Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's email newsletter
May 2009, Vol. 8, No. 5
In this issue:
- Message from Shahid Buttar, BORDC's New Executive Director
- BORDC News: BORDC Welcomes New Advisory Board Members; Buttar Speaks on Domestic Intelligence Collection
- Get Involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution!
- Law & Policy: Obama Opposes Transparency on Torture Photos, Renegs on Promises to End Military Commissions; DOJ Recommends Disbarments, Not Prosecutions, for Torture Memo Lawyers; Fusion Centers: Another Threat to Civil Liberties; Rep. Baldwin Introduces Executive Branch Accountability Act
- Grassroots News: South Padre, TX – Vigils Across State in Support of Inmates Actions Against Abuse; June 26: International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
- New Resources: Bruce Fein and Mark Danner Discuss Torture on Bill Moyers Journal
- In Brief: Supreme Court Rules Officials Not Responsible for Abuses; Obama Administration Will Not Appeal Ruling Overturning NSL Gag Order
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
It is with great excitement that I officially join BORDC this week. We're developing several opportunities that we look forward to sharing with you.
Before sharing my thoughts, I want to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of my predecessor, Nancy Talanian. Without her vision and effort to build the BORDC network, neither the organization nor its many groundbreaking successes could have been possible. She leaves enormous shoes to fill, and I hope we can fill them together.
To do so, we must address post-election apathy, as well as the distraction of a political moment besieged with multiple crises.
A curious mix of hope and despair seems to confront many grassroots activists and organizers. Hope seems justified by this year's welcome—indeed, long overdue—transition in the White House, and the inauguration of our nation's first post-colonial President. Yet despair lingers.
The Obama administration continues to assert executive secrecy to block court challenges to the warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition programs, refuses to prosecute officials guilty of torture, and has failed to disclose secret policies and programs over which advocates (myself included) have sought transparency.
Observers legitimately fear that President Obama's campaign promises—like those of so many other politicians before him—were so much hot air. And if even Obama won't end warrantless surveillance, restore democratic transparency or respect constitutional rights, what hope remains? Whatever satisfaction last November's election may hold, it alone offers little comfort for Americans committed to the Constitution.
To the President's credit, he stressed during the campaign that change must come from the grassroots. And he should know: as a grassroots organizer who won the presidency, his is among the most authoritative voices on the subject. But consider what his view means for us, from either of two perspectives.
One possibility is that President Obama cares about neither the rule of law nor civil liberties. Under this theory, he needs continued pressure to hold him accountable to his campaign promises to reverse the nation's least intelligent—and most ineffective—steps to protect national security.
More likely, the President may indeed be committed to constitutionalism, yet constrained by political forces in Washington that oppose him. The hands of civil service bureaucrats, as well as moderates in Congress, may bear the same stains of torture, detention, and surveillance as those of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. These actors are influential and hardly willing to concede their political demise. From this perspective, President Obama will act only after grassroots pressure removes the political obstacles that stand in his way.
In either case, the prescription is the same: our nation needs an engaged, visible, and loud grassroots movement to restore constitutional freedoms. And that starts with us. This is no time to be silent.
BORDC offers a wealth of resources for grassroots organizers interested in restoring constitutional protections threatened by national security run amok. Download or purchase The "War on Terror" and the Constitution. Explore our People's Campaign for the Constitution toolkit for assistance in starting a local campaign. Read our recent action alerts and subscribe to our daily news digest to keep up with current events and actions. Join our People's Campaign for the Constitution, participate in our upcoming organizing calls, and let us know how to support your efforts. Only when standing together can we harbor any hope of helping our nation heal from its horrendous recent history.
BORDC Welcomes New Advisory Board Members
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is pleased to welcome the following new members to our advisory board:
W. David Ball is a research fellow at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and will soon be a professor at Santa Clara Law School. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional law scholar and chairman of the American Freedom Agenda. He served under President Ronald Reagan as deputy attorney general and is the author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy.
David A. Harris is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, a leading authority on racial profiling, and author of Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work.
Marcia Hofmann is an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) staff attorney working on government transparency, civil liberties, and intellectual property issues. She co-founded EFF's FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project.
Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society.
Gladys Limon is the staff attorney for the Los Angeles office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).
Jumana Musa is a human rights attorney and activist. She is currently the Policy Director for the Rights Working Group.
Marc Rotenberg is executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and teaches information privacy law at Georgetown University Law Center. He is editor of The Privacy Law Sourcebook and co-editor of Information Privacy Law.
Buttar Speaks on Domestic Intelligence Collection
BORDC's new executive director, Shahid Buttar, hit the ground running! On Sunday, May 17, he addressed the Greater Community Church of Boston, MA, discussing "The New Threat to the Constitution: Domestic Intelligence Collection." The event, which also addressed electronic surveillance, executive accountability for torture, and undercover infiltration of political and religious groups, was attended by members of the church and the surrounding Boston community.
Are you a high school teacher interested in connecting with other high school teachers about how to best teach students about our civil liberties? A rabbi looking to connect with other faith leaders to take a stand against human rights abuses at detention centers? A librarian interested in educating your library about the impact of the PATRIOT Act on library records? A college student willing to organize other students to stop the racial & religious profiling of Muslims? The PCC is forming affinity groups for students, educators, clergy, attorneys, librarians, doctors, and people fluent in languages other than English. To be involved in one of these groups—or one we haven't thought of—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!
Share Your News
Have experience forming an affinity group or local coalition that you want to share? Email us your thoughts for inclusion in our next newsletter.
Already up and running? We want to hear your news too, and share it in our next newsletter to inspire others. Email Emma!
Not Yet a PCC Member?
Obama Opposes Transparency on Torture Photos, Renegs on Promises to End Military Commissions
"Mr. Obama continues to disappoint those among his supporters who see no trade-off between national security and civil liberties," reported The Economist in response to President Obama's recent decision to oppose the court-ordered release of prisoner abuse photos, as well as the administration's plans to reinstate military commissions to try Guantánamo detainees, and possibly to detain some of those prisoners indefinitely.
Although Obama began his presidency by suspending the military commissions and promising to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center, which he criticized extensively during his campaign, he has moved ever closer to the Bush administration policies he denounced only a few months ago. Sources in the Obama administration promise that the rules for the new military commissions will offer "greater legal protections" for detainees because they will "block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys." However, the commissions will likely be convened on military bases in the United States, and while their rules of procedure may move closer to those of a federal court, judges will still be able to allow any hearsay evidence they deem "reliable."
Opposition to the military commissions is not a partisan issue. Bruce Fein, member of BORDC's advisory board and prominent conservative, told The Public Record, "The entire structure of military commissions is flawed. It combines judge, jury, and prosecutor in the same branch—the very definition of tyranny according to The Federalist Papers." Read BORDC's statement on the revival of military commissions.
The announcement that military commissions would resume came just two days after yet another disappointing Obama administration decision. On May 13, the President decided to appeal the court-ordered release of detainee torture photos in response to American Civil Liberties Union's Freedom of Information Act request. BORDC stands with the ACLU and the American people in supporting the disclosure of these photos as required by law. The President has repeatedly promised to uphold government transparency and the rule of law, but these unprincipled actions disappointingly betray those promises. Read our press release opposing Obama's decision not to release the photos.
While we hold high hopes for the new administration, the only way that its policies will meaningfully change is if the American people unite to demand transparency, accountability, and justice. Grassroots action is our only option. We encourage Americans of conscience to join with BORDC in taking action to oppose the administration's secrecy, its unprincipled detention policies, and demand that Congress reclaim its constitutional role as a check on executive power. Join our People's Campaign for the Constitution and build a coalition in your community to stand up and hold your President and members of Congress accountable.
DOJ Recommends Disbarments, Not Prosecutions, for Torture Memo Lawyers
Late last month, BORDC asked you, our supporters, to join us in our call for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate U.S. government torture policies. Hundreds of you called and sent emails to AG Holder demanding accountability. If you haven't taken action yet, it's not too late: send an email now.
In the weeks since we asked you to take action, further news has emerged supporting the appointment of an independent prosecutor. A draft report from the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal Justice Department office dealing with ethics, "concluded that Bush administration lawyers committed serious lapses of judgment in writing secret memorandums authorizing brutal interrogations but that they should not be prosecuted," according to The New York Times. Holder has not yet approved the report, which is likely to recommend reprimands and disbarments rather than criminal prosecutions for the attorneys, including John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, who provided the legal justification for torturing detainees in violation of U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.
Torture is immoral, un-American and unconstitutional. Americans deserve to know the truth about our government's actions, and it is our ethical and legal obligation—under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture—to investigate torture policies and prosecute those responsible for enacting them. Demand accountability today.
Fusion Centers: Another Threat to Civil Liberties
As part of its counterterrorism efforts, the U.S. government has partnered with states around the country to establish regional fusion centers. The nearly 60 fusion centers operational in February 2009 aim to facilitate information sharing between state and local law enforcement authorities, the private sector, and the federal government—but they present a range of problems.
Unfortunately, fusion centers' overly broad and vague mandate has created serious threats to privacy and civil liberties. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the information fusion centers collect may include financial records, educational history from day care and preschool through university, medical records, use of social services, and much, much more. This extensive collection and sharing of private data across all levels of government and law enforcement poses a serious threat to individual privacy rights. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report that found the following five central problems with fusion centers:
"Ambiguous Lines of Authority. The participation of agencies from multiple jurisdictions in fusion centers allows the authorities to manipulate differences in federal, state and local laws to maximize information collection while evading accountability and oversight through the practice of 'policy shopping.'
"Private Sector Participation. Fusion centers are incorporating private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, breaking down the arm's length relationship that protects the privacy of innocent Americans who are employees or customers of these companies, and increasing the risk of a data breach.
"Military Participation. Fusion centers are involving military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.
"Data Fusion = Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy.
"Excessive Secrecy. Fusion centers are hobbled by excessive secrecy, which limits public oversight, impairs their ability to acquire essential information and impedes their ability to fulfill their stated mission, bringing their ultimate value into doubt."
Moreover, a number of fusion centers have already overstepped their broad bounds and committed serious violations of civil liberties. For example, some fusion centers are collecting reports of innocuous and often First Amendment-protected activities, such as taking photos of public buildings and structures. A fusion center in Missouri has issued a report indicating that potential terrorist threat groups include anti-abortion activists and supporters of third party candidates such as Ron Paul, and a Virginia fusion center is now under investigation after it pointed to local Historically Black Colleges and Christian universities "as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group."
Even in our efforts to prevent future terrorist attacks, America must hold true to its ideals, which fusion centers have already threatened. In the upcoming months, BORDC will ramp up organizing efforts to oppose fusion centers and their violations of innocent Americans' privacy and civil liberties. We'll share word about how you can oppose them in your community. To keep up with the latest news on this and other important issues, join the People's Campaign for the Constitution and subscribe to BORDC's daily news digest via email or RSS feed.
Rep. Baldwin Introduces Executive Branch Accountability Act
On May 7, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Executive Branch Accountability Act of 2009, H. Res. 417, which calls on President Barack Obama to "immediately work to reverse damaging and illegal actions taken by the Bush/Cheney Administration and collaborate with Congress to proactively prevent any further abuses of executive branch power." Among other demands, the act calls on President Obama to fully investigate the alleged crimes of the Bush administration; hold officials of the former administration accountable for any illegal acts; affirm that it is the sole right of Congress to declare war; restore habeas corpus; and responsibly close Guantánamo Bay detention center.
The act echoes BORDC's belief that we cannot depend on the actions of a new president to correct the actions of an old one: we need to restore our country's checks and balances, and we must work to ensure that our Legislative and Judicial branches are able to balance our Executive branch. Damage done to our Constitution cannot be undone through the actions of a single leader. We need action by Congress, the courts, and the people to fully restore it.
Vigils Across State in Support of Inmates' Protests Against Abuse
South Padre, TX – Since April 22, more than 200 inmates in the Port Isabel Detention Prison in South Padre, TX, have been engaged in a hunger strike to protest verbal and physical abuse, lack of medical care, and lack of due process. On May 15, vigils and rallies in support of the detainees took place in cities across Texas, including Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Laredo, and South Padre. BORDC activists joined the Southwest Workers Union and Amnesty International USA in calling for justice for these prisoners.
June 26: International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture as designated by the United Nations. BORDC encourages local groups to plan and participate in actions happening across the country. Need an idea about what to do? Email us!
Want your group's actions included in our next newsletter?
Send information about your actions and events to Emma, our grassroots campaign coordinator!
Bruce Fein and Mark Danner Discuss Torture on Bill Moyers Journal
The May 1 edition of PBS's Bill Moyers Journal featured constitutional law scholar Bruce Fein and journalist Mark Danner. They discussed torture and its consequences for the U.S., as well as the debate over whether the Obama administration should launch an investigation into torture policies. Watch the episode online.
Bruce Fein, a member of BORDC's advisory board, served as deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and is chairman of the American Freedom Agenda. Mark Danner has reported on the U.S. treatment and interrogation of detainees for the New York Review of Books.
Supreme Court Rules Officials Not Responsible for Abuses
In Iqbal v. Ashcroft, the case we profiled in our December newsletter, the Supreme Court ruled this month that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials who authorized unconstitutional policies are not responsible for the abuses caused by those policies. In the case, Javaid Iqbal sued the government because he was one of thousands of Muslim men detained after the 9/11 attacks. During his six months in detention, he "was kept in solitary confinement at the center, denied medical care and subjected to daily body-cavity searches, beatings and extreme temperatures," but the Supreme Court ruled that Iqbal was not entitled to seek evidence indicating that the government officials who authorized the policy were responsible for the abuse he suffered. Read more about the ruling.
Obama Administration Will Not Appeal Ruling Overturning NSL Gag Order
On May 18, the Obama administration announced that it will not ask the Supreme Court to review the case now called Doe v. Holder, ongoing since April 2004. In 2007, a lower court ruled that the gag orders associated with national security letters are unconstitutional, and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld that ruling in 2008. According to the ACLU, which filed the suit, "the government...will now for the first time have to defend the constitutionality of the gag order on the ACLU's client. The FBI continues to enforce the gag order even though the underlying investigation is more than five years old and may well have ended, and even though the FBI abandoned its demand for records from the ISP more than two years ago." Read more about the case.
Editor: Amy Ferrer, Web & Publications Coordinator
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Shahid Buttar, Executive Director; Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator