December 2010, Vol. 9, No. 12
In this issue:
- Patriot Award: Jeffrey Light
- Groups across the country celebrate Bill of Rights Day
- Civil rights coalition continues to move forward in Hartford, CT
- Coalitions form across the DC area
- Civil rights abuses prompt discussion in Cleveland
- Efforts to investigate secret spying expand in Chicago
- Civil liberties reforms up for debate in Berkeley, CA
- Get involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution
- Read the latest news and analysis on our blog
Law and Policy
- FBI continues to prompt concerns about rights abuses
- Federal law enforcement may be tracking your purchases
- Guantánamo detainees subjected to torture by drug
- Wikileaks sparks debate over government secrecy and freedom of information
New Resources and Opportunities
Reflecting on 2010, we are disappointed that fundamental rights and liberties have continued to suffer. With the reauthorized PATRIOT Act; continuing FBI abuses of peace activists, Muslim Americans, and environmentalists; ongoing secrecy impeding any checks or balances on the National Security Administration; and inflated federal spending offensively wasting your tax dollars to undermine your rights, the Constitution appears even more tattered than at the beginning of the year.
America has continued to stray from its founding principles, which protect individual rights, by expanding executive power and weakening checks and balances. Like you, we at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee are disappointed in our national leadership and eager to champion constitutional rights in the new year. Will you stand with us in DC on January 27?
On January 27, grassroots constitutionalists from across the country will gather on Capitol Hill to raise our voices. We will bring our concerns to the members of Congress and call on them to act—to correct the abuses of the Bill of Rights contained within the USA PATRIOT Act (which is once again up for reauthorization in February), to increase oversight of FBI violations like the September raids of peace activists’s homes, and to stop infiltrations of law-abiding religious and political communities. Further, we will propose specific cuts to particular government programs that undermine individual privacy, offering members of Congress opportunities to restore privacy while also helping reduce the deficit and balance the budget.
This January, make your voice heard. Join us in the nation’s capitol and tell your members of congress—in person, the way it makes the most impact—what you think about the PATRIOT Act, wasteful spending on national security programs, and spying on law-abiding Americans. Congress won’t act unless We the People demand it, so come to DC and raise your voice.
You bring yourself, your friends, your colleagues. We’ll provide breakfast and a morning briefing on the issues, lunch, and an afternoon debrief—and we’re also organizing an event to commemorate and learn more about civil liberties in the evening.
Today, December 15, is Bill of Rights Day. On this day in 1791, the states ratified the Bill of Rights. 150 years later, in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared this holiday to commemorate that occasion. We live more than two centuries after the Bill of Rights was ratified, but the values contained in those first 10 amendments to the Constitution continue to define what makes America great.
Sadly, through the years of the Bush and Obama administrations, we have watched our nation move away from the Constitution’s core values. Our government continues to routinely spy on millions of law-abiding Americans without judicial oversight; law enforcement agencies monitor and arrest people for activities once protected by freedom of speech and association; and abhorrent, vicious, cruel, and unusual punishments have been inflicted on detainees without any accountability for the officials who authorized those abuses. Put simply, our constitutional rights are disappearing.
We at BORDC are disappointed in our national leadership, but we are hopeful that our Constitution will survive this crisis. That’s why we remain committed to supporting the grassroots action necessary to restore civil liberties.
BORDC helps grassroots constitutionalists set a proactive agenda, rather than merely reacting to the latest news cycle. The campaigns we support around the country aim to transform the debate by creating opportunities for Americans of all walks of life to affect change where it matters most—in the towns and cities where We the People still have a voice.
The demand for our work, however, dwarfs our resources. How broadly we can expand our efforts in 2011 depends on you. With a generous matching grant adding 50 percent to your contribution, there has never been a better time to support BORDC.
As threats to constitutional rights persist, BORDC’s work has expanded to meet the growing need for action. But much more remains to be done, and we can’t do it without your help. We know you care about the Constitution. Today, we ask you to help us defend it.
We at BORDC deeply value the work of interns and volunteers, which crucial to our ability to achieve our goals as an organization. BORDC interns develop skills in writing, research, grassroots organizing, and outreach; gain networking opportunities; and make a concrete difference in the effort to restore civil liberties and constitutional rights.
For the spring 2011 semester, BORDC has internships available at our national headquarters in Northampton, MA, and in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. We also have internship opportunities for applicants anywhere in the US with reliable phone and internet access.
For more details on our internships and information on how to apply, see our internship posting. Please also share these internship opportunities with any students or young people you know who may be interested.
Each month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring him with our Patriot Award. This month we recognize attorney Jeffrey Light for his significant efforts toward protecting First Amendment rights.
As a student at Georgetown Law, Jeff originally intended to work in patent law. As he studied the law, however, he discovered the importance of protecting civil rights and liberties. He found a passion for the public interest, specifically in the criminal justice arena, and now works as a criminal appeals lawyer in Washington, DC.
Jeff does substantial pro bono work in addition to his day job bringing cases to the Court of Appeals. He represents groups including the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) and the animal rights group Defending Animal Rights Today and Tomorrow in cases involving First Amendment rights. Jeff also does extensive work with the National Lawyers Guild.
BORDC is grateful that Jeff has found time in his busy schedule to work with us in litigating a case against two fusion centers in DC. Across the country, more than 70 DHS-funded “fusion centers” make private data readily available to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Very little is known about the kinds of information gathered and shared at these centers, with whom it is being shared, and on what basis. Oversight for fusion centers remains inadequate, prompting BORDC’s FOIA campaign seeking transparency into their operations. With Jeff’s counsel, BORDC has filed FOIA requests regarding two DC fusion centers, including the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center (WRTAC).
No stranger to FOIA, Jeff has also filed a request to the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency as well as requests on behalf of DCTC. He is passionate about LGBT rights, but focuses more broadly on First Amendments freedoms and their protection for all individuals and organizations. This is evident in the breadth of Jeff’s work, which includes a case involving an illegal search of a freelance photojournalist’s home whose personal computers, cameras, and movies were seized by the FBI. Jeff’s passion for defending civil liberties is palpable, and we appreciate his many contributions to constructive change on a national level.
Today, in celebration of Bill of Rights Day, constitutionalists across the country are holding events and speaking out.
In Tacoma, WA, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee of Tacoma and the American Civil Liberties Union are cosponsoring a 6:00 p.m. reception at Harmon’s Tap Room followed by a 7:00 p.m. viewing of This is What Democracy Looks Like, a documentary about the 1999 Seattle WTO battle, at King’s Books.
In downtown Chapel Hill, NC, the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee is sponsoring a reading of the Bill of Rights at noon at Peace and Justice Plaza. The mayors of Chapel Hill and nearby Carrboro, as well as members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, will participate in the reading.
If you are participating in a Bill of Rights Day event in your area, please tell us about it and we’ll report on the event in our January newsletter.
The Hartford civil rights coalition continues to move ahead on a proposed ordinance to stop racial, religious, ethnic, and political profiling. Last month, members of the coalition held a press conference and rally in support of the ordinance, which was immediately followed by a public hearing on the proposed legislation.
The ordinance, closely modeled after BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, was introduced by Hartford City Councilor Luis Cotto and is backed by a diverse coalition of grassroots Connecticut organizations that includes the ACLU of Connecticut, the Connecticut state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Council on American Islamic Relations of Connecticut (CAIR-CT), A Better Way Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild Hartford Chapter, and the Connecticut Coalition for Peace and Justice.
Recently, the coalition—along with Councilor Cotto—was honored at CAIR-CT’s sixth annual banquet. According to CAIR-CT Executive Director Mongi Dhaouadi, “the highlight of the event was Luis being honored as a political leader with courage to stand up for what is right.”
If you live in the Hartford area (or have friends who do) and want more information, please contact Emma Roderick, BORDC’s grassroots campaign coordinator.
Three events in Washington, DC, over the past month have sparked interested in local reforms to address constitutional abuses in the nation’s capital, as well as in outlying jurisdictions in suburban Maryland and Virginia. Panel discussions on November 6 at the Friends Meeting, November 18 at the Belmont House, and December 15 at Busboys & Poets featured speakers including Michelle Richardson of the ACLU, Gael Murphy and Sue Udry from United for Peace & Justice, Ann Wilcox and Jeffrey Light from the National Lawyers Guild, Thomas Nephew from Get FISA Right, and BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.
Coalitions have formed in Montgomery County, MD, as well as the District of Columbia and are planning activities for the new year.
If you live in the DC area (or have friends who do) and want more information, please contact Shahid.
While meeting with Stanley Miller, executive director of the Cleveland NAACP at the local CAIR office, BORDC Field Organizer George Friday and CAIR-Cleveland Executive Director Julia Sherson listened as Mr. Miller recounted an unfortunately typical scenario.
A 16-year-old African-American young man and his 12-year-old sister were on a morning jog in their suburban neighborhood when local police, responding to a call about a middle-aged African-American burglary suspect, violently interrupted them, threw both joggers to the ground and handcuffed them. The young man sustained significant injuries to his face when police officers slammed it against the pavement after he raised his head to comfort his sobbing sister. Sadly, Miller hears similar stories from many of the 70 Ohio local NAACP chapters on a regular basis.
These incidents are bringing together groups working with local farmers who are troubled by increased ICE action, with those struggling with bias demonstrated by local law enforcement and the expanding community targeted by FBI surveillance. BORDC hopes to work with this still-forming coalition in and around Cleveland to organize support for reforms to restore civil rights and liberties.
If you live in the Cleveland area (or have friends who do) and want more information, please contact George.
BORDC Field Organizer George Friday recently met with long-time activists, BORDC partners, and community leaders across Chicago, IL.
Molly Armour, regional vice president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), introduced Ms. Friday to DePaul law students (and NLG student members) Tony Allegretti, Amanda Graham, and Katie Kize. The students discussed progress on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests they recently submitted to the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, as well as further possible projects for the upcoming semester. In addition to pursuing its current FOIA requests of fusion centers, the group will also approach the local FBI field office for information on political surveillance and infiltration of activist groups. The group plans to reach out to the Minnesota NLG chapter and compile a joint request.
The DePaul NLG chapter sees FOIA as a great asset for training students, revealing government secrets and abuses, and enabling further advocacy. BORDC is pleased to support the chapter and excited by its efforts to ensure government transparency.
If you live in the Chicago area (or have friends who do) and want more information, please contact George.
On December 14, a bill modeled on the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act was the subject of a meeting of the Berkeley City Council. The city’s Peace & Justice Commission has already approved the reforms, and the police chief, who delivered a feasibility report before the council, has studied them.
Coalitions across northern California are watching the results closely and are poised to coordinate activities in the new year.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area (or have friends who do) and want more information, please contact BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar.
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.
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.
Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:
- Amazon’s decison to discontinue hosting Wikileaks prompts boycott
- Harvard students file lawsuit over TSA pat-downs
- Ruffalo on terrorist watch list for fracking opposition
- Confusion surrounding S-COMM creating climate of mistrust
- FBI successfully prevents a terrorist plot of its own making
Law and Policy
This month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation expanded its subpoenas of peace activists across the Midwest, seeking 20 people to appear before grand juries in what activists deride as a witch hunt.
The Bureau has not disclosed any evidence or legal theory prompting the subpoenas. While little is known about the case at this point, the Supreme Court’s Humanitarian Law Project decision this spring, which upheld the “material support” provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, enables criminal prosecution for mere speech in certain circumstances. In particular, according to defense attorney Michael Deutsch:
the federal prosecutors are intent on accusing public nonviolent political organizers...of providing "material support" through their public advocacy for [groups] the Secretary of State has determined..."threaten US national security, foreign policy or economic interests," a finding not reviewable by the courts...
The First Amendment has long protected freedom of speech and expression, but the Humanitarian Law Project decision undermines that protection. The US government can now designate any organization as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), and that designation cannot be reviewed or challenged in court. Further, anyone who contributes to an FTO—even activists who work with designated organizations to promote non-violent protest—can be charged with material support of terrorism.
But the government is scrutinizing not only FTOs but also religious and political organizations right here in the United States. Last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke in the Bay Area, where he defended having paid government informants go undercover to infiltrate such groups, describing the tactic as an “essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing terror attacks.” While advocates have often claimed that FBI tactics entrap defendants, the attorney general argued that the prosecutions do not rise to that level.
BORDC remains concerned about the abuses that we highlighted to the Senate in July, two months before the raids in the Midwest. We are currently inviting individuals to sign our letter to the attorney general calling for reforms to specific FBI policies, as well as changes in personnel.
Law enforcement authorities may know your favorite restaurant, which gas station you visit most often, and whether you use your cell phone while driving. How? According to a Department of Justice document, “Federal law enforcement routinely tracks individuals through their credit cards, cell phones, car rentals and even store customer loyalty programs without obtaining a warrant.”
Blogger and online privacy activist Christopher Soghoian, a graduate student at the University of Indiana, obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request. He reports:
Federal agents working on a criminal investigation can draw up their own paperwork requesting that credit companies and retailers give the agents real-time access to purchases made by a particular person.
No court reviews these orders, and the only role courts play in the process is to issue a non-disclosure order to the retailer or credit card company involved, meaning the person being tracked will never be notified of the surveillance.
The process is known as a "hotwatch," and it can be used to spy on cell phones, credit card use, purchases at stores when a customer loyalty card is used, car rentals, and flight ticket purchases. The process "sidestep[s] any Fourth Amendment protections," Soghoian writes.
These kinds of records include some of the most intimate details of our lives, and no judge ever reviews whether this type of surveillance is warranted—or even connected to a criminal investigation. Given continuing revelations of mounting FBI abuses, what is clear is that federal law enforcement authorities are not just crossing a line—they are sprinting past it without looking back.
New horrors of US treatment of detainees are still being discovered. Truthout recently reported that Department of Defense (DOD) documents made public two years ago include evidence that the DOD “forced all ‘war on terror’ detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison to take a high dosage of a controversial antimalarial drug, mefloquine, an act that an Army public health physician called ‘pharmacologic waterboarding.’”
The drug, which is known to cause “severe neuropsychiatric side effects, including suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and anxiety,” was administered to detainees regardless of whether or not they had malaria.
The report on the use of mefloquine at Guantánamo, written by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, was published just days before Human Rights Day, December 10. Meanwhile, current and former US government officials who committed or approved torture—whether by physical, mental, emotional, or pharmacological—remain unaccountable for their actions and have yet to face justice for their alleged crimes.
The recent release of hundreds of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks has ignited controversy over government transparency and the public’s right to know. The Obama administration promised to be the most transparent presidency in history, but its response to the publication of these documents—which Fareed Zakaria described as more embarrassing than dangerous—undermines that pledge.
Following the release of the cables, the government has ordered its employees not to read the documents. University students interested in future government jobs have also been advised not to read or post links to the cables. There have been calls for criminal prosecution of the individuals behind the leaks, and companies providing services to Wikileaks, including Amazon.com and PayPal, have caved to government pressure, particularly from Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), to suspend those services.
Wikileaks’ actions and the government’s reaction have offered a teachable moment to the American public. According to renowned whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, “the First Amendment kept us from having an Official Secrets Act....The founding of this country was based on the principle that the government should not have a say as to what we hear, what we think, and what we read.”
Concerns about government restrictions on information are not the only issues to come out of the Wikileaks revelations, however. Information is much more vulnerable to unwanted disclosure now than it was ten years ago because of unwise government information sharing. After 9/11, the US government created massive databases of information and made them accessible to employees and contractors across government agencies. In the wake of the Washington Post’s “Top Secret America” investigation last summer, which discussed the vast growth of the intelligence industry and the lack of accountability within it, disclosures from supposedly secret databases may be inevitable.
New Resources and Opportunities
November’s elections and the state of the economy have many Americans calling for cuts to federal spending. Protecting civil liberties and constitutional rights has not been a priority in Washington for some time now, but the clamor for federal spending cuts presents a unique opportunity to bring these issues to the fore once again.
National security spending has dramatically increased in recent years. Surveillance programs have expanded, collecting huge amounts of data on law-abiding Americans. Meanwhile, the intelligence establishment has created new ways of collecting that data—through invasive technology like TSA’s body scanners, policies including the FBI’s 2008 Mukasey Guidelines, and entirely new institutions such as fusion centers (more than 70 of which currently operate around the country).
By researching national security spending programs and recommending specific cuts, we can help Congress—particularly incoming representatives less beholden to the institutional establishment than their colleagues—identify opportunities to scale back programs that infringe on fundamental rights.
We need your help to identify specific programs for budget cuts. This project does not require subject matter expertise, but does require significant web research and some writing.
Our nation’s intelligence agencies are unaccountable to Congress or the Constitution. Flaunting a lack of transparency, checks, or balances, the FBI and CIA have grown increasingly lawless. Join BORDC in calling for an end to these abuses.
Disregarding the protections of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) routinely monitors activist groups and religious organizations without any evidence—or even suspicion—of wrongdoing. Director Mueller admitted as much to the Senate this summer, even before peaceful activists across the Midwest were raided and called before grand juries this fall.
A generation ago, the FBI was reprimanded by Congress’s Church and Pike Committees for criminalizing activism supporting civil rights. Today, the Bureau has once again criminalized speech protected by the First Amendment, particularly that of environmental and peace activists. Meanwhile, fake “terror” plots suggested, funded, and orchestrated by FBI agents or informants have formed the basis of a public relations campaign to justify the FBI’s growing budget.
But the FBI has faced no congressional scrutiny of its politicization or constitutional offenses—yet. Even worse, the FBI isn’t alone: the Justice Department conducted a two-year investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for destroying evidence of high-level crimes, which was recently closed without any charges.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to shine a light on the FBI’s secret activities, reform the Bureau’s investigative guidelines to restore the individualized suspicion standards long required by our Constitution, and replace the Bureau’s leadership. Will you stand with us?
If you care about the Bill of Rights, the environment, peace—or simply the right to speak out in defense of what you believe without being treated like a criminal—sign our letter to the attorney general today.
Please support BORDC's work to defend the Bill of Rights
Contribute online, or mail a check or money order to:
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
Contributors: Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Barbara Haugen, My Nguyen, and Emma Roderick
Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston