Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's email newsletter
June 2009, Vol. 8, No. 6
In this issue:
- President Proposes Preventive Detention
- BORDC News: Sign On to Demand Accountability for Torture; NAACP President Benjamin Jealous Joins BORDC Advisory Board; BORDC Executive Director Publishes Analysis of Government Secrecy; BORDC Welcomes our Haywood Burns Fellow and Summer Intern
- Get Involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution!
- Law & Policy: Al-Haramain, Wiretapping, and State Secrets
- Grassroots News: Chicago, IL—Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights Hosts Forum on Surveillance; Portland, OR—Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Weekly Protest; June 25 and 26 Torture Accountability Organizing Opportunities; Actions Against 287(g) Immigration Enforcement Agreements
- In Brief: NYC Revolution Books Sponsors “Torture and the Need for Justice”
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On May 20, President Obama called a closed-door meeting with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and other civil liberties watchdog groups. In that meeting, Obama announced “that he was mulling the need for a ‘preventive detention’ system that would establish a legal basis for the United States to incarcerate terrorism suspects who are deemed a threat to national security but cannot be tried.”
Preventive detention, by definition, violates the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. No matter what legal structure the administration devises to attempt to justify such a policy, it is illegal, immoral, and against American ideals to imprison anyone—even individuals suspected of posing a national security risk—indefinitely without charges, habeas corpus rights, or the opportunity to defend oneself and confront witnesses.
After this meeting and the President’s speech on anti-terror policy the following day, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) sent a letter to Obama, reading in part,
While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law… Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Feingold went on to criticize Obama for helping to entrench the so-called “new normal” of a surveillance state in the U.S., explaining that by embracing the Bush administration’s unconstitutional anti-terror policies, “those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.” This danger applies to not only the question of what to do with the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, but also the state secrets privilege, warrantless wiretapping programs, torture accountability, the expansion of FBI powers and resurrection of COINTELPRO, and other offensive anti-terror policies that the American people have decried.
It is increasingly clear that We, the people, must take action to prevent policies that violate our most fundamental rights from becoming part of the “new normal” in America. We must stand up for our ideals and call on the President—as he himself asked us to do during the campaign—to protect and defend our constitutional rights and civil liberties, even in the face of fear-mongering and political pressure. We must not, as Benjamin Franklin warned, “give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety.” Compromising our core values will not make us safer; it will only weaken the values that make our country worth protecting.
Sign On to Demand Accountability for Torture!
Last week, Congress is considering a bill that includes the Lieberman-Graham Amendment, also known as the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act. This amendment would require President Obama to keep secret a series of photos documenting the abuse and rape of detainees by U.S. personnel, despite a court order that the government must release them. The House has at least temporarily defeated the measure, but President Obama, who has announced his intent to appeal the ruling that ordered the photos’ release, strongly supports the Lieberman-Graham amendment.
Government secrecy—especially secrecy that likely aims to conceal government wrongdoing—must be stopped. That is why BORDC is asking you, our supporters, to sign on to a letter calling for transparency through the investigation and prosecution of government officials who authorized and committed torture. In addition to a letter open to all concerned Americans, there are special versions tailored for legal professionals, health professionals, educators, and clergy and religious lay-leaders.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous Joins BORDC’s Advisory Board
BORDC welcomes Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to our advisory board. Jealous has served as president of the Rosenberg Foundation, director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International and Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more than 200 black community newspapers. His work has included grassroots organizing and community involvement, and he has long been a staunch advocate for underprivileged and underrepresented populations. BORDC is excited and honored that he has joined our advisory board.
BORDC Executive Director Publishes Analysis of Government Secrecy
Last week, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar published an analysis of ongoing government secrecy and its impacts on civil liberties and the rule of law. "Secrecy Sacrificing National Security" examines secrecy promoted by the Obama administration across three contexts: (i) depictions of torture whose implications have been contorted by the mainstream discourse, (ii) secret surveillance policies, and (iii) a secret FBI policy mandating ethnic & religious profiling that he recently sought via a FOIA request following briefings with senior FBI officials in late 2008.
BORDC Welcomes Our Haywood Burns Fellow and Summer Intern
This month, BORDC welcomed two new faces to our national office: Haywood Burns fellow Linda Rigas and summer intern Maxwell Solie.
Linda Rigas comes to BORDC through the National Lawyers Guild’s Haywood Burns Social and Economic Justice Fellowship. As part of her fellowship, she engages in legal advocacy on behalf of BORDC. A 2007 graduate of Scripps College, Linda is a law student at New England School of Law in Boston, focusing on law in the service of humanity. Directly prior to coming to BORDC, Linda worked as the legal intern at Physicians for Human Rights, the student organizer for The World Can't Wait's Fire John Yoo and War Criminals Watch projects, and the lobbying and political intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
Maxwell Solie is currently in his second year of graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration. His research interests include health care access, intellectual property law, and civil liberties in the digital age. Max's summer internship at BORDC will be his first foray into non-profit grassroots activism.
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!
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Al-Haramain, Warrantless Wiretapping, and State Secrets
Al-Haramain v. Obama, one of the highest profile cases against federal warrantless wiretapping, recently returned to court. On June 4, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker dismissed dozens of wiretapping lawsuits against telephone companies because Congress granted them immunity last summer.
The federal government has cited the state secrets privilege in an effort to compel judges reviewing Haramain, Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan (challenging the participation of a subsidiary of Boeing in the Bush administration’s torture outsourcing program), and Jewel v. NSA (another case challenging the warrantless wiretapping scheme, as well as other secret surveillance schemes beyond those previously confirmed) to dismiss sensitive cases without investigating their merits. But Judge Walker rejected the state secrets argument in Al-Haramain, refusing to dismiss the case and requiring the parties to finally proceed with arguments on the merits on September 1.
Al-Haramain was filed in February 2006 and involves allegations by a now-dissolved Islamic charity that the National Security Agency (NSA) wiretapped their telephones without a warrant, pursuant to a policy implemented by the Bush administration and maintained by the Obama administration. Now, because of Judge Walker’s ruling, the Obama administration is scheduled to defend the federal government’s case. Al-Haramain’s attorney, Jon Eisenberg, discussed the case with National Public Radio: “Do they oppose it? Do they support it? Was all that campaign rhetoric just rhetoric? Or are they going to follow through? The day of reckoning is upon us."
President Obama’s use of the state secrets privilege, despite his campaign promises of greater transparency, continues to disappoint constitutionalists who sought “change [we] could believe in.” Meanwhile, the State Secrets Protection Act (S. 417 and H.R. 984) is making its way through Congress, with hearings earlier this month in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
Former undersecretary for the Bush administration’s Department of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson, testifying in favor of the legislation June 4 before the House Judiciary Committee, argued that:
[t]he state secrets privilege ... has evolved from an evidentiary privilege into an immunity doctrine, which has blocked any litigation of cases involving national security programs. Over the past twenty years, courts have dismissed at least a dozen lawsuits on state secrets grounds without any independent review of the underlying evidence that purportedly would be subject to this privilege. Not only does this create an incentive for overreaching claims of secrecy by the executive branch, but it has prevented too many plaintiffs from having their day in court.
If the State Secrets Protection Act becomes law, federal attorneys seeking to assert the state secrets privilege will be required to offer the evidence in question to the presiding judge for review and determination whether application of the privilege is warranted.
June 25 and 26 Torture Accountability Organizing Opportunities
June 25 is Torture Accountability Action Day, and June 26 is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This June 25 and 26, activists across the country are planning actions to hold members of the Bush administration accountable for their role in the spread of torture by US officials.
Interested in getting involved in an action? Here are some ideas:
- Flier at a courthouse near you. BORDC activists and members of the People’s Campaign for the Constitution will be handing out fliers calling for executive accountability at courthouses around the country. If you’re interested in organizing or participating in an action in your neighborhood, email Emma and she’ll connect you with others in your area.
- Host a film screening. Check out this list of films guaranteed to spark some interesting discussions about torture. You can use our flier for publicity.
- Host a discussion group. Gather friends and community members for a conversation about executive accountability and the rule of law.
- Write a letter to your editor. Get a group of friends together to draft letters or op-eds and submit them to publications in your area. Also check out BORDC’s tips on getting published.
If you’re hosting an event, be sure to register on our website. We’ll be keeping track of the actions BORDC and PCC members are involved in and helping to publicize them. Email Emma for help organizing your event!
Also, remember to sign our letter calling for executive accountability in enhanced interrogation techniques!
Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights Hosts Forum on Surveillance
Chicago, IL—The Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (CCDBR) held a forum on surveillance on June 6. Speakers included BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Mike German, Defending Dissent Foundation Director Sue Udry, and several local authorities on surveillance. Want to keep up with CCDBR’s events this summer? Visit their website to see what they’re up to.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Weekly Protest
Portland, OR—Members of Individuals for Justice hold a standing protest every Thursday from 12 noon to 2 PM in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Building at 700 SW Sixth Avenue (next to Pioneer Square) to protest Judge Jay Bybee’s presence on the court. Interested in joining them? Contact Emma for more information.
Actions Against 287(g) Local Immigration Enforcement
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act “authorizes the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions.” It has faced widespread criticism from both sides of the political spectrum: immigrant rights groups have observed rampant racial profiling, and conservative law and order groups have complained that enforcing federal immigration laws distracts local police from their core public safety mission.
Has your community taken action against this policy? BORDC wants to hear about it. Email Emma.
Want your group's actions included in our next newsletter?
Send information about your actions and events to Emma, our grassroots campaign coordinator!
NYC Revolution Books Sponsors “Torture and the Need for Justice”
Activists, actors, attorneys, and journalists presented a June 3 program on “Torture and the Need for Justice,” sponsored by New York City’s Revolution Books. The evening began with powerful readings from attorney Marc Falkoff’s compilation Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak against the backdrop of large screen photos from Abu Ghraib and members of World Can’t Wait lining the stage in orange jumpsuits.
The speakers, all of whom rejected military commissions and indefinite preventive detention, included radio host Laura Flanders; Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) president and international human rights lawyer Michael Ratner; CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez; journalist and author Chris Hedges; investigative reporter and author Jeremy Scahill; torture survivor and director of Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International Sister Diana Ortiz; and Revolution Books spokesperson and organizer of the Bush Crimes Commission Andy Zee.
CCR's Michael Ratner asserted that Obama’s administration has failed to provide any meaningful difference from the Bush administration: "The President has wrapped himself in the Constitution, then proceeded to violate it. A 'Democratic' Guantánamo is not better than a 'Republican' Guantánamo. The end result is still the barbaric result that it was under the Bush administration."
Editor: Amy Ferrer, Web & Publications Coordinator
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Shahid Buttar, Executive Director; Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator; Linda M. Rigas, Haywood Burns Fellow; Max Solie, Summer Intern