July 2011, Vol. 10, No. 7
In this issue:
- BORDC joins human rights groups challenging government secrecy on waterboarding
- Summer interns join BORDC
- BORDC in the news
- Patriot Award: Luis Cotto
- Diverse coalition convenes in Los Angeles
- BORDC supports activism in Detroit
- DC Coalition to Police the Police launches in our nation’s capital
- Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign hosts "Civil Write-In," expands to more towns in Western Massachusetts
- Hartford organizers refine proposal to focus on surveillance
- Miami activists oppose new immigrant detention center
- Get involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution
- Read the latest news and analysis on our blog
Law and Policy
- DOJ gives a free pass to most torturers
- 2010 report shows increase in wiretaps
- Coalition sends letters to House and Senate opposing E-Verify
- FBI working with S-COMM in plot to establish biometrics for citizens and immigrants alike
New Resources and Opportunities
- Video: The unPATRIOTic Act and COINTELPRO 2.0
- Book Review: State Power and Democracy by Andrew Kolin
Over the past ten years, FBI Director Robert Mueller has overseen extensive privacy violations and abuses of constitutional rights. This new six-minute video helps explain some parts of the problem:
Yet, even though the FBI has never addressed these ongoing and expanding problems, President Obama has asked Congress to extend the director’s term for the first time since the COINTELPRO era, when Director J. Edgar Hoover used the FBI's power to spy on Martin Luther King Jr. and others whose politics he didn't like. And Congress seems ready to do as the president has asked.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, along with a coalition of nearly 40 allied organizations from across the political spectrum, is calling on members of Congress to vote against the extension of Mueller’s term and finally conduct long overdue oversight to restore constitutional rights. Will you join us?
Given the long list of abuses by the FBI under Director Mueller’s leadership, the Bureau needs a change. Let your members of Congress know that you’re watching, even if they haven't been.
Add your name to our letter today and share the video with your friends.
Thank you for raising your voice!
Over the past several months, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee has worked with various human rights groups to challenge the United States government’s decision to keep waterboarding a secret. President Obama has publicly acknowledged that waterboarding is torture and thus a serious violation of the law. Not only is waterboarding against every international human rights law, but it even violates our own laws here in the US. The CIA is currently keeping all information pertaining to waterboarding classified, but it is essential to open this information up to the public because the American people can’ t let their own government get away with breaking the law.
On June 10, 2011, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Brennan Center for Justice, ACLU and several other human rights organizations urged an appeals court to overturn a decision allowing the government to keep information about its use of waterboarding secret. The original decision, ACLU vs. Department of Defense, used the Freedom of Information Act to request access to the CIA’s information on waterboarding and other torture methods used by the United States. But in October 2010, a federal judge ruled “that the CIA had authority under Freedom of Information Act to withhold the information because it relates to intelligence methods.” This decision was a loss for the ACLU but the groups hope the appeal of this decision will allow these documents on torture see the light of day.
“The CIA has a long history of engaging in illegal or improper activity behind a shield of secrecy, something Congress has tried to deter through FOIA and other critical oversight legislation,” said Emily Berman, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Although secrecy may be necessary to protect legitimate methods of intelligence gathering, concealing illegal CIA conduct such as waterboarding subverts the rule of law and undermines our democratic process.”
It is this clear injustice in the American system that drives organizations like the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to stand up for constitutional rights.
This summer, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee is fortunate enough to have six capable interns working with us in various parts of the country.
Three of our interns are based in our national office in Northampton, MA. Sarah Berlin is a senior at Carleton College, majoring in American Studies with a concentration in Women's and Gender Studies, who is working on grassroots organizing tactics and blogging during her time with BORDC. Evelyn Crunden is a junior at Smith College. At BORDC, she works on the news digest and blog, as well as on social networking strategies. Kyle Howard-Rose is a third year student at Hampshire College; during her internship, she is writing for the blog and supporting local grassroots campaigns. At Hampshire, she studies political theory, American legal history, and critical media studies in a self-designed major titled "(Re)presenting 21st Century America."
Sarah, Evelyn, and Kyle are working closely with Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick and a coalition including the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts and the ACLU of Massachusetts on the “Preserving Our Civil Rights” campaigns in Northampton and nearby Amherst. They recently organized and hosted a creative “Civil Write-In” action as part of that campaign.
BORDC’s other interns are Liz Lesher in New Orleans, LA; Naji Mujahid in Washington, DC; and Dylan Smith-Mayer in Amherst, MA.
Liz just finished her 1L year at Tulane Law School, and is spending her summer with BORDC focusing on legal research about state pre-emption principles and supporting our local organizing efforts, particularly in New Orleans and the Southeast.
Naji is a journalist, activist, and student who co-hosts "Voices with Vision," a weekly radio program on WPFW-Pacifica. His activism deals primarily with the plight of political prisoners in the United States, the link between the COINTELPRO tactics of the 1960s and today, and the rise of fascism in the US. He plans to attend law school next fall. While working with BORDC, Naji is organizing a civil rights campaign in the nation’s capital with the DC Coalition to Police the Police as well as conducting congressional outreach .
Dylan is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst majoring in political science. His primary academic focuses are civil liberties and international relations. During his time with BORDC, Dylan is writing for the blog and newsletter and assisting with several research projects.
Numerous print, online, radio and television news outlets have featured BORDC’s work this month. BORDC’s Shahid Buttar wrote an opinion-editorial, "Do not extend the FBI director’s term," that appeared in over a dozen print and online outlets in June. Around the same time, Shahid appeared on FOX and Friends to debate recently revised FBI guidelines with a former Homeland Security official, explaining that the new guidelines do in fact allow the FBI more leeway to violate individual privacy. And an article by summer intern Sarah Berlin was recently published by The Huffington Post.
To see BORDC’s latest appearances in the media, check out our press archives.
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 Luis Cotto of Hartford, CT, for his contribution to protecting and defending civil liberties.
Luis was introduced to the world of activism at a young age through the Liberation Theology branch of Catholicism, where he was taught to “practice what you preach.” It was through his church that he learned about human rights abuses around the world. Luis then started to participate in rallies and protests all over Connecticut addressing human rights and national security issues. His activist work continued throughout his youth and adulthood when he worked at the Provisions Library in Washington, DC, where he was awakened to other issues in the world that re-inspired his activism on a number of issues including labor rights, immigration rights, and international worker rights.
Luis currently serves as the minority leader of the Hartford City Council in Connecticut. He wanted to give underrepresented communities a voice and was inspired to run for office by people before him who ran unsuccessfully on platforms that he supported. Luis is part of a coalition that has been working for nearly a year on to pass BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act (LCRRA). That coalition includes representatives from BORDC, A Better Way Foundation, ACLU of CT, CAIR of CT, and the National Lawyers Guild. Although the issues addressed by the LCRRA—racial profiling, intelligence collection, and federal immigration enforcement by local police—are largely national issues, they resonated with him as a municipal leader.
Particularly with regard to racial profiling, he says, “Pursuing reforms just made sense.” His passion for bottom-up and grassroots organizing helped inspire the diverse and passionate movement that emerged in Hartford. That desire to make real change is what sealed the deal for Luis on joining the Hartford LCRRA campaign.
Luis works hard to make sure that he represents what he would want to see in office—a person who navigates groups around city hall’s obstacles and creates change sought by activist groups: “It really helps to have people work with you at city hall and you need someone to listen. I want to be that person.” For instance, he has helped to pass an ordinance that protects the rights of immigrants when they seek city services, as well as a “Ban the Box” ordinance to expand employment opportunities for rehabilitated ex-offenders.
Luis’ work across various issues embodies BORDC’s multifaceted campaigns to restore the rule of law. His focus on helping spark grassroots campaigns and working with community members offers a compelling example to any activist who aspires to affect national issues by starting at home. His enthusiasm for civil rights and the LCRRA really goes to show that city councilors and local politicians can help to protect rights that are being eroded at the national level by changing them at the local level. Luis has also worked as an arts administrator with The Hartford Stage Company, the Wadsworth Athenaeum, and Real Arts Way among other Hartford cultural institutions.
BORDC salutes Luis Cotto, and thanks him for his relentless support for constitutional rights.
Late last month, the Youth for Justice Coalition hosted BORDC as leaders from the civil liberties, immigrant rights, peace and justice, interfaith, Muslim, Latino, and African-American communities came together at Chuco’s Justice Center in South Central Los Angeles to begin building a local civil rights restoration campaign.
The coalition—which includes more than a dozen organizations from across Los Angeles—identified the benefits for different constituencies of a broad-based campaign and set plans to host a series of public educational forums over the next few months in different neighborhoods. The coalition’s city-wide education initiative will also include collecting and sharing stories about individuals and families who have been affected by profiling, intelligence collection, and immigration enforcement, as well as developing and distributing public education materials. They plan to approach the city council and county board in the fall.
To get involved in the Los Angeles campaign, contact Field Organizer George Friday.
On Saturday, July 16, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar will deliver the keynote address at a forum in Detroit called “Resisting Profiling, Preemptive Prosecution, and Prisoner Abuse: A Citizens’ Hearing to Confront Repression of Human Rights and Civil Liberties by the Criminal Justice System.”
The event, which will be held at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center in Detroit, MI, will bring together diverse groups to explore the intersections between the civil rights issues confronting different communities. The event will also introduce the opportunity presented by a broad-based reform proposal to address these diverse issues in a single campaign. Success in achieving civil rights reforms in Detroit, as in any other city, depends on building and sustaining a broad network of groups to work together, and this event is planned to strengthen that network in the city.
The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms is sponsoring the event, with co-sponsors including BORDC, the Islamic House of Wisdom, US Human Rights Network, Michigan Emergency Coalition Against War and Injustice (MECAWI), American Friends Service Committee-Michigan Criminal Justice Program, Families United For Justice In America (FUJA), Council on American Islamic Relations-CAIR-MI, Justice For Shifa and Haris Support Committee, Project SALAM, Friends of Human Rights, Muslim Center of Detroit, and the Peace Education Center.
For more information about the Detroit campaign, contact Field Organizer George Friday.
The DC Coalition to Police the Police initially came together earlier this summer, to respond to an incident of police misconduct when a homeless, wheelchair-bound man was pulled from his chair and beaten by law enforcement officers. Addressing just this one incident, however, is only part of the group’s mission.
The coalition has met on a weekly basis over the last month, set workgroups to focus on different aspects of their purpose, and hosted public events in the nation's capital. It already includes participants from neighborhood residents, faith organizations, immigrant communities, and the NAACP and National Lawyers Guild. The group’s ultimate goal is to build community-guided accountability across the different law enforcement agencies in Washington, DC. A local civil rights restoration campaign will be a centerpiece of the coalition's efforts moving forward.
For more information about the Detroit campaign, contact Field Organizer George Friday.
Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign hosts "Civil Write-In," expands to more towns in Western Massachusetts
On June 29, organizers from Northampton's Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign held a "Civil Write-In" to educate Northampton residents about their proposed reforms (modeled after BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act) and focus Northampton city councilors on residents’ support for them. Organizers gathered at the Northampton Unitarian Society for dinner and a brief teach-in, then signed postcards in support of the proposed reforms and created artwork that answered the question, "What do civil rights mean to you?" When dinner was over, the entire group showcased more than 500 postcards and a large amount of civil rights artwork on the steps of City Hall.
The event was covered by the Daily Hampshire Gazette as well as several other independent local media outlets. Organizers are now at work planning a civil rights trivia night in the coming weeks.
Organizers of the Preserving our Civil Rights campaign in Northampton include BORDC, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts. The coalition has also begun meeting with concerned residents of Amherst, a nearby town, who are interested in securing similar local reforms to end civil rights abuses. The campaign organizers, in conjunction with long-time civil rights leaders in Amherst, are planning to host a meeting for interested organizations and individuals in early August.
To get involved in either of these campaigns, contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.
Following a successful community forum in mid-June, organizers in the Hartford Civil Rights Coalition are planning a further series of forums throughout the city to educate Hartford residents on the important surveillance and privacy issues that affect all of us—whether we know it or not. As the dates for these forums are set, we'll share details with supporters in the area.
To get involved in the Hartford campaign, contact BORDC Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has proposed a new detention facility in South Florida that, with the capacity to house 1,800 detainees, would more than double the size of any current facility in the state. Civil and immigrants’ rights groups have joined with interfaith and community leaders to halt construction of such a facility in all three of the proposed locations: Florida City (Miami Dade County) Southwest Ranches (Broward County) and Belle Glade (Palm Beach County).
The coalition includes BORDC partners who will conduct outreach and educational hearings about racial and national origin profiling in the three proposed neighborhoods. Recognizing the need for taking proactive measures, the coalition will also launch a broad-based local civil rights restoration campaign pursuing goals including privacy protections to restore the rights of citizens and immigrants alike.
For more information about civil rights opportunities in South Florida, 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:
- Cloud computing not safe from PATRIOT Act
- Common ties: the links between America’s mistakes then and now
- The British phone-hacking scandal and the PATRIOT Act
- Georgia anti-immigration bill mirrors material support statute
Law and Policy
Almost two years ago, Obama's Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, opened an investigation into the CIA to determine the extent to which torture was used and whether prosecutions are warranted. This was after the Inspector General of the CIA absolved the agents involved in over a dozen instances of alleged torture.
Special Prosecutor John Durham was given the responsibility to lead the DOJ investigation, expanding his mandate from his previous investigation into the deliberate destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations. On June 30, Holder announced that Durham's preliminary investigation was complete. Durham, after looking into at least 101 known cases (and perhaps more kept secret), concluded that only two justified further investigation and prosecution. The Justice Department is whitewashing the issue and blaming scapegoats while placing senior officials above the law.
The two particular cases that the Justice Department plans to pursue involved the 2003 death of Manadel al-Jamadi, also known as “the Iceman,” who was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and died from asphyxiation after suffering a severe beating. The other involved Gul Rahman, who was held at the secret prison known as the “Salt pit” in Kabul, Afghanistan. Rahman froze to death after having been stripped and chained to a concrete floor naked overnight in the winter in what is known as the “cold cell” interrogation technique.
This investigation was hampered from the beginning by the legal standard to which officials were being held, absolving those who acted “in good faith” in direct violation of the principles established at the Nuremberg Trials. In 2003, the Bush administration manufactured guidelines that allowed the CIA to engage in torture under the euphemism “enhanced interrogation.” The now-infamous torture memos were intended to provide legal cover for the government to violate domestic and international law.
None of the people responsible for approving torture techniques or writing the policies that perverted human rights laws are being investigated—not Bush or Cheney, nor Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, or George Tenet, nor torture memo authors John Yoo, Stephen Bradbury, or Jay Bybee (who is now a federal appellate judge). Instead, only a handful of low-level scapegoats will be prosecuted (as they should be) while prestigious former officials retain their power and prestige.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak stated, “The evidence is sitting on the table... There is no avoiding the fact that this was torture.” Furthermore, he advocated that the Obama administration fulfill its obligation to “bring George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld before a court.”
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch issued a report calling on the Obama administration to order a criminal investigation into allegations that the Bush administration authorized the use of torture against detainees. Human Rights Watch lawyers say there is enough evidence to name four top-level Bush administration officials in a war crimes investigation: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet.
Given these considerations, the artificial limits of Durham's investigation are pitiable—it is little more than a smokescreen obscuring the larger issue. So long as Bush administration officials continue to evade justice for grave abuses of human rights, torture will remain an available policy option, and the legitimacy of our nation's criminal justice system will suffer.
The newly-released 2010 Wiretap Report , made available to the general public a few weeks ago, has revealed a few alarming trends that have sparked reactions from privacy activists all over the US. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC) reports that, compared to the number initially reported in 2009, the data released in the most recent report indicates a 34 percent increase in the number of federal and state applications made for “orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications.”
Covering intercepts between January 1 and December 31, 2010, the current report reveals that a total of 3,194 applications were authorized. Federal authorities were granted 1,207 applications and an additional 1,987 applications were authorized to as many as 25 states, with California, New York and New Jersey accounting for 68 percent of all applications approved by state judges. Only one application was denied.
Other alarming trends include a heavy concentration on “portable device[s]” such as cell phones and pagers, which are now the preferred mode of communication for most callers. A total of 96 percent of all intercepts were for “portable device[s]” and the most common surveillance method appears to have been wire surveillance (land line, cellular, cordless, and mobile devices). A full 97 percent of all intercepts in 2010 were telephone wiretaps. The growing number of incidents related to cell phone surveillance is alarming, pointing to expanding invasions of privacy about which the public is not fully informed.
More serious still, despite the fact that the government claims these powers are necessary for counterterrorism, the vast majority (84 percent) of intercept applications were related to drug investigations. The government is justifying its wiretapping powers on national security grounds, but using them to fight the war on drugs—and then outrageously claiming that anti-terror laws enabling these wiretaps, such as the recently renewed USA PATRIOT Act, cannot be reformed or repealed without placing national security at risk.
In addition to the new immigration law in Alabama and the continuing controversy over Secure Communities (S-COMM), another anti-immigration measure called E-Verify is raising serious concerns about privacy from advocacy groups, including BORDC.
E-Verify is an Internet-based system that helps businesses determine the immigration status of their employees. Currently, only four percent of employers in the United States use it, but Rep. Lamar Smith introduced a bill on June 14, 2011, that would make E-Verify mandatory for all American employers.
On the surface, this may seem like a good way to deter undocumented immigration and hold employers accountable. However, as the ACLU noted, the database is extremely prone to error, which means that even citizens and documented immigrants could be denied work because of a mistake on their record. This could happen to an estimated 770,000 people if E-Verify were made mandatory for all employers.
Anyone with a mistake on their record would have to go through a time-consuming process of correcting it (which may or may not be successful) when they never did anything wrong to begin with. According to the Center for American Progress, E-Verify only catches 46 percent of unauthorized workers, so it does not even accomplish its goal of keeping undocumented immigrants out of the workforce. Finally, since E-Verify includes photos and driver’s license information, it could function as a national identity system, which increases the chances of both identity theft and surveillance.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has signed coalition letters sent to the House and the Senate urging members of Congress to preserve privacy rights by opposing the bill that would make E-Verify mandatory.
News broke recently that seems to be more appropriate to an Orwellian novel than the real world. Documents were released in the course of the legal battle over the misleadingly named “Secure Communities Initiative” (S-COMM) that lay out a secret government plot to force biometric identification on an unsuspecting public.
S-COMM is a policy that requires local police departments to pass arrest data such as fingerprints to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a supposed effort to deport criminal undocumented immigrants. However, the program has been responsible for deporting hundreds of thousands of likely innocent people before they ever see a judge on the charge for which they were arrested. Moreover, immigration enforcement is not S-COMM’s sole purpose.
After local jurisdictions around the country decided to withhold arrest data from ICE, the FBI stepped in to share that data over the objections of local governing bodies. The documents released last week reveal that, in fact, the FBI helped developed S-COMM as the first in a line of biometric programs which will be unveiled in the next five years.
Essentially, immigrants are being used as bait to secretly establish a national ID system using people's bodies instead of cards. Deploying S-COMM around the country, the FBI and ICE aim to co-opt local law enforcement and prepare a future of “biometric interoperability systems.” S-COMM, by focusing on immigrants or perceived immigrants, will allow the FBI to slowly warm the water of invasive biometric tracking and normalize procedures which might otherwise seem disturbing.
It is also clear from internal documents that the FBI is aware that S-COMM is contrary to constitutional protections and troubling to local authorities concerned about their constituents’ civil rights. Further, there are some indications that the Department of Homeland Security would violate its own internal standards by storing information on American citizens.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have actively misled local jurisdictions about whether S-COMM is mandatory or whether states and municipalities can opt-out, as several around the country have attempted to do. The FBI initially suggested it was a voluntary program, but it has now come to light that it is functionally (if not formally) mandatory.
The prospect of an S-COMM-based biometric database is terrifying. At the very least, any such system of biometrics would be susceptible, as all databases are, to hacking and identity theft. At the worst, biometrics could function as a form of national tracking and effectively end any possibility of anonymity or personal privacy. The FBI's secrecy and duplicity surrounding S-COMM are among the many concerns motivating BORDC’s campaign against the extension of the FBI director’s term.
New Resources and Opportunities
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has just released a six-minute documentary-style video about the FBI’s civil liberties and privacy abuses under the USA PATRIOT Act and Attorney General’s Guidelines over the past decade. The video features former FBI special agents, former CIA agents, the former chief prosecutor for the Guantánamo Bay military commissions, and other experts connecting the dots and explaining just how bad the situation has become.
Check out the video—then take action and tell your friends!
In State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush, Andrew Kolin traces the history of American authoritarianism from the nation’s founding to the beginning of the Obama administration. Kolin shows that government surveillance, violence, and disregard for civil liberties were hardly new developments in the Bush administration, but actually long-standing characteristics of the United States’ domestic and foreign policies. Throughout all periods of US history, the government has increased its power by persecuting dissenters, from the witch hunts against Communists during the Cold War to the FBI’s infiltration of civil rights groups.
Kolin points out that “by the time Bush took office in 2000, there was not much democracy left to speak of.” Amidst the shock and fear created by 9/11, the Bush administration used the threat of terrorism to build the ultimate police state in which all people were under constant surveillance, torture was used indiscriminately, and wars were fought to assert the nation’s power.
Although President Obama has done little to fundamentally alter the system he inherited from Bush, Kolin offers some hope, suggesting (despite recent news to the contrary) that Obama can start making progress by prosecuting war crimes. Kolin also insightfully urges concerned Americans to organize movements based on their outrage in order to rebuild a true democracy in this country. This book is a fascinating and thorough history of American state power and the forces that created the world we live in today.
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Contributors: Sarah Berlin, Evelyn Crunden, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Kyle Howard-Rose, Liz Lesher, Naji Mujahid, Emma Roderick, and Dylan Smith-Mayer
Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston