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Constitution in Crisis

June 2010, Vol. 9, No. 6


In this issue:


New revelations during Torture Awareness Month

June 26 is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and religious and human rights organizations in the United States have designated the entire month of June to be Torture Awareness Month. This June, despite international agreements and a WWII legacy requiring prosecution, senior officials responsible for torture and cruel, degrading, and inhumane treatment remain above the law—even as new details continue to come to light. It is now more important than ever that Americans of all walks of life stand together and raise our voices for human rights.

After World War II, the US led the world in establishing the international prohibition against torture. Sadly, in recent years, our leaders have betrayed that legacy by engaging in degrading and inhumane detainee abuses and, as was recently revealed, even human experimentation.

Physicians for Human Rights recently released a report revealing the participation of medical professionals in not only designing torture programs “administered with meticulous cruelty,” but also outright human experimentation. Both have long been repudiated across the medical profession, as well as by religious leaders from every faith, and our nation has gone so far as to wage a World War in part to stop them.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee and other human rights organizations are mobilizing in response to these horrifying revelations. On June 7, BORDC released a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding accountability for human experimentation programs. More than 2,000 concerned Americans have already signed this letter. Join them and raise your voice today.

BORDC has also allied with human rights groups including Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Victims of Torture, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility to file a complaint with the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP). The complaint calls on the OHRP, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services responsible for oversight of federally funded research, to investigate the CIA’s human experimentation programs. Please join the complaint and stand up for accountability .

But even these actions aren’t enough. Local action has the power to shift the national debate about torture, so after you’ve signed BORDC’s letter and joined the OHRP complaint, organize in your community to demand accountability for torture and experimentation.

BORDC News

BORDC informs Supreme Court confirmation process

Later this month, the US Senate will begin hearings to examine, and potentially confirm, the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The Court, of course, will prove crucial to resolving a litany of predictable contests, over issues including the rights to trial, privacy, individualized suspicion, and free speech.

Kagan's nomination has raised concerns among some observers about whether the nominee will enforce appropriate limits on executive power, given her service in the Executive Branch under two different administrations. Without taking a position on the nomination itself, BORDC is encouraging the Senate "to vigorously examine any nominee to the Supreme Court, with a particular eye towards establishing his or her willingness to check and balance the Executive Branch when necessary to protect constitutional rights."

In the Federalist No. 10, James Madison wrote about the ongoing need for the branches of government to check and balance one another. The separation of powers he and other Founders developed has served our nation well for over two centuries. As we explain in our letter—which nearly 2,000 BORDC supporters have signed so far—"As the 'war on terror' continues to fan the flames of public fear and encourage deference to authority, the need for judicial independence stands at a historical zenith."

With confirmation carrying a lifetime seat on the nation's highest court, it is imperative that the Senate examine the implications of any nomination for the separation of powers. Please raise your voice with us and encourage concerned neighbors and colleagues to follow your lead.

Interns Christine Monska and Christopher Montero join BORDC

Christine Monska is currently a senior at Smith College majoring in government. Her primary academic focus is in international law and policy, and she plans to attend law school and continue to campaign for human rights.

Christopher Montero joins us from Vassar College, where he is studying political science with a minor in religion and will be a senior in the fall. Chris has always had an interest in politics and sees the political process as the best tool for affecting change in the education system and social equality. Originally from Miami, he hopes to help BORDC this summer in our efforts to ensure government transparency and the upholding of civil rights and liberties.

Christine and Christopher join Washington, DC-based summer interns Mary Ann Keys and Kelsey Genevich.

BORDC sponsors events across the country

This month, BORDC has participated in multiple events across the country.

On May 20, BORDC endorsed From Arizona to DC: Immigrant Rights are Civil Rightsin Washington, DC, a forum concerning Arizona’s new anti-immigration law. The panel discussed the local civil rights struggle and a city council bill boycotting Arizona until it repeals SB1070. A march on May 29, emceed by BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar, followed the forum.

ICUJPThen, on June 4, Shahid Buttar addressed a weekly meeting of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace in Los Angeles (photo at right). A vigorous discussion, which revealed a number of organizing opportunities, followed. Buttar also offered similar analysis at the Council of American Islamic Relations office in Anaheim, CA, on June 3.

On June 5, Buttar spoke at a “Building Bridges” workshop among interfaith Unitarian Universalist and Muslim activists in Pasadena, CA. The workshop included discussions about racial and religious profiling, and participants brainstormed ways for communities in Southern California to raise awareness. Later that afternoon, BORDC hosted a "reception for the rule of law" at the Los Angeles home of BORDC board member Gladys Limon.

On June 7, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee cosponsored Blueprint for Accountability in New York City. The event, which combined investigative journalism and theater, featured a variety of activists including Oscar and Golden Globe winners, former CIA agents, journalists, and more. All came together to support accountability for those responsible for torture.

Also on June 7, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar briefed a coalition of civil rights groups in San Francisco, CA, that have joined together to address the proposed creation of a domestic intelligence unit within the San Francisco Police Department. SFPD’s most recent foray into intelligence collection was disbanded 15 years ago after an espionage scandal in which a San Francisco police inspector sold information about US citizens and their constitutionally protected political advocacy to the governments of South Africa and Israel.

On June 8, Buttar spoke at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco. Addressing an audience that included members of the press and local legal community, Buttar explained how threats to the Fourth Amendment have emerged in the contexts of dragnet surveillance, as well as profiling according to race and national origin.

And on June 15, Buttar shared remarks on the “Activism and Social Networking: Advocating for Privacy” panel at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in San Jose, about opportunities to connect online activism to “brick and mortar” campaigns offline. The conference was live-tweeted and webcast.

All these events contribute to BORDC's efforts to build a national movement to protect civil liberties and restore the rule of law. As Buttar wrote in his most recent commentary on Huffington Post, "Restoring the Fourth Amendment: How We the People Can Win Over Washington,"

[T]his is no time for progressive and libertarian constitutionalists to throw in the political towel. While "change you can believe in" may have been a premature promise from our president, we at the grassroots enjoy ample opportunities to shift the landscape in DC.

Facebook changes privacy controls in response to public outcry

In response to a forceful backlash from users, privacy groups, and consumer protection organizations, Facebook has simplified its privacy settings to give users more control. An outcry emerged after Facebook introduced new features that divulged users’ personal information to outside websites in order to “personalize” each of their 500 million users’ experiences. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and other privacy and consumer protection organizations, including BORDC, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Facebook engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. By divulging personal user information to third-party sites without consent, Facebook violated users’ expectations and invaded their privacy.

Facebook has responded by simplifying its approximately 150 privacy options to enhance users’ ability to change and manipulate them. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new privacy settings would make it easier for users to understand how much of their personal information is publicly accessible. “The settings have gotten complex, and it has become hard for people to use them effectively,” he said.

“Facebook is trying to change privacy on the Internet, and users are pushing back. This is about who controls the disclosure of data. Facebook cannot make that decision for users,” said Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director. Going forward, EPIC supports regulatory oversight to prevent similar privacy violations from occurring again.

Facebook announced it would provide users with very simple tools to control how much or how little of their information is visible to friends, friends of friends, or everyone on Facebook, as well as allowing users to turn off the “instant personalization” feature that allows third-party sites access to users’ likes and dislikes. Additionally, Facebook is placing restraints on which information is visible on the directory searches and now will only include name, profile picture, and gender.

Grassroots News

Dave Mitchell

Patriot Award: Dave Mitchell

Each month, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee recognizes with the Patriot Award an individual who has demonstrated strong commitment and support for civil liberties and the rule of law. This month, we recognize Dave Mitchell (pictured) for his remarkable commitment to the Bill of Rights.

Originally from Newton, MA, Dave graduated in 2009 from Stanford University, where he majored in biology with a concentration in political science. While at Stanford, Dave was a member of the Stanford Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), a group that works with students, faculty, workers, and labor unions to defend workers’ rights. Dave also joined Stanford Stands Up, a social justice group that addresses accountability, transparency, democracy, and the right to dissent.

After working in a molecular biology lab in Virginia, Dave realized that he wanted a career more aligned with his passion for civil liberties and labor organizing. He joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where Dave worked on a statewide higher education food service worker organizing campaign in Columbus, OH, and a statewide homecare provider campaign in Madison, WI.

Drawing on his work with Stanford Stands up, Dave sought volunteer opportunities with an organization devoted to civil liberties, which brought him to BORDC. Dave interned for BORDC beginning last August, working diligently on outreach to local coalition partners across the country to build campaigns to stop racial profiling. Dave also contributed twice-weekly posts to the People’s Blog for the Constitution.

Dave is currently a worksite organizer for SEIU food service workers in San Jose, CA, where he represents workers rights and interests. He handles grievances, negotiation, ushers cases through arbitration, and helps ensure the accountability of union leadership to the membership.

BORDC commends Dave Mitchell for his activism in support of civil liberties and the rule of law. He offers a powerful example of how one person can make a difference.

Hartford organizers set to introduce ordinance to city council

A coalition of immigrants and civil rights leaders in Hartford eagerly await the introduction of proposed legislation to restore civil rights and liberties. Luis Cotto, a city councilmember whose leadership was instrumental in Hartford’s passage of anti-profiling measures in 2008, will sponsor the legislation, which is based, in part, on BORDC's model ordinance placing limits on local law enforcement.

We’ll keep you updated as the campaign in Hartford unfolds. If you (or others you know) live in Hartford, please let us know and we’ll put you in touch with organizers on the ground.

Illinois Coalition Against Torture moves forward on anti-torture campaign

The Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT) held a successful teach-in at DePaul University on June 4. Nearly 100 attendees listened to powerful presentations by torture survivors, as well as Stephen Eisenman of Northwestern University, Joey Mogul of the People’s Law Office, and Mary Fabri of the Kovler Center.

Meanwhile, the Illinois House of Representatives is set to consider ICAT’s proposed criminalization of torture bill. If you (or others you know) live in Chicago and want to get involved, contact Kali Cohn.

Miami organizers host interfaith anti-torture forum

On Friday, May 28, a coalition of anti-torture groups in Miami hosted an interfaith forum on torture. Muhammed Malik, director of the South Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations, moderated the conversation between members of the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian communities. Speakers included Rev. Paul Kane of the Archdiocese of Miami, social justice advocate Jennifer Cohen, and Muslim leader Foad Farahi.

The event coincides with the “Instruments of Torture through the Ages” exhibition at Miami’s Freedom Tower, which will be open until the end of August. The exhibit is an honest look into our past and a cry of alarm for the future. Learn more about upcoming anti-torture events and actions in Miami.

Campaigns expand in cities across the US

Coalition efforts to raise rights above the federal floor are currently underway in cities across the country, such as Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; and Hartford, CT; and many others.

Whether working towards enforceable protections against domestic surveillance and racial and national origin profiling or calling for municipalities to seek executive accountability for torture, these coalitions are acting on an exciting opportunity to encourage national policy changes through action at the local level.

To learn more about these efforts—or to start a similar campaign in your community—email Emma. We at BORDC are standing by and eager to support you.

Get involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution

Volunteer your skills for the People’s Campaign for the Constitution

The People’s Campaign for the Constitution (PCC) is currently seeking volunteer accounting professionals to offer advice (not services) to our grassroots coalition partners. If you have an expertise in accounting and interest in supporting local organizing, please let us know.

Develop Lesson Plans for K-12 Classrooms

Are you an educator? We’re expanding our K-12 resources and lesson plans, and are looking for educators to develop more teaching tools this summer. Did you teach a class on civil liberties this year that went really well, that you’d like to share with others? Or would you like to develop one for use by your colleagues across the country? Let us know if you’re interested.

Join an affinity network

The PCC has organized networks of legal professionals and educators from across the country. We are also developing groups for military service members and their families, health professionals, clergy and religious lay-leaders of all faiths, graphic and web designers, and software engineers. Browse our full list of groups and opportunities and contact Emma if you'd like to join one of the existing groups—or start your own.

Update us about your local activities

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

We can also offer organizing and outreach support. Let us know about your group’s organizing needs.

Read the latest news and analysis on our blog

Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:

 

Law and Policy

House calls for investigation of lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees

At Guantánamo Bay, detainees have been psychologically and physically tortured, denied access to courts and review by an impartial judge, and detained indefinitely even in the face of court orders for their release. Detainees have been deprived of their constitutional rights for years, but now their lawyers are facing similar threats.

The House Armed Services Committee recently approved a defense appropriations bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2011, that seeks to investigate lawyers representing Guantánamo Bay detainees.

The bill was proposed in response to an incident wherein three lawyers showed photographs of CIA officers to their clients; the Justice Department is investigating whether the attorneys violated laws protecting classified information by doing so. Researchers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers took the pictures of harsh conditions to help their cases. Joshua L. Dratel, counsel for the John Adams Project (which is affiliated with the ACLU), said:

The lawyers have a duty to find out what happened to their clients, and to the extent that the government and certain agencies are resistant to that to protect themselves and to insulate themselves from accountability, there is a tension there.... But the lawyers will not shirk their duty.

Lawyers have an ethical duty to zealously advocate for their clients’ interests. The investigation invited by the House, however, will undermine lawyers from meeting that ethical standard, while also chilling the zealous advocacy needed to establish the legitimacy of tribunals. Scrutinizing Guantánamo lawyers offends the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to due process and access to counsel, compounding previous and ongoing abuses at Guantánamo.

Many have spoken out against this controversial bill, including the American Bar Association. The bill is currently up for debate on the House floor.

Resistance grows against Arizona’s SB 1070

Numerous legal and economic challenges have greeted Arizona’s controversial (SB1070) immigration legislation. Authorizing state and local law enforcement to detain anyone suspected of being undocumented, and even making it a misdemeanor for a legal resident to travel without documentation, the law has faced outspoken opposition by religious and business groups, civil rights groups, and the Obama administration.

Days before Gov. Brewer signed SB1070 into law, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his concerns in a speech at Vassar College that it would invite racial profiling. On the day that Gov. Brewer signed SB1070, President Barack Obama said the new law would likely serve “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

Within a month, a litany of lawsuits has been filed against the governor and the state of Arizona. Some have been filed by law enforcement officers who have similarly recognized the potential for racial profiling, as well as the danger that they themselves could be sued under the new law by Arizona citizens who believe that enforcement of SB1070 has been inadequate. Other lawsuits have included class action suits representing individuals (documented and undocumented alike), a religious and a business organization, labor unions, and civil rights organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

The Department of Justice and others claim that SB 1070 is unconstitutional because it invades the powers of federal government to manage its constitutionally designated task of immigration enforcement. President Obama also called upon Congress to craft and pass comprehensive immigration reform to preempt immigration legislation similar to SB1070 from arising in other states.

In addition to legal challenges from private citizens and the federal government, several state and local governments across the country have moved to sever economic ties with Arizona and all companies based in the state. In California alone, the cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco have all voted to bar future contracts with companies from Arizona and are evaluating the potential of voiding existing contracts. Similar efforts have emerged in the Northeast: in Massachusetts, the town of Amherst passed a boycott resolution, following in Boston’s footsteps.  Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield in the same state are currently considering resolutions of their own.

Whistleblowers face retaliation

Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, the lawyer tasked with prosecuting Mohammed Jawad, is facing off his former employers: the US military. Originally slated as the prosecutor in a military commission reviewing Jawad’s detention, Vandeveld realized that evidence was being denied opposing counsel. As he outlined in a declaration in September 2008, Vandeveld found himself involved in a system of deceit and falsehoods violating his ethical duties as a lawyer.

Much of the evidence upon which Vandeveld found himself relying was obtained in unconstitutional and illegal ways, including through torture. When Lt. Col. Vandeveld voiced concerns, the military quickly replaced him with another prosecutor. Vandeveld then spoke out about his concerns, given the public interest in Guantánamo Bay and the treatment of those detainees at that facility.

Now, Lt. Col. Vandeveld faces public slander and a dishonorable discharge for his actions. Despite nearly 20 years of service to his country and his fidelity to the legal profession’s ethical standards, Vandeveld could see his retirement and service record tarnished. The dedication of servicemen and women like Lt. Col. Vandeveld should garner our admiration and appreciation, not our ire.

Also this week, 22-year-old Army Specialist Bradley Manning was arrested for allegedly releasing classified information, including a video of two Apache helicopters killing about a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, that later appeared on whistleblower website WikiLeaks.org.

Originally leaked by the website in April, the video depicts US Army personnel shooting and killing a group of about a dozen non-hostile people. They also went on to shoot at a van that had arrived full of people trying to provide medical aid to those who had originally been shot.

The report of Manning’s arrest also stated that, in an email to a friend, Manning admitted to also releasing information pertaining to a US military bombing that took place in Afghanistan in 2009 that resulted in dozens of civilian casualties, as well as hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables. The State Department is reportedly working with the Department of Defense to assess just how damaging Manning’s leak would prove to be. A spokesman for the State Department, PJ Crowley, said, "What the impact of this will be we'll evaluate over time."

It is important to note the possible consequences of releasing classified information; a statement by the military following news of Manning’s arrest stated: "The Department of Defense takes the management of classified information very seriously because it affects our national security, the lives of our soldiers, and our operations abroad." However, given that the Pentagon was refusing to acknowledge the deaths of civilians and members of the press, the effect on national security seems less significant than the impact on political interests of otherwise unaccountable government agencies.

New UK government to review surveillance policies

In mid-May, the United Kingdom (UK) experienced a shift of political power that resulted in the election of a new prime minister, David Cameron, and a new coalition government consisting of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The coalition recently announced an ambitious plan to rework UK surveillance policies and regulations.

The new coalition government has released a broad-ranging “program for government” to reform various social policies, including many relating to civil liberties and national security.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been at the forefront of this reform. He has expressed a need to end “the culture of spying” that emerged under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and promoted to reverse the erosion of civil liberties. According to Clegg, “taking people’s freedom away doesn’t make our streets safer”—it simply “makes criminals out of ordinary people.”

Clegg also announced plans to eliminate national identification cards, second-generation biometric passports, the National Identity register, and the ContactPoint database. He has announced further plans to properly regulate surveillance cameras and the government’s ability to store DNA data from people who have not been convicted of a crime. Other reforms include placing restrictions on the government’s right to intercept and hold personal Internet and email history, restoring individuals’ rights to non-violent protest, and revising libel laws to protect individuals’ freedom of speech. Lastly, there are plans to establish a commission to consider the creation of a British Bill of Rights.

New Resources and Opportunities

The Most Dangerous Man in AmericaJune and July screenings of The Most Dangerous Man in America

Co-winner of this year's Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review (and one of their Five Best Documentaries of the Year), Winner of the Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and Academy Award® Nominee for Best Documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist, who in 1971 leaked 7,000 pages of top secret documents to The New York Times, exposing decades of government lies and making headlines around the world.

The film tells the riveting story of a landmark struggle involving America's newspapers, its President, and Supreme Court. The documentary features Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Ellsberg, Tony Russo, Howard Zinn, Hedrick Smith, John Dean, and, from the secret White House tapes, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America."

The film provides an excellent organizing opportunity for grassroots constitutionalists. We encourage you to organize a group to attend a screening, hold a discussion of the issues the film raises, and brainstorm about actions you can take locally to support the Constitution and the rule of law. BORDC recently hosted a screening of the film featuring a live Q&A with Mr. Ellsberg and the filmmakers in Washington, DC, and will host similar events in cities (to be announced) around the country this spring. Upcoming screenings include:

June 25: NRCAT hosts “Accountability Now: Ending Torture Forever”

On June 25 at 6 p.m. at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC, hear from a diverse panel of experts, including Sr. Diana Ortiz, Matthew Alexander, David Cole, Dr. Sondra Crosby, and Jim Winkler. Join in conversation with 50 torture survivors from around the world brought together by TASSC International to mark the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26). Refreshments will be provided at a reception following the panel discussion.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. National City Christian Church is located at 5 Thomas Circle NW, Washington, DC 20005, 3 blocks north of McPherson Square Metro. RSVP.

Event co-sponsors include National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International USA, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Physicians for Human Rights, Alliance for Justice, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Human Rights First, Pax Christi USA, War Criminals Watch, and Friends Committee on National Legislation.


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


Editor: Amy Ferrer
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen
Contributing Authors: Kelsey Genevich, Mary Ann Keys, Christine Monska, Christopher Montero, and Emma Roderick

Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

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