March 2011, Vol. 10, No. 3
In this issue:
- BORDC welcomes new members to our board of directors and advisory board
- National news media highlight BORDC’s concerns about King hearings
- Summer internship opportunities available
- Patriot Award: Vicki Madden
- BORDC mobilizes West Coast campaigns
- Civil rights campaign forges ahead in western Massachusetts
- Campaign advances in Asheville, NC
- New campaign launches in Miami
- BORDC recruits allies for new campaigns across the country
- Movement building in Atlanta
- Get involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution
- Read the latest news and analysis on our blog
Law and Policy
- Secrecy in the Obama administration: DOJ wages war on whistleblowers while state secrets privilege remains status quo
- Drones in state parks?
- Lawsuit alleges FBI witch hunt
New Resources and Opportunities
Late last month, Congress voted to extend three controversial PATRIOT Act provisions—but only for three months. With these authorities now set to expire at the end of May, Americans who value civil liberties still have an opportunity to act. Speaking up now can ensure that Congress keeps your views in mind as it debates this dangerous—and now vulnerable—law.
Three parts of the PATRIOT Act are up for reauthorization:
- The government’s power under PATRIOT Act Section 215 to obtain secret court orders for “any tangible thing”—including Internet, phone, and business records—of people who are not suspected of terrorism or spying.
- The government’s “lone wolf wiretapping” power, allowing it to get court orders authorizing secret foreign intelligence wiretaps against individuals who have no connection to any foreign power or terrorist group.
- The government’s power to obtain blank-check “roving” wiretap orders that can be used to tap any phone number, email account, or other communications facility that the government believes is being used by its target.
Instead of simply reauthorizing these powers, as it has before, Congress should institute strong safeguards to protect privacy and civil liberties. The JUSTICE Act, first introduced a year ago, would provide such protections: it contains critically important new checks and balances to prevent abuse of the three expiring PATRIOT provisions, but also proposed many meaningful reforms to other surveillance powers.
Democrats and Republicans alike have opposed the PATRIOT Act, along with millions Americans from all walks of life. With anti-establishment Republicans well represented in Congress for the first time in recent memory, 2011 is the year when Americans can come together to change the course of history and restore our rights and liberties.
Members of Congress will leave Washington to return to their districts from March 21 through March 25. Take this opportunity and meet with your members of Congress. Demand that they stand up for your rights and protect your privacy by opposing reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act until reforms are put in place to restore civil liberties. Demand JUSTICE.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is pleased to welcome three new leaders to our organization.
Attorney Khurshid Khoja (left) is the newest member of our board of directors. Khurshid works in the San Francisco office of Reed Smith LLP, where his practice focuses on the development, construction, and financing of wind power and other renewable energy projects. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Asian Law Caucus and the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, as well as the board of trustees of the North American South Asian Bar Association Foundation. Khurshid received his J.D. from the U.C. Berkeley School of Law, his M.A. in international relations from The University of Chicago and his B.A. (with high honor) in political science from DePaul University.
Dr. Daniel Ellsberg (center) is a former federal military analyst and renowned whistleblower. His historic release of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of the Vietnam War, played a key role in the end of the Nixon administration and is chronicled in the Academy award-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America. Dr. Ellsberg is a leading voice for government transparency and has recently made headlines for his advocacy in support of Wikileaks and accused whistleblower Bradley Manning.
Morris Davis (right) is executive director and counsel for the Crimes of War Education Project in Washington, DC. He served as a judge advocate in the United States Air Force from October 1983 until he retired as a colonel in October 2008. From 2005 until 2007, he served as the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, a position he resigned in October 2007 because of his objection to the use of evidence obtained by torture and growing political interference in the military commissions. His military decorations include the Legion of Merit, six Meritorious Service Medals, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. In 2008, he was included in the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington report, Those Who Dared: 30 Officials Who Stood Up for Our County.
Last week, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar spoke at a press conference on the eve of hearings in the House Homeland Security Committee led by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) purporting to examine violent domestic extremism. Noting that Rep. King’s hearings “vilify vulnerable communities,” Buttar characterized them as “a threat that should concern all of us…not just as Muslim Americans, and not just as allies embracing an inclusive society, but as Americans committed to defending our nation’s most shared, fundamental values.”
Buttar’s comments were broadcast on CNN, and also quoted by Agence France Presse, the Huffington Post, and ABC News, among others. On March 14, he spoke again about the House Homeland Security Committee's hearing during a panel at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.
BORDC is excited to invite applications for summer internships. Interns are vital to BORDC’s work around the country, and participate in substantive research, writing, outreach, and organizing projects. This summer, opportunities are available in our national office in Northampton, MA, as well as for telecommuting internships open to candidates anywhere in the United States. Applications are due March 27.
Each month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring that person with our Patriot Award. This month we recognize Vicki Madden for her initiative and creativity in civil rights education in New York. Vicki has been teaching for over 20 years and currently teaches government at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, a public school in Brooklyn, New York.
Assigned to teach a diverse twelfth grade government class culminating with each student writing a position paper required for high school graduation, Vicki designed a course around civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. Knowing that this course presented a rare opportunity for her students to connect their school work to real current events, Vicki led her students in exploring the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, checks and balances within our government, and the USA PATRIOT Act through two case studies: “Citizen Rights on the Streets of New York City” and “9/11 and the PATRIOT Act.”
Faced with a class with a wide range of reading abilities, Vicki implemented a Socratic seminar style of discussion and exposed multiple perspectives on the topics. She presented the students with diverse viewpoints, offering a variety of perspectives on the issues at hand while stressing key concepts such as the balance of freedom and safety. For example, the class got the opportunity to talk with a representative from Vietnam Veterans for Peace as well as a retired New York City police officer. Vicki also makes a point to reinforce her teaching by developing personal connections with the students and keeping the class engaged with material relevant to current events and to them personally. In their final term papers, 75 percent of Madden’s students argued against the PATRIOT Act’s constitutionality, while 25 percent argued that the Act is necessary and constitutional but should be limited.
As part of the class, Vicki and her students raised funds to visit Washington, DC, where they met with BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, as well as Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) and aides to representatives Edolphus Town (D-NY), Mike Grimm (R-NY), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The students used their background from Vicki’s class to encourage members of Congress to implement needed safeguards on domestic surveillance powers, such as requirements for greater judicial oversight, more specific warrants, and curbs on national security letters.
Vicki has shown exemplary vision in the civil liberties movement by taking her teaching far beyond mandated standards. Thank you, Vicki, for your dedication and initiative!
BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar recently visited California for organizing meetings in San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, and Los Angeles. In addition to addressing students at Stanford Law School, Santa Clara Law School, and UCLA Law School, Buttar also spoke at receptions in San Francisco and Berkeley and met with numerous organizations and elected officeholders across California interested in supporting multi-racial and trans-partisan campaigns to restore civil rights and liberties at the local level.
Further, at a series of meetings in late February and early March, BORDC briefed grassroots supporters and organizational allies across the Los Angeles area about a campaign strategy aiming to unite communities vulnerable to law enforcement excesses. With new allies including interfaith, peace and justice, immigrant rights, civil rights, and civil liberties organizations, BORDC is eager to explore further organizing opportunities in Los Angeles in the coming weeks and months.
The Northampton Civil Rights Preservation Campaign is moving full steam ahead with a local campaign to enact reforms modeled after BORDC's local civil rights legislation. Following an endorsement by editorial board of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the campaign will host "A Forum on the Ordinance to Preserve Civil Rights" on Wednesday, March 23 at 6:00 p.m. Speakers will include Bill Newman, legal director of the Western Mass ACLU; Falguni Sheth, assistant professor at Hampshire College; Richard Hernandez of the Northampton Human Rights Commission; and Jasmine Torrejon, a former organizer of the local Justice for Jason campaign. Local band Red Valley Fog will provide musical entertainment, and members of the Northampton community will learn about the policy intersections between racial profiling, domestic surveillance, and immigration enforcement—as well as how to effect change in these areas through local legislation.
Members of the coalition have also been meeting regularly with Northampton's elected leaders and chief of police to gather information. Organizations leading this effort include the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, and the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union.
In late February, veteran pastor, civil rights activist, member of Christians for a United Community, and BORDC coalition ally Charles Mosley opined in the Asheville Citizen-Times that “Justice is justice. Equal rights means rights for all of us.” On April 29, Ashville will hold city-wide events as part of Stand Against Racism, a national program sponsored by YWCAs across the country. BORDC is working with coalition partner Nuestro Centro to create materials for the events, which aim “to raise awareness that racism still exists and it can no longer be ignored or tolerated.”
In an effort to remedy South Beach police arresting people for filming on-duty law enforcement personnel, community members recently rallied to build support for reforms of the sort promoted by BORDC. For months, residents who have advocated for transparency and police accountability have faced charges for various non-violent crimes: obstruction of justice, trespassing, loitering, resisting arrest, among others. Their equipment has been destroyed, and they’ve endured threats and intimidation for simply filming their local police at work. “This is a growing national trend,” says community leader Rob Hammonds. “There are 12 other states where the police are doing this same thing.”
The ACLU of Florida is working with the group to build support for BORDC’s reforms through public events, beginning with a hearing later this month on Freedom to Film Public Officials: Transparency for Truth.
Last week, BORDC Field Organizer George Friday traveled to Washington, DC, with Loida Ginocchio-Silva and other activists from North Carolina to participate in the Rights Working Group’s Human Rights Training. The two-day session included BORDC allies from Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, and was followed by a retreat at which leaders heard more about BORDC’s work. Allies in Houston, Denver, and Knoxville are now considering launching campaigns based on BORDC’s model.
If you are interested in participating in a campaign in these or other cities, contact George Friday.
On February 24 and 25, Project South hosted a two-year action planning meeting in Atlanta on the People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) process. A PMA is typically a three-hour open meeting process to develop strategic solutions to issues or an identified problem from a diverse set of participants and across several fronts of struggle. The process originated at World Social Forums and has been used at the first two US Social Forums. Last June, 50 PMAs brought thousands together to generate recommendations for several issues including immigrant rights, juvenile justice, migrant justice, and ending the drug war. BORDC’s field organizer George Friday participated in the meeting in Atlanta, where she met with potential allies in Detroit and New York, and other leaders planning PMAs in Atlanta, Houston, and El Paso.
Share BORDC’s work with your friends
BORDC relies on volunteers for crucial research, writing, and outreach projects. We actively cultivate leadership among volunteers and customize each individual’s opportunities to his or her interests. If you know people—such as recent students or people between jobs—who are seeking opportunities to learn new skills or expand their activism, please refer them to us.
We have numerous projects available for volunteers, such as researching civil liberties issues, writing for our blog, identifying local allies and supportive local officeholders in cities across the country, and representing BORDC in outreach efforts to potential allies and coalition partners. We welcome volunteers with any skill or educational level from anywhere in the country. Sign up to be a volunteer.
Calling all educators
BORDC is expanding our K-12 resources and lesson plans and looking for educators to develop more teaching tools. If you have taught a class addressing civil liberties issues and are willing to share lesson plans with other teachers, please contact Emma Roderick.
Please also share the resources that BORDC has already compiled with teachers you know and others who might be interested in supporting our work.
Update us about your local activities
Please send us information about your actions and events. 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’re excited to help.
Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:
- Be careful what you tweet—Sylvester’s watching…
- United Electrical stands against FBI raids
- Social media against the PATRIOT Act
- FBI sued for placing tracking device
- Islam for Cops
Law and Policy
Secrecy in the Obama administration: DOJ wages war on whistleblowers while state secrets privilege remains status quo
President Obama has said we “must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals,” yet his administration has justified its secrecy as necessary for national security. On the one hand, Obama has undertaken an assault on whistleblowers, while on the other, the Justice Department has followed in the footsteps of the Bush administration by invoking the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits potentially damaging to the government.
From Wikileaks and the tortured imprisonment of Bradley Manning to the renewed investigation into the source of a leaked CIA effort to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program, the Obama administration has, despite its rhetoric pledging support for "courageous and patriotic" whistleblowers, furthered our government’s assault against those standing for transparency and justice.
The prosecution of James Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with leaking classified information about the botched CIA effort in Iran, reveals the extent to which the Obama administration is escalating its war on whistleblowers. To find the source behind New York Times reporter James Risen's account of the CIA's missteps in Iran, federal investigators examined Risen's bank records, scoured his private credit reports, and collected information about his phone calls and travel. These tactics, recently revealed through the criminal proceedings against Sterling, present chilling consequences for investigative journalism. As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald describes in his February 25 article,
Covertly obtaining and then digging through the phone, banking, and travel records of journalists is about as extreme a step as can be taken in trying to detect and punish whistleblowers. By itself, the chilling effect on a free press is substantial and obvious—what whistleblowers would speak to reporters if they know their most private records can be so easily invaded by the Government?—and the invasion of privacy which a journalist has to endure for doing his job is immense.
While persecuting those who expose the government’s misdeeds, Obama’s DOJ continues to cite the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits. Like the government's prosecution of James Sterling and its assault on Wikileaks, this secrecy is often driven by hopes to cover up government blunders rather than protect national security. The US has invoked state secrets to "block a personal injury lawsuit by a CIA employee who alleged that environmental contamination in his home made his family sick," as well as to "block evidence in lawsuits against a contractor who had duped the U.S. government into spending millions on what many now consider to be fake counterterrorism technology." This abuse of the state secrets privilege–which dates back to the case in which the privilege was established—betrays Obama’s promise to create the most transparent administration in history.
You’ve heard about the use of drones—military-grade unmanned aerial vehicles with the capability to disarm and attack enemy insurgents—in wars overseas. Now, these drones are coming home to the US.
In an effort to advance the use of unmanned drones, the Federal Aviation Administration is proposing the use of air space in Central Oregon and the Adirondack Mountains for drone missions. The government has not stated whether these drones will be used for law enforcement, but they have stated they will be publicly testing them in our skies.
Nor will this be the first time. For instance, the Miami police department recently purchased a drone similar to those used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Police say it will only be used to gather information on situations too dangerous for officers, but fears of abuse remain:
Florida American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Howard Simon pointed out, “What happens when they fly over backyards and they see something without a warrant that they want to take [action] against?”
Even worse, what if the drone peeks in your window and sees something the cops find suspicious? “Police admit the [drone], if flown low enough, has the ability to look into people’s home[s],” says the CBS affiliate, “but that is not its intended purpose.” Little imagination is required to think of ways to rationalize expanding the use of the drone beyond its supposedly intended purpose.
In late February, the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles chapter of the Council of Islamic American Relations (CAIR), and civil rights law firm Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeking relief from the FBI’s infringement of the First Amendment rights of Southern California Muslims. The suit cites an FBI whistleblower who confirmed that, without any basis for suspicion, the FBI sent an informant to infiltrate a mosque and encourage violence by those who attended it. Ameena Mirza Qazi, Deputy Executive Director and staff attorney at CAIR-LA, commented on the suit:
I cannot conceive of any legitimate purpose the government would have to send an informant into our mosques to gather information indiscriminately, destroying the sanctity of our sacred space, and disrupting the peace, harmony, and cohesion of our community of faith.
Qazi hopes that this suit helps roll back the FBI’s intrusive and unlawful invasion of the Muslim community. Another way to help expose and challenge FBI abuses is to organize support for BORDC’s proposed local civil rights reforms, which include prohibitions to prevent local police from conducting similar activities without individualized suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.
The CAIR-ACLU suit addresses one of the larger issues in the “war on terror”: scapegoating Muslims. Last week, the practice attained new visibility in the form of hearings in the House Homeland Security Committee, in which Chairman Peter King (R-NY) pursued a show trial of Muslim-American communities amidst speculative and unfounded accusations that they have been disloyal to the US.
Meanwhile, reports emerged that police around the nation have received training that encourages profiling Muslims. These law enforcement strategies are not only ineffective, but also foster a widespread distrust of the FBI and discourage vulnerable communities from cooperating with authorities—an established practice that has proven critical time and time again to the government’s ability to stop potential threats.
For more information on the FBI’s violations of First Amendment rights, watch video of a recent panel discussion at the US House of Representatives in which BORDC’s Shahid Buttar discussed the FBI's historic COINTELPRO abuses and its continuing activities mirroring those programs today.
New Resources and Opportunities
Law professor Marjorie Cohn's newest anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, guides the reader through some of the most troubling and dark annals of US history. Her compilation features chapters from a wide range of professions, with contributions from lawyers, political scientists, and historians, including Sister Dianna Ortiz, Richard Falk, and Philippe Sands, among others. Each section of the book details a different aspect of US involvement in torture.
The anthology begins with several chapters detailing the history of American utilization of torture in the 20th century, beginning with the Central Intelligence Agency's queries into different interrogation techniques. Professor Cohn compares the CIA and KGB, which pursued strikingly similar tactics of extracting intelligence from human sources. The majority of Cohn's book focuses on US involvement in Latin America, with the training of right-wing military leaders as well as current American techniques of extraordinary rendition and aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects. Chapters often detail the actual acts of torture and the ramifications of these actions on a personal and wider political scale.
The United States and Torture explores torture in historical, philosophical, and legal contexts. The chapters flow smoothly, with the 14 sections contributing to a cohesive and insightful whole. Cohn and the contributors to the book effectively explore torture and criticize all of the administrations that have used these practices, Democrat and Republican alike.
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: Ari Cowan, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Asad Khan, Tavish MacLeod, and Emma Roderick
Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston