Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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Constitution in Crisis

January 2010, Vol. 9, No. 1


Welcome to our new, redesigned newsletter for the new year!
Let us know what you think of the new design.


In this issue:

  • Time is Running Out to Fight the PATRIOT Act
  • BORDC News: Jennifer Holmes Joins Board of Directors; 2009 Annual Appeal Generates Many New Donors; New Commentary from Shahid Buttar on TruthOut and Huffington Post; BORDC Seeks an Intern in Northampton, MA
  • People's Campaign for the Constitution News: Start a Local Ordinance Campaign; Get Involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution; Read the Latest News and Analysis on Our Blog
  • Law and Policy: Guantánamo Marks Somber Eighth Anniversary; Obama Issues New Rules on Classified Documents; OPR Report on Torture Lawyers' Conduct is Long Overdue
  • Grassroots News: Arizonans March for Justice for Immigrants
  • New Resources and Opportunities: Woodhull Institute's Democracy 911 Retreat, February 18-21, 2010: Scholarship Available; Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy Conference, February 24-26, 2010

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.


Time is Running Out to Fight the PATRIOT Act

Since 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act has enabled the US government to intrude on Americans' privacy and violate our fundamental constitutional rights. And since then, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee has helped lead the struggle for transparency, accountability, and the restoration of civil liberties and the rule of law. That struggle continues in 2010, and we invite you to raise your voice in Washington.

With three provisions of the PATRIOT Act set to expire at the end of 2009, the House and Senate rejected a proposal, the JUSTICE Act, which would have added long overdue civil liberties protections to the many controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Other competing bills simply renewed the provisions without consideration for their significant toll on the rights and freedoms of law-abiding Americans.

Instead of passing any of these bills, Congress voted late last month to renew the expiring provisions for 60 days. Now, with calls emerging to demand even more power to monitor and spy on Americans of all walks of life, we must demand that Congress uphold our Constitution and protect our rights. As the Constitution once again finds itself with few allies in Washington, Congress is about to resuscitate a cornerstone of the domestic surveillance regime and shred what little remains of constitutional privacy.

That's why we need you to join us in Washington, DC on February 3, 2010. Help us flood the halls of Congress and bring your concerns about domestic spying into your representative's office.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, in collaboration with a broad coalition of allies, is organizing a grassroots lobby day in Washington to oppose the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. The lobby day will include a morning briefing with advice on how to talk to your members of Congress from issue experts, meetings with your congressional representatives, and an afternoon debrief over lunch. Come to Washington this February to show your members of Congress just how important it is to you, their constituents, that they stand up for your constitutional rights.

Are you able to visit Washington, DC, to fight the PATRIOT Act on February 3? If so, sign up now and we'll be in touch shortly with further details and next steps.

Can't travel to Washington this February? You can still help stop the PATRIOT Act with a contribution in support of our efforts. Later this month, we'll also launch an online sign-on letter through which you can raise your voice on February 3 even if you can't visit Washington.


BORDC News

Jennifer Holmes Joins Board of Directors

Jennifer S. Holmes is the newest member of BORDC's Board of Directors. Holmes is an associate professor of political economy and political science at the University of Texas at Dallas, whose major area of research is political violence, terrorism, and political development with an emphasis on Latin America and Southern Europe. We are pleased to welcome her unique perspective on BORDC issues.

2009 Annual Appeal Generates Many New Donors

As we wrap up our 2009 end-of-year fundraising campaign, we are pleased to report some exciting results. This year's annual appeal generated contributions from 20 percent more donors than last year's fundraising campaign and attracted a sizable number of donors new to BORDC.

With our base expanding despite the various challenges confronting nonprofits, BORDC is poised to offer even greater support in 2010 to the national trans-partisan grassroots movement to restore the rule of law and civil liberties.

Thank you to all who supported us in 2009, whether through financial donations or contributions of your valuable time and skills. We appreciate your continued support and look forward to an active and productive 2010.

New Commentary from Shahid Buttar on TruthOut and Huffington Post

This month, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar released new commentary on the need for torture accountability. The article, "Double Standards: How Our Lawlessness Strengthens Our Enemies," was published on January 4 on Huffington Post and on January 8 on TruthOut. Buttar argues, in part,

We have failed to even investigate torturers, yet we have prosecuted and imprisoned millions for lesser offenses. And we allow mass murderers the benefit of constitutional rights that we deny detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Until policymakers examine and fix these double standards, they will continue to undermine our foreign policy, as well as our domestic criminal justice system....

We wage, in the war on terror, a battle for hearts and minds. And...[s]uch blatant inconsistency is lost neither on our enemies, nor the billions of individuals targeted by their recruitment efforts.

BORDC Seeks an Intern in Northampton, MA

To assist with BORDC's rapidly expanding advocacy and organizing efforts, we are currently seeking an undergraduate intern for the spring 2010 semester for our Northampton, MA, national office. See a full description of the internship position on our website. To apply, send a cover letter and resume to jobs@bordc.org with "Northampton Undergraduate Intern" in the subject line.


People's Campaign for the Constitution News

Start a Local Ordinance Campaign

This October, BORDC released two pieces of model legislation designed to encourage national policy changes through action at the local level. One ordinance limits domestic surveillance, immigration enforcement, and racial and religious profiling by local law enforcement authorities—combining several functional limits on local police in an effort to enable broad coalitions. BORDC's second ordinance offers an opportunity for cities and towns to seek executive accountability for torture—something the federal government has not pursued.

The ordinances, which author and blogger David Swanson described as "powerful tools for restoring the rule of law and defending our civil rights," provide grassroots constitutionalists with new and exciting opportunities to organize locally. BORDC's ordinance toolkit offers resources and guidance to help you start your local ordinance effort.

Activists across the country have started work on campaigns to introduce and enact these ordinances, and Kurt Daims has volunteered to serve as coordinator of these local efforts supporting accountability. Campaigns are underway in Berkeley, CA; Oakland, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Jackson, WY; and Brattleboro, VT.

Email Emma to get information on a local action or assistance for starting an effort in your city or town.

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. Volunteer blog editors have been posting to the PCC blog since last fall, but our blog team still has a few open slots. We also seek volunteers to help with a variety of research projects. If you are interested in pursuing a volunteer project from home at your convenience, please let us know.

Join an Affinity Network

The PCC has organized networks of 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. 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.

Read the Latest News and Analysis on Our Blog

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


Law and Policy

Guantánamo Marks Somber Eighth Anniversary

On January 11, 2002, the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, opened its doors. Eight years later, nearly 200 men remain detained without trial, and many of them have been subjected to torture.

When President Obama took office last year, many shared hopes that he would fulfill his campaign promises and promptly close Guantánamo. On the second day of his presidency, January 22, 2009, he issued an executive order calling for the closure of the facility within one year. That deadline arrives this month, and when it passes, Guantánamo will still be open and operational.

The administration is now seeking to move some of Guantánamo's detainees to Thomson Prison in Illinois, in order to close the detention center in Cuba. But Thomson Prison would just become "Gitmo North"—that is, prisoners would be moved to a new facility, but they would remain subject to the same unlawful, unconstitutional detention system for which the world has condemned Guantánamo.

Closing Guantánamo is simply not enough. The problem with Guantánamo is not just the prison itself—the problem is the treatment of those detained. Under the US Constitution, everyone in US custody is guaranteed the right of habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, and the right to counsel. Under the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, detainees in US custody may not be abused, for any reason and whatever the alleged benefit to national security. Under the current system of military commissions, even these most fundamental rights are routinely violated.

In order to truly close Guantánamo—not just move it to a new location—we must restore due process and end arbitrary and preventive detention. This month, BORDC joins Witness Against Torture's Fast and Vigil to Shut Down Guantánamo, End Torture, and Build Justice, a series of events that began on January 11 and run through January 22. Join the actions in the nation's capitol or a parallel event in your community. Raise your voice and demand justice today.

Obama Issues New Rules on Classified Documents

In an executive order dated December 29, 2009, President Obama took steps to make good his campaign promises to reduce government secrecy, declaring, "Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government."

Highlights of the order provide that:

  • All documents must be declassified after 75 years
  • Instead of the former practice of consulting each agency interested in a particular document, a central agency will now determine the classification of documents
  • The Director of the CIA will no longer have veto power over the declassification of documents

Obama's order aims at striking a new balance between a democratic government's claims of national security and the indispensable role of an informed citizenry. The designation "classified" will be limited to documents "that would clearly and demonstrably reveal: (a) the identity of a confidential human source or a human intelligence source; or (b) key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction."

However, as Jon Wiener pointed out in an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, "Agencies maintain secrecy first of all by delay." Referring to thrice postponed deadlines to declassify documents from World War II, Steven Aftergood, government secrecy specialist for the Federation of American Scientists, noted that, "If binding deadlines can be extended more or less at will, then any new declassification requirements will be similarly subject to doubt or defiance.''

OPR Report on Torture Lawyers' Conduct is Long Overdue

For months, Attorney General Eric Holder has been promising to release a report by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The report reviews the conduct of Bush administration lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) who wrote the memoranda authorizing the use of torture against US detainees.

Reports have emerged suggesting that DOJ's delay has been forced by internal appeals initiated by former OLC employees, such as John Yoo. Meanwhile, lacking government findings confirming misconduct, several state bar associations around the country have dismissed ethics complaints seeking disbarment of former government lawyers complicit in torture.

The release of the OPR report is especially important given the ongoing nature of torture under President Obama, both at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan.

This month, the Robert Jackson Steering Committee, of which BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar is a member, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of the report, along with two other documents: a second OPR report issued during the waning months of the Bush administration, and then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey's rebuttal to that report.


Grassroots News

Arizonans March for Justice for Immigrants

On January 16, 2010, activists across the country will join the people of Maricopa County, AZ, in their historic call for justice at a March For Human Rights against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For the past 14 years, Sheriff Arpaio has carried out a systematic reign of terror against communities of color in Maricopa County, all in the name of immigration enforcement. The Obama administration's recent renewal of Arpaio's 287(g) authority, which grants him powers of federal immigration enforcement, is an affront to communities of color everywhere. Communities in Arizona demand a termination of Sheriff Arpaio's 287(g) contract; an end to the 287(g) program nationwide and an end to other initiatives like 287(g) that spread racial profiling and civil rights abuses across the country; an end to criminalization of immigrants; the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation; and a restoration of Constitutional Rights to all people. Join the march and demand justice in Maricopa County.


New Resources and Opportunities

Woodhull Institute's Democracy 911 Retreat, February 18-21, 2010: Scholarship Available

This February, the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership is convening a retreat for Americans interested in becoming citizen leaders. The retreat, called Democracy 911, will be held February 18-21, 2010, in Ancramdale, NY. BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar will facilitate a session, alongside author and BORDC advisory board member Naomi Wolf, Op-Ed Project founder Catherine Orenstein, and others.

The cost of the retreat is $395 plus $200 for lodging, for a total of $595. BORDC and the Woodhull Institute are offering one scholarship that will cover most or all of the cost of the retreat based on the selected applicant's financial need. This is an ideal opportunity for recent college graduates seeking opportunities to enhance their skills and empower their communities.

To apply for the scholarship, submit a 500-word essay (a) explaining how you envision engaging the skills and network you would gain by attending the retreat and (b) briefly describing your financial situation. Submit your essay by emailing it as an attachment (Microsoft Word or PDF documents only) to info@bordc.org and put "Democracy 911 Scholarship Application" in the subject line. The deadline for submissions is January 29.

Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy Conference, February 24-26, 2010

The New School in New York City is hosting a social research conference next month called "Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy." The conference will examine how the U.S. government and other political and cultural institutions distort or otherwise affect the flow of information. Speakers include Seymour Hersh, Steven Aftergood, Glenn Greenwald, and Eric Lichtblau. Detailed information on the conference, including registration costs and a full list of speakers, is available on the conference website.


Editor: Amy Ferrer, Associate Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator
Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

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