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Dissent Is Patriotic

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's email newsletter

November 2009, Vol. 8, No. 11


In this issue:

  • PATRIOT Act Reauthorizations: The Fight Continues
  • BORDC News: New Advisory Board Member: Sep Kamvar
  • People’s Campaign for the Constitution News: Start a Local Campaign; Get Involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution
  • Law and Policy: Sneaky New Law Allows DOD to Suppress Evidence of Torture; Italian Court Convicts CIA Agents for Extraordinary Rendition; Outgoing LA Police Chief Opposes 287(g)
  • Grassroots News: Ordinance Efforts Get Off the Ground; Yoo Protests on Both Coasts; Ninth Circuit Bybee Protests Continue in Portland, OR; Book Tours Offer Organizing Opportunities in CA and NY
  • New Resources: Read the Latest News on Our Blog; Legal Professionals Group Launches Action Page; Have a Birthday Coming Up? Celebrate by Fundraising for BORDC
  • In Brief: Obama Enacts “Improved” Military Commissions Rules; Musicians Speak Out Against Torture

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

Get involved! Learn how you can help BORDC restore the rule of law.


BORDC is launching a campaign to pass a pair of new ordinances, which I cannot recommend more strongly. These are powerful tools for restoring the rule of law and defending our civil rights.

David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org


PATRIOT Act Reauthorizations: The Fight Continues

Last month, we reported on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of PATRIOT Act reauthorization and the defeat of sorely needed reforms. This month, the fight to enact essential civil liberties protections moved to the House.

At the end of 2009, three PATRIOT Act provisions are set to expire:

  • Section 215, known as the library records provision (although it applies to "any tangible thing"), which does not require individualized suspicion to get a court order for any record wanted in intelligence investigations.
  • Section 206, known as the roving wiretap provision, which does not require law enforcement to determine that a suspected foreign terrorist is using the phones or email accounts that government agents want to monitor.
  • The lone wolf provision (added by a 2004 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.

The expiration of these three provisions provides an opportunity to also address other problematic surveillance powers, including national security letters, bulk data collection through warrantless wiretapping, and immunity for telecommunications companies.

The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, which did not include meaningful protections for civil liberties and constitutional rights, was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. The House then took up the debate, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) introducing the USA PATRIOT Amendments Act, which includes several important civil liberties protections; and the FISA Amendments Act of 2009, which would rescind immunity from telecommunications companies that illegally provided private client information to the government.

Unfortunately, during a hearing to consider these bills, Conyers himself introduced an amendment that removed civil liberties protections from the USA PATRIOT Amendments Act—at the request of the Obama administration. The weakened bill was voted out of committee on November 5, moving the issue to the full House and Senate.

In the meantime, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced the JUSTICE Act, previously introduced in the Senate by Russ Feingold (D-WI). This bill—which the Obama Administration opposed behind the scenes—includes much stronger protections for civil liberties than any other bill under consideration, but the House hasn’t taken any action since its introduction, and it is all but dead in the Senate.

As Congress continues to consider reauthorizing PATRIOT Act provisions that violate our fundamental rights, it is imperative that you stay in touch with your senators and representatives and demand that they protect the fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties of all Americans.


BORDC News

New Advisory Board Member: Sep Kamvar

BORDC is pleased to welcome Sep Kamvar to our advisory board. Kamvar is a consulting professor of computational mathematics at Stanford University whose research focuses on data mining and information management in large-scale networks. He served as Google’s lead engineer for personalization from 2003 to 2007 and is co-author of a forthcoming book, We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion. Learn more about Sep at kamvar.org.


People’s Campaign for the Constitution News

Start a Local Campaign

Last month, BORDC released two model ordinances designed to change national policy with action at the local level. One ordinance limits domestic surveillance, immigration enforcement, and racial and religious profiling by local law enforcement authorities. The other deals with executive accountability for torture.

The ordinances, which author and blogger David Swanson described as “powerful tools for restoring the rule of law and defending our civil rights,” provide a concrete target around which to organize. Activists across the country have started work on campaigns to introduce and enact them, and Kurt Daims has volunteered to serve as coordinator of our local legislative efforts supporting accountability.

If you are interested in a campaign in your community, check out our toolkit and email Emma for details about a conference call this week.

Get Involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution

Volunteer Your Skills for the PCC

The PCC is currently seeking volunteer bloggers and researchers. Several have already begun to contribute weekly posts to the PCC blog, but a few volunteer blogger slots remain. We also seek volunteers to help with a variety of research projects. If you are interested in taking on a volunteer project to pursue at your convenience, please sign up to lend your time.

Join an Affinity Network

The PCC has organized groups bringing together legal professionals and educators from across the country. We are also developing groups for health professionals, clergy and lay religious leaders of all faiths, graphic and web designers, software engineers, and English language learners. If interested in raising your voice with others around the country who share your background, browse our full list of groups and opportunities and contact Emma if you'd like to get involved.

Update the PCC About Your Local Activities

Please send information about your actions and events to Emma, our grassroots campaign coordinator, to help inform and inspire others. We’ll publicize your efforts in our next newsletter.


Law and Policy

Sneaky New Law Allows DOD to Suppress Evidence of Torture

For months, we have fought for the release of photos documenting torture of US detainees. A federal court has ordered the release of the photos, which reportedly depict horrific abuses including rape. Yet the Obama administration has refused to comply, citing concerns that doing so would endanger US troops—even though it is the conduct documented in the photos, not the photos themselves, that puts troops at risk.

Late last month, the Obama administration lobbied Congress to pass a sneaky new law that allows the Department of Defense to keep the photos secret. A Homeland Security appropriations bill signed by Obama on October 28 includes an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act allowing the Department of Defense to keep the photos secret.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said,

We are disappointed that the president has signed a law giving the Defense Department the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct…. Secretary Gates should be guided by the importance of transparency to the democratic process, the extraordinary importance of these photos to the ongoing debate about the treatment of prisoners and the likelihood that the suppression of these photos would ultimately be far more damaging to national security than their disclosure.

Italian Court Convicts CIA Agents for Extraordinary Rendition

For years, activists across the country have called for an end to the ongoing practice of extraordinary rendition—in which US authorities kidnap individuals and sends them to other nations for torture and interrogation—and accountability for those officials and operatives who have participated in it. This month, some accountability was finally won—but from a court in Italy, not the US.

On November 5, Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro won his case against 23 Americans and two Italians for the extraordinary rendition of Hassan Osama Nasr. The Egyptian cleric was kidnapped from the streets of Milan in 2003 and sent to Egypt, “where he allegedly was tortured with electric shocks, beatings and threats of rape” until his release in 2007.

The convictions are a victory against extraordinary rendition; however, because the defendants were tried in absentia and Italy is not seeking to extradite them, there are likely to be few if any tangible consequences for the CIA operatives. Until the US stops the practice of extraordinary rendition, and holds accountable those officials responsible for these abuses, there will be no justice for those kidnapped by our government and tortured.

Outgoing LA Police Chief Opposes 287(g)

Chief William Bratton ended his seven year term as the Los Angeles Chief of Police October 31, 2009. Before leaving office, he affirmed in a Los Angeles Times op-ed his dedication to the community’s safety and cited it as his primary reason for rejecting the federal 287(g) immigration program. Bratton asserted that police forces need the trust and help of the entire community to keep neighborhoods safe—fear of the police results in fear of reporting crimes and fear of cooperation with the police, allowing criminals to remain free and breeding crime within the community. “Criminals are the biggest benefactors when immigrants fear the police,” said Bratton. “Americans want a solution to our immigration dilemma, as do law enforcement officials across this nation. But the solution isn’t turning every local police department into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Bratton urged his successor to remain committed to the safety of the community by continuing Special Order 40, the 30-year-old policy that prohibits officers from approaching someone exclusively to ascertain immigration status. Bratton is celebrated as one of the best known, respected, and successful police chiefs nationwide for his admirable work with police in three of America’s largest and most challenging cities—New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Upon leaving office, Bratton was credited for lowering crime rates to remarkable levels and transforming the LAPD, a police force once known for its brutality and corruption.


Grassroots News

Ordinance Efforts Get Off the Ground

Campaigns are currently underway in California, Montana, and Wyoming to introduce and enact BORDC's recently developed ordinances restoring rule of law principles violated by the federal government. If you’re willing to support a local effort in your city or town, we’re looking for you! Please contact Emma for details about a conference call this week with other local organizers around the country, as well as BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar and Local Ordinance Coordinator Kurt Daims.

Yoo Protests on Both Coasts

Protesters performed a “banishment ritual” outside University of California Berkeley School of Law on October 28, calling again for the firing, disbarment and prosecution of UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo. Protests began the first day of classes this fall, with a coalition of demonstrators denouncing the travesty of employing Yoo as a professor of law, when as a Justice Department attorney he provided the legal rationale for the Bush administration’s illegal torture policies. University officials continue to cite academic freedom and due process arguments in defense of keeping retaining Yoo on the faculty unless and until he is actually convicted of a crime. The next protest is scheduled for November 30, but the protests may already have had some success: World Can't Wait has reported that Yoo will not be teaching at Berkeley Law next semester.

In related news, John Yoo's scheduled appearance at a Federalist Society event in Washington, DC, last week was cancelled amid protests.

Ninth Circuit Bybee Protests Continue in Portland, OR

Individuals for Justice continues their weekly protest to hold Jay Bybee accountable at the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. They meet at the Pioneer Courthouse, across the street from Pioneer Square in downtown Portland, each Thursday from 12 noon to 2 PM. Live in or near Portland? Contact Emma to connect with them.

Book Tours Offer Organizing Opportunities in CA and NY

The following upcoming book tour dates for David Cole, author of The Torture Memos, and David Swanson, author of Daybreak, are great opportunities to organize local allies.


New Resources

Read the Latest News on Our Blog

Recent highlights from the People’s Campaign for the Constitution blog:

Legal Professionals Group Launches Action Page

Our affinity group for legal professionals is building momentum, and we are seeking volunteers to assist with a number of projects. Contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick for more information.

Have a Birthday Coming Up? Celebrate by Fundraising for BORDC

Your birthday is a great opportunity to spread the word about BORDC’s work and raise money to support our grassroots efforts. Through the Facebook application Causes, you can set up a birthday wish with a fundraising goal and ask your friends and family to donate to BORDC in honor of your birthday. If you have added the Causes application, it will notify you about two weeks before your birthday about setting up your birthday wish. Just choose BORDC as your cause, set your fundraising goal, and post your birthday wish to your profile.


In Brief

Obama Enacts “Improved” Military Commissions Rules

New military commissions rules were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 signed by President Obama on October 28. While these rules do provide greater protections for the detainees than the old rules regarding the use of hearsay testimony and coerced statements, the fundamental objection to military commissions remains: their lower standards continue to provide the government with an inferior fallback for cases where the evidence is too poor to win a conviction in federal court. For more information, see William Fisher’s excellent Truthout report, “Military Commissions Create 'Second-Class' Justice System, Lawyers Charge.”

Musicians Speak Out Against Torture

Last month a coalition of eminent musicians—including REM, Pearl Jam, and others—joined the National Campaign to Close Guantánamo after learning that their music was employed as a weapon of torture under the Bush administration. The group demanded further information on why and how their music was used in US military facilities and, in efforts organized by the National Campaign to Close Guantánamo, the artists filed a Freedom of Information Act request with US agencies including the CIA and FBI. The request calls for the declassification of undisclosed government records relating to music as an interrogation tactic. The musicians affirmed that their request was made in hopes of moving forward with Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo Bay.


Editor: Amy Ferrer, Associate Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Andrea Flores, Intern; Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator

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