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Constitution in Crisis

October 2010, Vol. 9, No. 10

In this issue:

Raids of activists’ homes mark new height in FBI abuses


Grassroots News

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities

Raids of activists’ homes mark new height in FBI abuses FBI: hands off solidarity activists!

On Friday, September 24, peace activists in Chicago and Minneapolis awoke to FBI agents kicking in doors and taking personal belongings, including children’s artwork and posters of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as cell phones, computers, and boxes of paper records. The homes of anti-war activists in Michigan and Durham, NC, were also raided in subsequent days, and about a dozen activists from Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan were initially subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, though the subpoenas have since been canceled.

The FBI emphasized that no arrests were made, but that evidence was being collected regarding the possible “material support” of terrorism. The material support statute is so broadly written that, under this spring’s Supreme Court decision in Humanitarian Law Project, it criminalizes international peace-building activities whose only connection to terrorism is their efforts to reduce it.

These raids came mere days after the release of an Inspector General’s report condemning the FBI for opening investigations under “factually weak” justifications and classifying activist groups participating in nonviolent civil disobedience as “domestic terrorists.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this July, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged that surveillance decisions are left entirely to the Bureau’s discretion, and require not even suspicion, let alone evidence, of wrongdoing.

BORDC is at the forefront of a national movement calling for increased oversight of the FBI. In the words of BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar, "the FBI raids seem to reflect the latest actions by a recidivist agency that has lost sight of its mission to protect public safety." In July, BORDC raised similar concerns in a letter we wrote on behalf of a coalition of nearly 50 organizations to the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of its hearing with Director Mueller:

In considering the potential necessity of legislation to protect civil rights and civil liberties, Congress should not grant the FBI... artificial legitimacy, nor should the Bureau be afforded credibility that it has not only failed to earn, but actively undermined... As a repeat offender, the Bureau is long overdue for intervention by Congress.

The September raids of activists’ homes chill First Amendment expressions and bring new light to the revival of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO. These abuses will only continue unless Americans of all walks of life stand together to defend civil liberties and constitutional protections.


Lisa Graves becomes president of BORDC board of directors

Lisa GravesThis month, BORDC is pleased to announce a few leadership transitions on our board of directors. Now serving as BORDC’s board chair is Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, former deputy assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, and former chief nominations counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Lisa is a native of Colorado and, since receiving her J.D. cum laude from Cornell Law School, has testified before both chambers of Congress, appeared on various mass media outlets, and developed deep policy expertise as the second-in-command of the ACLU’s DC legislative office and the Center for National Security Studies. Lisa brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the organization, and we are thrilled by her new role.

In addition, Steve Abrams, a CPA based in New York City with extensive experience in nonprofit accounting, has been named treasurer. Steve is a former Board member of Amnesty International and shares a longstanding commitment to human rights. Allen Davis will continue serving as secretary of the board.

BORDC is fortunate for the continuing service of board members Chip Pitts, who served as president of the board of directors from 2005 to 2010, and Kit Gage, who most recently served as treasurer from 2009 to 2010. We thank Chip and Kit for their dedicated service as board officers, and are pleased that they will continue as members of the board of directors.

BORDC hires field organizer George Friday

BORDC is excited to welcome George Friday as the newest addition to our team. An experienced organizer whose work has addressed numerous struggles, George will be working as a field organizer supporting BORDC’s grassroots organizing efforts across the country. As a member of the US Social Forum’s National Planning Committee and a member of the United for Peace and Justice’s Steering Committee, George wields widely recognized coordination, team-building, meeting facilitation, and public speaking skills. Her energy, experience, and expertise will dramatically expand BORDC’s reach and capacity to support grassroots coalitions on the ground.

Jackson, MS, approves ordinance banning racial profiling

On September 21, the Jackson, MS city council passed an ordinance that prohibits racial profiling by a vote of 6-1. Like the local legislation BORDC promotes, this law aims to protect the civil rights and liberties of city residents.

Jackson’s ordinance, which prevents law enforcement from demanding an individual’s proof of citizenship based on his or her race, serves as an example of one community’s stand against measures to undermine the rights of immigrants, like Arizona’s SB 1070. But Jackson’s law goes beyond condemning Arizona: by passing new legislation to support individual rights at the local level, Jackson will raise them above the federal floor. The ordinance represents not only a change in the Deep South, but also sends a clear message across the country that if politicians in Washington won’t defend our basic constitutional rights, local communities will.

Led by Legal Director Patricia Ice and Executive Director Bill Chandler, the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA), an organization that received complaints against state and local law enforcement of bias-based policing, played a key role in organizing support for this ordinance throughout the city.

Patricia Ice was inspired by similar legislation passed in Detroit in 2007. A native of Detroit, she was inspired by that city’s example and knew that she wanted “something like it here in Jackson.” She brought up the issue with another Detroit native, Jackson City Councilor Chokwe Lumumba, who strongly encouraged her to “write it up and present it.”

After writing the proposal and presenting it to the city council in January, she and Chandler worked hard to get the word out. Ice says of her efforts, “Jackson is a city of only 200,000 people so we didn’t have a lot of local groups to support us. We [MIRA] went to the media. We talked about it on the radio and in the news.” The ACLU also had a prominent role in pushing for the ordinance, but she says the most effective tool in gaining support was the fact that “we are active members of the community and we would talk about it at all of the functions we attended.”

The ordinance faced some opposition from the Jackson police who, Ice said, considered it a “fringe issue” and misinterpreted it to be specific to the Latino population, saying that most of the people they pull over are African-American, not Latino. However, as Ice said, “that is exactly why we need this ordinance.” Now that the ordinance has passed, Bill Chandler hopes it will have a two-fold effect: “to act as a barrier against laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and to be an example for other cities.” Community leaders including Ice, Chandler, and Councilor Lumumba believe that its passing sends a strong message that Jackson will not stand for racial profiling.

If you’d like to local civil rights reforms in your area, see BORDC’s model legislation, the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act.

BORDC joins Berkeley activists to “Say No to Torture”

Berkeley Says No to Torture"Berkeley Says No to Torture" Week, October 12 through 16, drew “together the voices and actions of many communities—many different political, legal and campus groups” as well as “notable voices from the worlds of culture and art, the health professions, and from religious faiths across the board…to take part in a memorable week of conscience and community in action against the crime of torture.” The week of events was organized by a broad coalition of local and national groups.

BORDC, represented by executive director Shahid Buttar, participated in several events during the week:

  • The Giant John Yoo Debate featured video clips of John Yoo articulating his defenses of torture projected onto the wall of Boalt Hall, the law school at UC Berkeley where Yoo teaches. Interspersed between Yoo’s comments were live rebuttal arguments by Buttar, as well as local attorneys Sharon Adams, Dan Siegel, and Anne Butterfield Weills, Ann Fagan Ginger from the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, and a pair of current Boalt students.
  • Buttar moderated a Writers on Torture roundtable with journalists Andy Worthington (The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prisons) and Justine Sharrock (Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things), novelist Barry Eisler (best-selling mystery thriller novel Inside Out), and Dr. Rita Maran (Torture: The Role of Ideology in the French-Algerian War) from UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission.
  • A forum on torture and the law and human rights included Buttar alongside Marjorie Cohn (past president National Lawyers Guild and renowned author), Andy Worthington, and Debra Sweet (national director of World Can't Wait).
  • Reckoning with Torture: An Evening of Conscience, was a powerful performance originated by the ACLU and American PEN Center (which had been produced in New York and Washington, DC, but never before on the West Coast) with Shahid Buttar, Andy Worthington, Marjorie Cohn, Ray McGovern (former CIA agent), Col. Ann Wright (retired US Army Colonel and State Department official), Mimi Kennedy (actress, author, and activist), devorah major, Jeffrey Kaye (psychologist and blogger at FireDogLake and Truthout), Fr. Louis Vitale (Franciscan priest and longtime activist), Renee Saucedo (La Raza Centro Legal), Jason Leopold (reporter for Truthout and The Public Record), Abdi Soltani (ACLU-Northern California), Gretchen Gordon (Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy), Pamela Merchant (Center for Justice and Accountability), and Peter Selz (professor emeritus of Art History at UC Berkeley).

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: Sahar Aziz

Sahar AzizEach month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring her with our Patriot Award. This month, we’re highlighting the outstanding work of Sahar Aziz, a lawyer and Georgetown University Law Center adjunct professor focusing on national security, civil rights, and post-9/11 discrimination.

Sahar is a longtime proponent of civil rights whose advocacy dates back to the 1990s, when she worked with African-American communities in addressing racial disparities in education and the criminal justice system. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2010, Sahar witnessed firsthand the discriminatory backlash against Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians; these experiences led her to work with the ACLU of Texas. She collaborated with government officials, law enforcement agencies, and private citizens to facilitate constructive dialogue and develop effective solutions that protect both national security interests and civil liberties of vulnerable communities.

In 2004, while a law student at the University of Texas-Austin, Sahar organized a conference titled “Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism.” The conference’s main purpose was to discuss disparities in family law across various Muslim majority countries and the resulting differences in women’s rights across the Middle East and South Asia.

Based on unfounded suspicion of all things related to Islam, the conference was subjected to government surveillance by two Army lawyers based in Fort Hood, TX. On the basis of ethnic and religious profiling and without any probable cause of unlawful activity, Army counterintelligence agents requested a roster of attendees and a video recording of the conference.

The Austin community condemned this unfounded surveillance of legitimate public debate, prompting an official apology by the Army Intelligence Unit. The event served as a teachable moment that the loss of civil liberties in America was real, and reinforced for Sahar and her colleagues the importance of defending free speech and academic freedom.

Sahar later served as a senior policy advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the US Department of Homeland Security, where she led roundtables between government officials and community groups to encourage constructive communication. She has always believed that “grassroots advocacy is essential,” leading her to take time out of her busy schedule as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and member of the board of directors of the ACLU of Maryland to volunteer occasionally with BORDC as a speaker and author. This June, she served as counsel for BORDC when presenting the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act (LCRRA) to the Montgomery County (MD) Human Rights Commission.

Most recently, Sahar spoke at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, where she addressed the importance of preserving civil liberties while defending national security. She has published numerous commentaries concerning issues at the intersection of national security and civil rights. Throughout her work, Sahar stresses that “rights do not defend themselves; if we are not proactive in defending these laws then they become hollow.” She notes that “it is much harder to get rights back, which means it’s important to preserve and treasure them.”

BORDC thanks Sahar for her thoughtful work and enduring dedication to promoting civil rights.

Do you know someone whose work BORDC should honor with our Patriot Award? To nominate a civil liberties advocate for the Patriot Award, please email Emma Roderick with the following information:

  1. The full name and contact information (email and phone number) of the person you’re nominating
  2. A few sentences about the work that s/he has done to support civil liberties
  3. A sentence or two about why you believe this individual should receive the award

Nominees can include community organizers, dedicated volunteers, lawyers, writers, educators, and many others. We’re excited to hear about anyone with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights and liberties.

Grassroots groups push Local Civil Rights Restoration Act

The Local Civil Rights Restoration Actwhich includes provisions to stop ethnic profiling, end local police participation in federal immigration enforcement, and prohibit surveillance without individualized suspicion by local law enforcement—is gaining traction across the country, with coalitions moving forward in over a dozen municipalities.

Our map of local campaigns illustrates where our supporters are building active support for the LCRRA’s visionary reforms.

  • In Hartford, CT, organizers plan to introduce an amended version of the ordinance to their city council on November 3, and anticipate packing the room during a public hearing on November 15. The Hartford campaign offers a compelling model for others, having brought together a diverse range of interests, including civil libertarians, African Americans, Muslim Americans, Latino Americans, local interfaith, immigrant rights, and drug policy reform organizations, and a peace and justice coalition. To learn more about the Hartford campaign, review our case study on that effort.
  • Things are also heating up in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, CA, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar addressed the city’s Human Rights Commission at a September 23 hearing on surveillance and profiling organized by the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco. Meanwhile, in Berkeley, CA, the LCRRA was approved by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission on September 21 and will be the subject of a city council hearing on December 7 featuring reactions from the police chief.

If you are working on local legislation to restore civil rights and liberties in your community, let us know how to support you. We’re eager to learn about your efforts and offer our help with outreach, event promotion, strategy and technical assistance.

Get involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution

Calling all educators

Are you a K-12 educator? We’re expanding our K-12 resources and lesson plans and looking for educators to develop more teaching tools. If you teach (or have taught) a class on civil liberties issues that you’d be willing to share with other teachers, or if you’re interested in developing lesson plans for use by other educators across the country, contact Emma Roderick.

In the meantime, please share the resources that BORDC has already compiled with teachers you know, and introduce BORDC to other educators who might be interested in participating.

Refer volunteers to BORDC

BORDC relies on volunteers for crucial research, writing, and outreach projects. Rather than limiting volunteers to mundane tasks, we actively cultivate leadership among volunteers and customize each individual’s opportunities to his or her interests. If you know of people seeking opportunities to learn new skills or expand their activism, please refer them to us.

We have numerous projects available for volunteers, such as identifying and researching local allies and supportive local officeholders in cities across the country, researching civil liberties issues and writing under a personal byline for our blog, and representing BORDC in outreach efforts to coalition partners. We welcome volunteers with any skill or educational level from anywhere in the country.

Sign up to be a volunteer or contact Emma Roderick for more information.

Join an affinity network

The People’s Campaign for the Constitution 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 Roderick if you'd like to join one of the existing groups or start one of your own.

Update us about your local activities

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

We can also offer organizing, outreach, and communications support. Let us know about your group’s organizing needs. We’ll be excited to discuss how we can help.

Read the latest news and analysis on our blog

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

Law and Policy

No opting out of Secure Communities

Once believed to be voluntary, municipal participation in a widely debated immigration enforcement program has been revealed as essentially mandatory. The so-called “Secure Communities Initiative” (S-COMM), automatically submits the digital fingerprints of anyone admitted into a local jail—prior to any conviction or exoneration—to immigration databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. S-COMM currently operates in 32 states but it will soon be nationwide.

Critics of S-COMM note that the program has led to deportations and arrests based on racial or ethnic profiling, often destroying families—many of which include US citizens, who are left behind when their undocumented relatives are deported. Rather than enhance public safety, the program has encouraged crime in two ways. First, according to Jim Graham of the Washington, DC, City Council, "[S-COMM] distracts scarce police resources—they have to hold people until ICE can get to them. We want those resources devoted to crime-fighting."

Second, sheriffs and police chiefs fear it will discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes for fear of deportation. A 2008 analysis by the Goldwater Institute in Arizona found that the similar 287(g) program—which was independently criticized by the DHS Inspector General, an internal federal government watchdog—struck widespread fear into immigrant communities and discouraged information reports to local police about potential crime.

Fingerprint picture 1

According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), towns and cities may not opt out of the program, which circumvents municipalities by directly providing FBI fingerprint data to ICE. Counties across the country have tried to opt out of participation in S-COMM in order to promote positive relationships between immigrant communities and law enforcement. Counties that opt out simply don’t provide fingerprints to ICE. However, since local police departments generally continue to share fingerprints with the FBI, and we now know that ICE has access to fingerprint data through the FBI, there is no viable way for a community to opt out of S-COMM.

It may prove true that states can opt out of S-COMM only by refusing to send (possibly some categories of) fingerprints to the FBI. Tools like BORDC’s model legislation, the Local Civil Rights Restoration ACT (LCRRA) can help limit data-sharing between local law enforcement and federal agencies, while also restoring longstanding requirements that all law enforcement activities be based on individualized suspicion of criminal activity.

BORDC is promoting the LCRRA in cities around the country. In Hartford, CT, an adaptation of the LCRRA introduced to the City Council has garnered support from the local ACLU, NAACP, and CAIR chapters in addition to support from local drug policy and peace and justice groups. If you’d like to work on an effort to advance civil rights in your area, the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act provides an excellent opportunity.

Government wants to wiretap the Internet

The Obama administration has proposed to “wiretap the Internet” as a means to expand surveillance in a time when many use the Internet as their primary means of social and business communications. The New York Times reports that officials in the Obama administration are appealing to Congress to require that all online communication services—including phones capable of email, Facebook, and Skype—comply with rules allowing unrestricted federal investigation.

This would require that peer-to-peer messages sent on social networking websites be fully capable of interception and decryption. Federal agents could access decrypted communications through a “backdoor” on these websites and services for use in counterterrorist investigations. However, given the vague definition of “terrorist organization,” the expanding power of government’s surveillance capabilities poses a threat to the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech, expression, and dissent.

Though some online information is currently available to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, this proposal would eliminate the need for the government to go through service providers for the data. Glenn Greenwald of Salon explains: “The new law would not expand the Government's legal authority to eavesdrop—that's unnecessary, since post-9/11 legislation has dramatically expanded those authorities—but would require all communications, including ones over the Internet, to be built so as to enable the U.S. Government to intercept and monitor them at any time....”

The proposal, which the administration will likely submit to Congress next year, holds severe consequences for diminishing civil liberties in the United States. Unchecked government surveillance that allows for warrantless monitoring of communication between private citizens stands in stark opposition to the First Amendment.

Obama asserts state secrets privilege in challenge to extrajudicial assassination

Last April, President Obama approved the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who allegedly has connections to al-Qaeda. This is the first time a US citizen has been added to the CIA’s target list, and it has raised serious questions about executive power and the so-called “war on terror.” Specifically, given the constitutional requirements for due process of law for the accused, how can the president unilaterally—and without any trial or other judicial process—order the assassination of a US citizen?

The American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Constitutional Rights asked just that question in the suit they filed against the government on behalf of al-Awlaki’s father calling for an injunction against the president’s assassination order. However, the Obama administration is refusing to answer: on September 25, the Justice Department asserted the state secrets privilege, calling for dismissal of the case for national security reasons. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald summed it up:

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what's most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is "state secrets": in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality. [emphasis in original]

Whatever one thinks about the underlying question raised by the ACLU and CCR (whether US citizens may be declared as targets for CIA assassination without judicial process), the invocation of the state secrets privilege impedes transparency and accountability. By blocking judicial review and ensuring executive secrecy, the privilege undermines democratic transparency and erodes the checks and balances the Founders codified in our Constitution.

New Resources and Opportunities

Map of Local Civil Rights Restoration Act efforts

LCRRA MapThe Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act (LCRRA), a model ordinance for consideration by municipal governments across the US, aims to restore Fourth Amendment protections undermined by warrantless surveillance, racial profiling, and local immigration enforcement programs. Campaigns to pass the LCRRA are already underway in 17 cities, and more are starting all the time.

This month, we’ve launched a map of LCRRA efforts throughout the country, including descriptions of what progress each campaign has made. If you’re interested in working to pass the LCRRA in your area, take a look at the map to see if a local campaign has already begun. If not, help get one started.

Case study of Fourth Amendment campaign in Hartford, CT

If you’re considering organizing support for civil rights and civil liberties in your town, it can help to learn from prior efforts elsewhere. Among the resources available on our website is a new case study of a legislative campaign in Hartford, CT. Learn about the step-by-step process of one of our most successful coalitions, and consider how you can apply their approach to your own town.

If your organizing could help inform others, please let us know—we’re interested in adding more case studies from other cities.

Book Review: Because It Is Wrong by Charles and Gregory Fried

Because It Is WrongIn the recently published book Because It Is Wrong, Charles and Gregory Fried present the question of whether torture, under any circumstance, is wrong. They make the argument that “torture, as a way of gaining knowledge even in case of desperate need, is absolutely wrong.” They repeatedly come back to this contention as they analyze the juxtaposition of surveillance and torture in the past decade.

Charles Fried is a professor of law at Harvard and his son, Gregory, teaches philosophy at Suffolk University. Together they have constructed an argument against torture that incorporates historical, legal, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives that draw from Aristotle to Machiavelli. The Frieds focus on the context of a post-9/11 America, an “age of terror” that has put into question “our dignity as human beings.”

The book brings to light the moral ambiguity that surrounds torture and the great and convoluted chasms that exist between what is supposedly right for your country and what is absolutely wrong. At the crux of this crucial decision-making are the president and executive power. The authors examine the actions of past presidents in extreme situations, such as Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt and contrast them to the actions of Bush administration officials after 2001. The book delves into the complex historical and moral contexts that provided the justifications for torture.

The authors also discuss government surveillance and its increasing role in the past decade. Sensitivity about privacy is a “modern sentiment,” that was elevated post 9/11 when

systems of ease and confidence were replaced with wary precautions everywhere. We did not even know where the enemy was or even exactly who he was. Suspicion replaced trust. Ordinary citizens, living far from potential targets, felt undermined, threatened, and violated.

The authors provoke an interesting discussion about privacy, the law, and torture, pointing out that “torture is illegal because it is wrong,” but since the law outlines the boundaries of privacy and therefore when it is necessary to overstep those boundaries, “surveillance is wrong because it is illegal.”

Going beyond the debates in the media, this book provides a philosophical analysis of the lawfulness and morality of torture and surveillance. Bringing to the table a strong background in political history, law, and philosophy, the authors offer a unique perspective on these timely issues.

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
Contributing Authors: Barbara Haugen, Liz Mackenzie, My Nguyen, and Emma Roderick

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

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