 Days Campaign, initiated by Witness Against Torture, calls upon the Obama administration to close Guantánamo Bay in its first 100 days. It includes a daily, sustained, physical presence across from the White House and a weekly schedule of Executive and Congressional education, public teach-ins and film screenings, fasting, prayer and vigils, direct action, and public pressure throughout the first 100 days of the new administration.
See the full list of endorsers and join organizations and individuals across the country in calling for an end to torture NOW, not a year from now! To get involved in a DC event, or to find or organize one in your local community, email or visit the 100 Days Campaign. And don’t forget to tell us what you’re doing—email us and let us know!
Editor: Amy Ferrer, Web & Publications Coordinator
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writer: Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator