June 2011, Vol. 10, No. 6
In this issue:
- Patriot Award: Elena Herrada
- In Michigan, Detroit coalition will host public forum
- Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley stands up for civil rights
- Community forum for civil rights a success in Hartford, CT
- BORDC supports campaigns in Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Richmond, CA
- Get involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution
- Read the latest news and analysis on our blog
Law and Policy
- Courts allow police to enter homes without a warrant
- Department of Homeland Security cuts investigation of domestic terrorists
- Administration proposes extending FBI director’s term
- Updating digital privacy law
New Resources and Opportunities
- News digest: Help us hit 5,000 subscribers!
- Book review: Civilian or Combatant?
- Better This World documentary exposes FBI sting operations
Obama extends PATRIOT Act without new civil liberties protections as FBI claims more privacy-violating powers
Late at night on May 26, President Obama signed into law a four-year reauthorization of three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that had been set to expire. Despite vocal opposition from across the political spectrum and a filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a backroom bipartisan deal allowed the reauthorization to move forward. All amendments that would have added new civil liberties and privacy protections to the law were defeated.
We at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee are deeply disappointed in our Congress—whose leaders championed the PATRIOT Act in spite of the legislature’s constitutional obligations and, in many cases, against their own previously expressed views—as well as our president, who just two years ago ran a campaign based on promises to protect and restore civil liberties. But this will not end the public debate over domestic surveillance.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has already introduced a law to reform the PATRIOT Act, S. 1125, so there is still reason to hope that Congress will at least consider upholding its constitutional obligation to check and balance the Executive Branch. But even the Leahy bill would merely scratch at the surface.
And now, the FBI has gone even further in its efforts to expand its powers to violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans. In newly updated guidelines, the FBI claims the authority to rifle through people’s garbage and scrutinize the lives of individuals who pique their interest.
When presented with opportunities to protect constitutional rights, our federal government has consistently failed us, with Congress repeatedly rubber-stamping the executive authority to violate civil liberties long protected by the Constitution. While DC remains locked in familiar cycles, however, We the People can take the responsibility upon ourselves to restore and protect our rights.
We can do this in individual cities and towns across the country, requiring that our local governments and police departments not participate in constitutional violations. We can do this by meeting with our elected officials and holding them accountable for their decisions in the media and at the ballot box. And we can do this by educating each other, organizing across communities, and being the change we want to see in the world, in our country, and in our communities.
It just got easier for federal employees to support the Bill of Rights Defense Committee! Beginning this year, BORDC is an approved charity of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
CFC is the world's largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign, with more than 200 CFC campaigns throughout the country and internationally to help to raise millions of dollars each year.
As a CFC-approved charity, BORDC is eligible for direct contributions via payroll deduction for federal employees.
If you are a federal employee (whether civilian, postal, or military), please consider becoming a donor to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee through the CFC. To get started, contact your local campaign.
Over the past month, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar has crisscrossed the country to inform and mobilize diverse audiences. From the interfaith community at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s Building Bridges event near Seattle, WA, on May 21 to the diverse grassroots organizers from around the country who attended Turning the Tide in Arlington, VA from May 26-28, BORDC made clear to activists in multiple communities how national security and public safety policies have undermined everyone’s civil rights—and how grassroots coalitions across those communities can restore civil rights despite the federal bipartisan assault on our Constitution.
On June 1, Buttar participated in Accountability Today – Preventing Torture Tomorrow at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC. After reading excerpts from the congressional testimony of Canadian torture survivor Maher Arar, Buttar (joined by May 2011 Patriot Award winner Ted Stein from the Center for Torture Accountability) also shared a hip-hop performance at the reception similar to his closing comments at the Berkeley Week of Action Against torture last fall.
At the invitation of the Oregon Asian-Pacific American Bar Association, Buttar debated the US Attorney for Oregon on June 4 in Portland concerning FBI abuses. By the conclusion of the discussion, the government prosecutor conceded that FBI infiltrations lacking individualized suspicion are—as BORDC has long argued—illegitimate.
Finally, Buttar spoke in San Francisco on Wednesday, June 8, at a Continuing Legal Education course titled “Can your clients be prosecuted for thought crimes?”, which was co-sponsored by the Asian Law Caucus, the South Asian Bar Association's Civil Rights Committee, National Lawyers Guild-Bay Area, Afghan American Bar Association, Iranian American Bar Association-Northern California, Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, Asian American Bar Association, and the Charles Houston Bar Association. The event featured a rigorous discussion of FBI abuses and their implications for lawyers who represent clients targeted in investigations of speech or thought crimes.
Beyond Buttar’s various live appearances, he and other BORDC spokespeople have frequently offered media commentary for numerous print and broadcast outlets over the past month, including a debate about FBI privacy violations between Buttar and Michael Balboni, former homeland security adviser for the state of New York, on FOX & Friends on June 15.
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 honor Elena Herrada of Detroit, Michigan, for her work helping Mexican immigrants in her community. Elena is a key member of the group El Centro Obrero, which defends the rights of immigrants to the United States.
Elena began fighting for immigrants’ rights because her family dealt with the same struggles faced by the immigrants she helps today. Her grandparents moved to Detroit in the early 20th century, and despite being deported during the Great Depression, with hard work, lived out a life that has inspired Elena to dedicate herself to serving others confronting similar challenges.
Today, Elena serves El Centro Obrero as a member of the Board of Directors. The organization launched in 2006, after a massive march for immigrants’ rights that resulted in some people being fired from their jobs for attending. Elena and others started a group to support them and other Mexican and Latino immigrants in Detroit, who desperately needed someone to stand up for them. Although El Centro Obrero is not well-funded, the organization continues to have a major impact in the city of Detroit and has inspired other organizations around the country to emulate it.
It is amazing what Elena’s organization of only fifteen volunteers can accomplish. Their work assists with struggles in all parts of immigrants’ lives, from teaching English as a second language to maintaining a job or dealing with workplace injuries. Although, as Elena said, “immigration in Detroit changes too fast to plan for the future,” one thing is clear: Elena will continue to make a difference—not only for the hundreds of people she helps each year, but also the city of Detroit as a whole.
Thank you, Elena, for your inspiring work!
Detroit passed a resolution against racial profiling in 2007, but a coalition there is working to strengthen the existing policy. The coalition is organizing across diverse communities to mobilize support for a stronger city ordinance based on BORDC's Local Civil Rights Restoration Act. The ordinance will provide enforceable protections against racial profiling, warrantless surveillance, and local police participation in federal immigration enforcement.
At an event on Saturday, July 16, organizers will lead an education and mobilizing discussion exploring how the so-called “war on terror” affects communities of color as well as grassroots activists. A public forum will be held at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. The conditions of families and communities suffering under the “war on terror” will be highlighted as they share personal stories. Participants will discuss the criminal justice system’s repressive practices and erosion of civil liberties and human rights for African-American, Latino, South-Asian, Arab, Muslim, immigrant, and activist communities. Representatives from groups including the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression will lead the conversation.
BORDC is cosponsoring the event along with the Michigan Emergency Coalition Against War and Injustice, Families United for Justice in America, and the Justice for Shifa and Haris Support Committee.
If you or your organization are interested in joining the coalition, please contact BORDC Field Organizer George Friday.
The Preserving our Civil Rights campaign of Northampton, MA, remains in full swing, picking up endorsements and meeting with city councilors with the goal of passing local legislation modeled after BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act.
The campaign is also expanding: organizers hope to introduce similar legislation in Amherst this summer, before moving onto Greenfield, Holyoke, and Springfield in the fall. To get involved, contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.
On Saturday, June 11, the Hartford Civil Rights Coalition organized and held a community forum at the Parker Memorial Center to discuss threats to civil liberties and constitutional rights and how Hartford residents can defend them at the local level.
LaResse Harvey of A Better Way Foundation gave an overview of our current struggles and opportunities and Sandra Staub of the ACLU-CT talked about the PATRIOT Act, fusion centers, the Secure Communities program, and other federal policies that threaten our rights on a daily basis. Mongi Dhaouadi of the Council on American Islamic Relations of Connecticut spoke about the particular threats these programs pose to vulnerable communities. Hartford City Councilor and Minority Leader Luis Cotto wrapped up the program by encouraging Hartford residents to fight against these threats at the local level by supporting the Hartford Civil Rights Ordinance, modeled after BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act.
The coalition plans to hold similar events in the near future. To receive updates on this important effort, contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.
A local civil rights campaign supported by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee recently convened in Berkeley, CA, where allied organizations met with several local elected officeholders to strategize. BORDC also met with officials in Richmond, another small city in the East Bay area.
The Berkeley meeting included representatives from the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, UC-Berkeley student organizations, and the city’s Peace & Justice Commission, as well as BORDC. In addition to discussing local stories of rights abuses and plans for public events to raise awareness, attendees also reviewed the reform proposal passed by the Peace & Justice Commission in fall 2010, modeled on BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act.
Soon, BORDC will convene a coalition in Los Angeles featuring broad representation from the interfaith, civil liberties, immigrant rights, Muslim, Arab, South-Asian, Latino, and African-American communities of Southern California. For more information or to get involved, please contact BORDC Field Organizer George Friday.
Share BORDC’s action opportunities with your friends
BORDC relies on volunteers for crucial research, writing, and outreach projects. We actively develop 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. Even if you are not a teacher, please share the resources that BORDC has already compiled with teachers you know.
Tell us about your activities
Please send us information about your actions and events. We’re always eager to publicize efforts defending constitutional rights to help inform and inspire others.
Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:
- The battle over our privacy
- State secrets provisions and procedures are not changing
- America’s stance on torture
- DOJ playing hide and seek
Law and Policy
In the last month, two US courts have issued decisions dramatically eroding Fourth Amendment protections, allowing local law enforcement officers to enter private homes without a warrant.
On May 16, the US Supreme Court held in Kentucky v. King that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches when they kicked down a door because they believed that the occupants of the apartment were destroying evidence. Justice Ginsburg observed in her dissent that the decision “arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.”
On May 12 , the Indiana Supreme Court ruled on the case Richard L. Barnes v. State of Indiana. This case focused on Richard L. Barnes, who asserted Fourth Amendment rights after Mary Barnes (Richard’s wife) called the police about a domestic dispute reported as “domestic violence in progress.” When the police arrived at the house, Barnes did not allow the officers into the house, noting that they did not have a warrant. The police officers tried to enter the residence and a struggle ensued, during which Barnes was tasered and suffered an adverse reaction requiring a hospital visit. He ultimately faced four charges and was found guilty of three (battery on a police officer, resisting law enforcement, and disorderly conduct). He then appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The court ruled against Barnes 3-2 , finding that residents do not have the right to resist when police officers illegally enter their homes. The decision directly narrows the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Governor Mitch Daniels was “puzzled by” the ruling but also noted that the Court “[has] the last say.” In a dissenting opinion, Justice Dickinson wrote:
It would have been preferable, in my view, for the Court today to have taken a more narrow approach, construing the right to resist unlawful police entry, which extends only to reasonable resistance, by deeming unreasonable a person’s resistance to police entry in the course of investigating reports of domestic violence. Such a formulation would have been more appropriate for the facts presented and more consistent with principles of judicial restraint. Such a more cautious revision of the common law would have, in cases not involving domestic violence, left in place the historic right of people to reasonably resist unlawful police entry into their dwellings.
Many concerns have been raised in the wake of the ruling, the biggest of which is its invitation for police to invade the privacy of law-abiding Americans. As Justice Ginsburg asked in her opinion dissenting from Kentucky v. King, “How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?”
This month, US Army counter-terrorism veteran Daryl Johnson revealed new details about the Department of Homeland Security’s withdrawal of a controversial 2009 report classifying as “domestic extremists” conservative groups focused on issues like immigration and abortion, and also noting that violent extremists have been seeking to recruit military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, DHS “has cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups.”
Johnson, who has actively explored domestic counter-terrorism since age 14, arguably predicted Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City that, until 2001, was the country’s deadliest single instance of terrorism. After joining the Department of Homeland Security, Johnson served as the senior intelligence analyst for the domestic terrorism unit, leading a team of five analysts with a combined 50 years of experience in analyzing domestic extremism.
According to Johnson, “When the right-wing report was leaked and people politicized it, my management got scared and thought DHS would be scaled back. DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies. Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit.”
While some may leap to the conclusion that Johnson’s concerns reflect a progressive bias, he says, “They would have been shocked to know that I personify conservatism. I'm an Eagle Scout. I'm a registered Republican. I'm Mormon. In fact, I was helping the Boy Scouts with a fundraiser when I heard the report being attacked on the news.”
Excerpted from Why the FBI Needs New Leadership, by Shahid Buttar (May 21, 2011)
The last ten years have witnessed an assault on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, led largely by the FBI. Appointed mere days before the 9/11 attacks, Director Robert S. Mueller III has guided the bureau through the resurrection of many long discredited practices from its COINTELPRO era. Yet, the Obama administration has proposed extending Mueller’s term as FBI director. Congress should reject the proposal and insist on a nominee from outside the bureau to restore accountability, law and order. Just ask Nick Merrill in New York, Joe Iosbaker in Chicago or Ahmadullah Niazi in Los Angeles: three law-abiding Americans whose constitutional rights are among the casualties of the last decade.
The last time Congress extended the term of FBI director was in 1972, to keep J. Edgar Hoover in office. Years later, when the Church and Pike committees finally exposed the notorious counterintelligence program (also known as COINTELPRO), Congress discovered that Hoover presided over severe abuses for decades.
Repeating errors from Hoover’s discredited era hardly offers hope to restore law and order to the FBI. Given the bureau’s history as a recidivist agency notorious for recurring abuses of civil rights, why has the president proposed to extend the director’s term for the first time in nearly 40 years?
According to The Washington Post, the administration simply failed to get its act together in time: “The president’s request that Congress tinker with the 10-year term limit sets a bad precedent…. It may be the path of less resistance to retain an FBI director…. But staffing an administration on schedule is part of the president’s job.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) agreed that the proposed extension would be “a risky precedent to set. Thirty-five years ago, Congress limited the FBI director’s term to one 10-year appointment as an important safeguard against improper political influence and abuses of the past.”
The Post is correct that the proposed extension threatens the “integrity of the bureau,” and Grassley is right that the precedent is dangerous—although both ignored the bureau’s mounting failures and abuses. The president’s proposal appears only worse when placed in the context of Mueller’s tenure.
Like the now-infamous J. Edgar Hoover, Mueller has received widespread praise during his tenure for the bureau’s supposedly effective work under his leadership. It took a two-year Congressional investigation and tens of thousands of pages of records and testimony for the FBI’s dramatic abuses under Hoover to finally come to light. Mueller is no different; he has received praise from the administration and the Hill only because the FBI cloaks itself in secrecy, and the many communities raising their voices have been silenced by a mainstream press that has uncritically accepted the official narrative.
Rather than extend Mueller’s term, Congress should insist on a nominee from outside the bureau and heed the calls of former agents who have recommended “[a] wide-ranging Congressional investigation of the sort conducted by the Church Committee,” to uncover further abuses that remain secret. If Congress wants to pass legislation involving the FBI, rather than extend Mueller’s term, it should impose a legislative charter to restore law to a lawless domestic intelligence agency that has, yet again, run amok.
Today’s cell phones allow us to carry the Internet in our pockets. They also come with GPS technology that can pinpoint not only your current address, but even where in a particular building you are standing, tracking you from room to room.
This sort of tracking capacity (and today’s cultural attachment to technology) would have seemed Orwellian in 1986 when the Electronic Communications Privacy Act was initially passed. But 24 years later, technology has surpassed the ECPA and the potential violations of privacy its authors envisioned in 1986. Now a new bill, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), offers the chance to realign federal law with current technology and the public’s greatly expanded need for digital privacy protection.
In this sense, the proposed law is a substantial step forward. Technology laws must be regularly updated, particularly given the pace at which new technologies are developed and the associated increase in potential privacy invasions they make possible. The Leahy bill requires a warrant before police can seize email communications or begin real-time location tracking via cell phones. These limits are a necessary step forward for standardizing law enforcement practice and reasserting Fourth Amendment protections.
However, the proposal does not extend the warrant requirement over retrospective location tracking. Additionally, the incremental protections for privacy included in the proposed legislation would not apply in national security cases. This loophole offers a ready avenue for government agencies to circumvent privacy protections, whether in the airport, an interrogation room, or online.
Various members of the Digital Due Process Coalition have called the Leahy bill ‘a big leap forward’ or ‘a welcome first step.’ The Bill of Rights Defense Committee agrees and hopes this bill is the beginning of further protections for digital privacy protection. Senator Leahy’s proposed ECPA reforms are a necessary and long overdue beginning, but they should not be the end of this important process.
New Resources and Opportunities
Nearly three years ago, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee began compiling the most important civil liberties news into a daily email digest. A few hundred subscribers signed up within weeks, and within a year, more than 1,000 subscribers were receiving this daily dose of news and information.
Today, we are just a hair away from 5,000 news digest subscribers. Subscribe today and help us hit that mark!
Over the years, we’ve heard how helpful the news digest can be. Journalists regularly tell us that they use BORDC’s news digest as a source for story ideas. Others have described it as a convenient way to learn about current events that they might otherwise miss in the daily news cycle. Earlier this year, following an exchange with an elected official who claimed that civil rights violations don’t happen in his jurisdiction, a local organizer in Maryland shared with us how powerful the news digest can be:
I wish our county council would subscribe to BORDC's excellent daily news digest—then they'd see how violations of citizens’ rights are happening all over the country all the time.
We know that the amount of news bombarding us each day can be overwhelming. That’s why BORDC’s daily news digest is such a great resource—we distill the news of the day down to a few key articles so you can get the information you need and skip what you don’t. Subscribe today to stay on top of the latest in civil liberties.
Anicée Van Engeland's Civilian or Combatant? A Challenge for the 21st Century is the latest in a series of books discussing terrorism and global justice. The book brings international human rights to the forefront of a dialogue on war and violence. Van Engeland goes into great detail to address what defines a civilian and what in turn defines a combatant, delving into international law and the consequences that haunt prisoners of war, soldiers without uniform, and, above all, unarmed civilians.
The post-9/11 world has introduced an entirely new kind of warfare, one in which civilians have become targets and active participants in war are no longer easy to identify. The problems presented by terrorists who align themselves with no military, civilians who become party to military activity, and soldiers hindered by illness and other limitations are very real, as is the conundrum they present to modern international law. Describing the practice and slow evolution of the mechanics of warfare, Van Engeland's book serves primarily as a translation for those previously unfamiliar with international humanitarian law.
Identifying the issues confronting advocates for civilian rights, she discusses genocide, rape, and other violations of human rights in war, before concluding that while the laws set down by the Geneva Conventions serve as the basis for humanitarian law, they can do only so much to distinguish a civilian from a combatant. Though Van Engeland may offer only a basic presentation of the issues concerning civilians in war, she nevertheless covers the issue thoroughly.
The new award-winning film Better This World is a documentary about undercover FBI sting operations and their impact on political dissent. It will premiere in New York June 18-20, in the Washington, DC area June 22-23, and in Portland, OR, June 17-23.
Help BORDC restore the rule of law
- Get involved! Volunteer, organize, raise your voice—we have an opportunity that's right for everyone.
- Read our blog. We publish the latest civil liberties news, plus analysis beyond the headlines.
- Support our work! Contribute
securely online, call (413) 582-0110 to donate by phone, or mail a check or money order to:
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
- Follow BORDC on Facebook and Twitter. Connect with other supporters and help build the movement.
- Spread the word! Share this newsletter with your friends and family.
Contributors: Evelyn Crunden, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Kyle Howard-Rose, Liz Lesher, Emma Roderick, and Dylan Smith-Mayer
Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston