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Dissent Is Patriotic

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's email newsletter

March 2009, Vol. 8, No. 3

In this issue:

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

Legislators Propose PATRIOT Act Extensions—Start Organizing Now!

On March 12, 2009, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Safe and Secure America Act of 2009. The bill, which already has 17 cosponsors, would extend several USA PATRIOT Act provisions set to expire on December 31, 2009, for another ten years—until December 31, 2019. The American Civil Liberties Union summarizes the applicable provisions as follows [emphasis added]:

  1. Section 215 known as the "library records" provision, but which actually applies to "any tangible thing") which does not require any individualized suspicion to get a court order for any record wanted in intelligence investigations;
  2. Section 206 (known as “John Doe” roving wiretaps in intelligence investigations, which allow multiple phones to be tapped) which does not require law enforcement to ascertain that a suspected foreign terrorist is using the phones being listened to by government agents;
  3. The lone wolf provision (added by the 2004 intelligence bill) which applies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's secret surveillance powers to non-US citizens in this country but without requiring that they be acting for a foreign power and without sufficient safeguards.

Just this week, FBI Director Robert Mueller, who served under Bush as well as Obama, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he supports the reauthorization of Sections 215 and 206.

Although the sunsets of these PATRIOT Act provisions are still more than eight months away, the fight over whether they will be extended or allowed to expire has already begun. In our last sunset fight over PATRIOT Act in 2006, despite the coordinated efforts of BORDC and other national and local organizations, many of the PATRIOT Act’s most egregious violations of civil liberties—including those that would be extended by the Safe and Secure America Act—were reauthorized. We can’t let it happen again.

If we are to prevent the renewal or extension of PATRIOT Act provisions that undermine our civil liberties and deny us our constitutionally guaranteed protections, we must start organizing now. Our opposition has already begun to fight, and so must we.

Join the People’s Campaign for the Constitution today and start working with a coalition in your community. If a coalition hasn’t already started in your community, help build one. Meet with your senators and representatives—their district work period April 6-17 is a great opportunity—and tell them that you, their constituents, will hold them accountable for protecting and defending the Constitution, as they swore to do in their oaths of office. Use local media, letters to the editor, and public forums to call on your members of Congress to block any effort to extend PATRIOT Act provisions that harm civil liberties. Get started now.

We at BORDC are here to support your local efforts in any way we can. Read about upcoming conference calls and other organizing opportunities, or contact Emma Roderick, our grassroots campaign coordinator, for additional information, assistance, and advice.

People's Campaign for the Constitution News

Hold the Department of Homeland Security Accountable

Since its inception, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been characterized by disrespect for human rights and a lack of due process for detainees. We’ve seen some progress since Obama took office, but not enough. BORDC and the People’s Campaign for the Constitution are joining with the Detention Watch Network and the Rights Working Group in their National Week of Action to Hold DHS Accountable this April 8-15. Working together, we can restore the constitutional values of due process and human rights. Read our latest PCC blog post for more information about how to organize an event in your community for the National Week of Action .

Get Involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution!

Join PCC Members for a Conference Call

Interested in organizing a local coalition but don’t know where to start? Want to host a house party in support of the People’s Campaign for the Constitution? Have local organizing experience that you’d like to share? PCC Members are invited to take part in a conference call Monday, April 6, at 9 p.m. EST. Connect with other activists and plan your next moves. To RSVP/get information about the call, email Emma.

Help Start an Affinity Group

The PCC isn’t just for local coalitions—we’re forming affinity groups for students, educators, clergy, attorneys, librarians, doctors, and people fluent in languages other than English. These groups will use their commonality to rally supporters and call for change. To be involved in an affinity group, email Emma and put the group you’re interested in joining in the subject. Want to start an affinity group other than the ones listed above? Just email Emma and she’ll help you get started.

Share Your News

We want to publish your PCC experiences—successes, challenges, new ideas—in our newsletter and on our PCC blog. If you have something to share, email Emma!

Not a PCC Member? What Are You Waiting For?

Visit the People’s Campaign for the Constitution website and join today! Emma will contact you shortly after you sign up to help you get started.

Law & Policy

Uncovering Constitutional Violations: Opinions on a Truth Commission

Last month, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that, as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he wanted to convene a “truth commission” to investigate the national security policies and executive powers of the Bush administration. Specifically, Leahy wants to establish such a commission to investigate allegations of torture and policies on interrogation and surveillance, but the commission would not seek to prosecute government officials.

After more than seven years of constitutional violations and civil liberties abuses in the name of national security and the so-called “war on terror,” America needs to know the truth about its government’s actions. In fact, a February poll “found that 62 percent of Americans favor a criminal investigation or an independent panel to look into the use of torture, illegal wiretapping, and other alleged abuses of power by the Bush administration.” However, people across the political spectrum disagree about whether and how to go about uncovering abuses and no single opinion prevails as to the best way to move forward.

Leahy’s truth commission proposal has many backers. BORDC Advisory Board member, Georgetown University law professor, and author David Cole wrote, in a blog post for The New York Times,

As a legal matter, we are compelled to investigate by the Convention Against Torture, a binding treaty, that requires its signatories to investigate and refer for possible prosecution credible evidence of torture under their jurisdiction.…

Some complain that a truth commission is not enough—and that crimes require criminal prosecutions.… At this point, it is too early to conclude that prosecution is either required or ruled out. But it is too late to deny that a serious independent investigation is necessary.

In that same New York Times post, American University law professor Kenneth Anderson argued that “evoking the idea of a ‘truth commission’ is needlessly inflammatory,” and that Congress’s calling for such a commission “underrates the authority already in the Constitution to investigate and prohibit illegal actions by any branch of government.”

Others have made their own suggestions. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has called for a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on war powers and civil liberties that would have subpoena powers and a broader mandate than Leahy’s proposed “truth commission.” The American Civil Liberties Union, on the other hand, has called for the establishment of a Select Committee to work alongside Senator Leahy’s truth commission, “believing that the combination of both committees would be an effective format for congressional review of Bush administration policies.”

Some, including Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, have advocated for a special prosecutor to be assigned to investigate torture allegations: “A criminal investigation and prosecution of the torture conspirators is a necessity, not a choice.… Unless government officials know that consequences follow from such abuses, they will break the law again.”

Still others have said that investigating allegations against the Bush administration is a bad idea. A USA Today editorial argued that any investigation would be polarizing and take focus away from more important national issues such as the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In response to questions about how he wishes to address allegations against the Bush administration, President Obama has said that he is “more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”

Deciding whether and how to go about investigating torture, warrantless surveillance, and other constitutional and human rights violations perpetrated under claims of national security cannot wait. To know the truth, we must investigate while documents exist and memories are clear. Opinions abound, and there are many reasonable positions. However, one thing is certain: America has the right to know the truth about acts done in its name. Now, it is time for America to decide just how to go about finding that truth.

Leakerd Red Cross Report Calls Detainee Treatment Torture

In the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books, journalism professor and author Mark Danner published excerpts of a confidential report, issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on U.S. interrogation practices. The documents, which were leaked to Danner, contain interviews with detainees regarding their treatment at CIA “black sites” and describe the behavior of the interrogators as “torture.” Though accounts of detainee mistreatment have been previously reported, Danner explained the significance of this particular report to the Washington Post: “It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and degrading.’…The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law.”

The testimony of the 14 detainees held first at CIA black sites and then at Guantánamo is highly credible because, as each prisoner was held in isolation, none had the chance to corroborate his story with another. Danner does not make clear exactly why he chose to publish the report, which was intended to remain confidential, but more on his point of view, as well as small excerpts from the report, can be found in his recent New York Times op-ed.

Grassroots News

National Organizations Call on MD Legislature to Stop Police Spying

Silver Spring, MD—All eyes are on Maryland as this month, BORDC joins more than twenty national organizations (including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,, the National Organization for Women, and United for Peace and Justice) in signing the Defending Dissent Foundation’s Open Letter to the Maryland General Assembly, urging them to pass the Freedom of Association and Assembly Protection Act (HB182/SB256). The letter stresses the importance this legislation has on our entire country: if Maryland can pass strong anti-spying legislation, it will set a precedent for change at the federal level.

The legislation is largely a response to unconstitutional actions of the Maryland Police Department, who spent more than a year infiltrating activist groups and spying on hundreds of activists in “preparation” for an event at which protests were expected.

See the January and February 2009 issues of this newsletter for previous stories on police spying in Maryland.

Innovative Tactics Help BORDC-Tacoma Expose Detention Center Abuses

Tacoma, WA—BORDC-Tacoma will have to wait at least until a June 26 hearing to find out whether city officials may release Northwest Detention Center (NDC) building plans and related documents promised last month. This document dispute is the latest chapter in BORDC-Tacoma’s five-year watchdog relationship with the federal immigration prison owned and operated by The GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based, for-profit corporation that manages prisons throughout the United States and the world. The Tacoma facility was built on a former toxic waste dump near coastal wetlands, and BORDC-Tacoma has tirelessly investigated and made public not only environmental concerns with the site, but also the toxic and inhumane treatment of those incarcerated there.

See the January and February 2009 issues of this newsletter for previous stories on BORDC-Tacoma’s work to prevent expansion of the facility, and on surveillance of the activists by local police.

CorpWatch reports that, in spite of persistent allegations of prisoner abuse at NDC and other prisons operated by GEO Group across the county, as well as riots by the prisoners themselves, “[d]etaining immigrants has become a profitable business” with “no signs of slowing down.” Writing for CorpWatch, Erin Rosa notes further that “GEO reported impressive quarterly earnings of $20 million on February 12, 2009, along with an annual income of $61 million for 2008—up from $38 million the year before.”

BORDC-Tacoma keeps tabs on GEO and the NDC through creative use of the Tacoma “Adopt-a-Spot” program: they have adopted the street on which the detention facility is located and relentlessly collect litter along the site, some of which has proved extremely informative and revealing. Watch this KING5 News video for an overview of these quintessential grassroots tactics.

Want your group's actions included in our next newsletter?

Send information about your actions and events to Emma, our grassroots campaign coordinator!

New Resources

Congress in the Classroom: An Opportunity for Educators

BORDC strongly encourages educators to make current constitutional issues a part of their curriculum, from grade school through university. We are pleased to pass along the following opportunity for educators interested in expanding and improving the way they teach about Congress and the Constitution.

Congress in the Classroom is a national, award-winning education program now in its 17th year. Developed and sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, the workshop is dedicated to the exchange of ideas and information on teaching about Congress.

…Congress in the Classroom [is designed] for high school or middle school teachers who teach U.S. history, government, civics, political science, or social studies. Forty teachers will be selected in 2009 to take part in the program. All online applications must be received by no later than April 15, 2009. We will notify individuals of our decisions by April 30, 2009.

…[T]he 2009 program will focus on two themes: (1) developments in the 111th Congress, and (2) new resources for teaching about Congress. The workshop consists of two types of sessions: those that focus on recent research and scholarship about Congress (and don't always have an immediate application in the classroom) and those geared to specific ways to teach students about the federal legislature.

For more information and the online application, visit the Congress in the Classroom website. Also check out BORDC’s resources for educators. And if you’re interested in connecting with a network of educators working on these issues, contact Emma to join the educators affinity group.


Summer Internship with BORDC

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is currently seeking applicants for our 2009 summer internship. The intern selected will work in our Northampton, MA, office to assist and advance the Bill of Rights defense movement. See the internship job description for information on how to apply.

Editor: Amy Ferrer, Web & Publications Coordinator
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator; Bethany Singer-Baefsky, Smith College Intern

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060 Web:
Email: info (at)
Telephone: 413-582-0110
Fax: 413-582-0116