Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's E-mail Newsletter
October 2005, Vol. 4, No. 8
In This Issue:
- USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Debate Heats Up
- New Actions and Resources: Take Action on the 4th Anniversary of the PATRIOT Act, Tips for Building Local Networks
- Local Highlights: Lincoln Guantánamo Play Tours, NJ Activists Build Coalition
- Secrecy and Whistleblowers: Taking Action to Defend Freedom of Information, Whistleblower Protection Bill Inadequate
- In Brief: BORDC adds Meredith Gray to Staff,
9/11 "Time Warp" Hides True Debate, FBI Admits Wiretap Mistakes,
Coalition Asks Pentagon to Dump Recruiting Database
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee
needs your help!
Please make a tax-deductible contribution online, or mail a check or money order to:
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
Tomorrow morning, House members are expected to be named to the conference committee that will produce a compromise version of the House and Senate reauthorization bills. In the meantime, the staffs of Senate conferees and expected House conferees have been meeting to sort out the two bills, which passed before Congress’s August recess. President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and two Senate conferees from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AR) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), have been lobbying in favor of the House bill. Whereas the Senate bill (S. 1389) passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate unanimously, the House bill (H.R. 3199) was passed on a largely partisan vote after the House Rules Committee voted along party lines to prevent several promising amendments from reaching the floor for up or down votes.
However, on October 4, PATRIOT Act critics received a welcome boost from business organizations in the form of a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter and PATRIOT Act Conferees, calling for changes to the Act. In their letter, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Financial Services Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Realtors, and other groups expressed their support for the Senate bill’s reform of section 215 (Access to records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). They also asked that section 505 (National Security Letters) be changed to provide a meaningful right to challenge the orders and to require a showing of “reasonable suspicion linking the records to a terrorist, spy or other foreign agent.” Neither version of the reauthorization bill includes the latter revisions. Finally, they called for rejection of any proposal to allow “administrative subpoenas,” which would avoid “factual predicate and ... court approval.”
The business community’s concerns that motivated their letter included:
- Time and cost burdens placed on business for compliance and costly litigation associated with sections 215 and 505; and
- Fears of diminished reputation or even legal sanctions for violating privacy rights by complying with FBI requests for customer information under the PATRIOT Act.
What you can do: Continue to call your senators and representative and ask them to support the Senate bill and an amendment successfully introduced in the House by Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) calling for a government-wide survey of federal programs that use “pattern-based” data-mining mining to identify a “pattern indicating terrorist or criminal activity.”
- If you live in Arizona or Alabama, please call Senator Kyl at (202-224-4521) or Senator Sessions (202-224-4124), respectively, and ask him not to undercut the Senate bill for which he voted both in committee and in the full Senate by unanimous consent.
- Remind your senators and representative of the resolutions passed in their state or district and of the business community’s letter to the conferees, and stress the importance of ensuring that the debate in Congress be open and nonpartisan, as it has been in communities nationwide.
Share copies of the business groups’ letter with business associations in your community. Invite them to plan and participate in local meetings and forums about the PATRIOT Act and other threats to civil liberties. Suggest that the local Chamber of Commerce devote a meeting to how the PATRIOT Act affects business. Be prepared, if asked, to suggest a good speaker on the topic.
Remember that even the Senate bill falls far short of our objectives to restore civil liberties, which are not limited to amending the PATRIOT Act. Help us find ways to continue the education and movement building needed to accomplish those goals after the expected reauthorization.
Take Action on the 4th Anniversary of the PATRIOT Act!
On Saturday, October 26, 2001, George W. Bush signed the PATRIOT Act into law, ushering in four years of repressive laws and orders, which significantly impact our fundamental freedoms. Now, as Congress prepares to reauthorize the sections of the Act that were scheduled to sunset at the end of this year, community groups are planning to mark the fourth anniversary of the law in a range of ways that affirm the importance of upholding the Bill of Rights.
Here are some actions human rights and civil liberties groups have begun to plan for October 19-28. Join in as we assert our right to petition the government for redress of grievances (and other Constitutional guarantees)!
- Taking resolutions to city councils (Coupeville Peace Reconciliation Group - WA; Carolina Peace Resource Center/Living Room Group - SC)
- Participating in mock trials of Bush administration associates for war crimes (New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee and Not in Our Name - NY)
- Reading the Bill of Rights at city halls and libraries (South Valley Peace Center - Porterville and Visalia, CA) and on heavily trafficked street corners, with sandwich boards that clearly show which amendments have been cut or edited (Kansas City American Friends Service Committee and Sanctuary for Freedom/Civil Liberties Campaign - MO)
- Showing “Unconstitutional,” “Beyond the PATRIOT Act,” or other educational films (Grassroots South Dakota - Sioux Falls; New Jersey ACLU)
- Broadcasting educational programs on radio or television (Dallas, TX; Ashland, OR)
- Giving presentations at colleges and universities (New Jersey ACLU)
- Holding public forums (American Constitution Society - Dallas, TX; Grassroots South Dakota - Sioux Falls)
- Holding a funeral for the Bill of Rights to mourn the loss of fundamental rights due to the PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 policies. (New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign - NY)
- Planning local letter to the editor campaigns and/or placing opinion editorials (Austin Bill of Rights Defense Committee - TX; Mercer County Coalition for Civil Liberties - NJ)
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has created a toolkit to enhance local actions, which includes additional event suggestions and the following resources: several sample fliers, a sample press release, a model op-ed, and more.
Remember: December 15 is Bill of Rights Day, so start planning events for the holiday now!
Expanding the Grassroots Movement: Tips for Building Local Networks
The foundation of the Bill of Rights defense movement is shaped by the alliances we build locally. Peace and social justice groups, conservative allies, threatened communities, college and university students, church groups, business leaders – all those who have a stake in protecting freedoms established in the Bill of Rights can agree on its fundamentals.
When we convince city councilors, state legislators, and members of Congress to stand up for the Bill of Rights, we win important victories. When we organize ordinary people – our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and new allies to defend civil liberties, we are building toward even larger victories. By increasing our networks and expanding the movement at the grassroots level, we are not only increasing the effectiveness of our local campaigns, but also assuring that civil liberties will be appreciated and defended for many years to come. Here are some tips for successful community-building that we’ve learned from experience and from local groups across the country:
- Make connections within your community: If you are involved in a local group, reach out to other groups in your community, attend their meetings, and ask to display information about the Bill of Rights and your group’s upcoming activities at their events. Reciprocate when your group holds events. Try to be as inclusive as possible when enlarging your networks – people of all political persuasions, faiths, and backgrounds are concerned about civil liberties. Use the letter to Congress from prominent business groups to reach out to business leaders and groups in your community.
- Reach out to threatened communities: We can solidify the rights of all of us by ensuring that those most threatened by restrictive post-9/11 laws and orders are not forgotten. The connection itself may actually serve to protect those most vulnerable from local backlash, and even from overzealous federal authorities. At minimum, establishing contacts with local mosques and Muslim communities serves as notice that individuals cannot be isolated into a fringe that can be easily attacked. If there is a detention center in your area, you can use the model that the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee has pioneered in challenging abuses.
- Network with other civil liberties groups: Form a coalition with other groups throughout your state that are working on civil liberties issues. Coordinate your efforts to pressure members of Congress, and consider working toward larger goals, such as a state resolution. If other communities in your immediate area are silent on the issues, organize events or take speaking gigs in other towns to spark interest. By working with others in your state, you can increase the effectiveness of each local campaign and broaden the movement to defend the Bill of Rights. Contact BORDC (email@example.com, 413-582-0110) for help finding other organizations in your state or region.
Below are two examples of local groups who are successfully expanding their networks and reaching out to new communities. We hope you find their stories educational and inspiring. Please share your stories with us as well: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guantánamo Play Reading Expands Networks
Sixteen people from the Lincoln (NE) Bill of Rights Defense Committee transformed their own faces and voices into those of Guantánamo detainees, their family members, prison guards, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in three public readings of the play “Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.”
The power of human storytelling is now rippling out to other Nebraska communities. After the second reading, a member of the Unitarian Church in Omaha asked the group to bring the reading 58 miles northeast to the capital city.
The LBRDC plans to reach out beyond Lincoln borders, especially after having invested time, materials, and energy into getting comfortable with their roles. “People in the cast were touched personally by the personal stories,” said co-director Malcolm Miles. “The fact that we did it multiple times – the personal stories of these detainees got ingrained in us.”
New Jersey Activists Build a Successful Coalition
Momentum is a physics term, referring to a quality of motion, and a group of activists in New Jersey has become a living definition of the word momentum. Following the passage of three local civil liberties resolutions in Mercer County (NJ) in 2003 and 2004, community members who worked on those resolutions formed the Mercer County Coalition for Civil Liberties (MCCCL), a coalition of approximately 10 different community groups, to begin working toward a county resolution. In September of 2004, the Mercer County Board of Freeholders unanimously passed a resolution upholding the rights of Mercer County residents and expressing concern about the constitutionality of the PATRIOT Act.
Not satisfied with these resolutions alone, the MCCCL continued to expand their efforts. They identified active members of their surrounding communities and began working with them to initiate more resolution campaigns. In the following months, West Windsor (Mercer County) and New Brunswick (Middlesex County) joined the list of municipalities that have passed civil liberties resolutions.
MCCCL also took the lead in a state resolution campaign, which is still underway. The coalition continues to pick up new energy by reaching out to new people and working with other nearby communities. To get involved in the coalition, or for more information, contact MCCCL at email@example.com.
Taking Action to Defend Freedom of Information
OpenTheGovernment.org's recent report
on the growing secrecy of the U.S. government noted that Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) requests increased 25% in 2004, which indicates
that Americans are chafing at the lack of government openness. In
New York City, artist Jenny Holzer recently took the issue to the
streets. She created an outdoor exhibit in which declassified government
documents, now available to the public under FOIA, were projected
onto the side of public buildings, such as the Bobst Library at New
York University (NYU). Some of the documents contained blacked-out
sections still not available to the public. The NYU newspaper reports
that the exhibit raised awareness of government secrecy and stimulated
interest and concern. One student remarked, "It’s a little
bit disturbing to see these papers. I don’t think I would’ve
looked at them this closely had they not been up here." Read
the 10/12 Washington
Square News article for more.
What you can do: Learn how to make your own FOIA request, using the Committee on Government Reform's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records.
Whistleblower Protection Bill Inadequate, Does Not Include National Security Employees
On September 29, by a vote of 34–1, the House Government Reform Committee approved H.R. 3097 (formerly H.R. 1317), the Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act. The bill is set to strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees and expand coverage to federal contract employees and airport screeners; however, the bill does not protect employees at intelligence agencies or the FBI. A proposed amendment to add such protections was struck down, and the bill will go to the full House without this important addition. Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) led opposition to the amendment, claiming they didn’t know enough about the issue to vote on it. Despite this “lack of knowledge,” the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition was repeatedly refused a hearing to explain why national security employees need full whistleblower protections.
Sibel Edmonds, president and founder of the Coalition, has emphasized that the failure to protect national security whistleblowers “damages everyone’s civil liberties because it invites greater repressive action by the government on its employees, which limits effectiveness in the national security area,” putting everyone at risk. To learn more, see the 10/5 Federal Times article and visit the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition website.
What you can do: Contact Congressman Tom Davis, Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee: c/o Mr. Jim Moore, phone (202) 225-5074; fax (202) 225-3971; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; contact other members of the Committee, in particular the majority members (contact details may be found here). Let them know that their failure to protect national security whistleblowers is unacceptable.
BORDC Adds Meredith Gray to Staff
BORDC is pleased to announce that Meredith Gray joined our staff on September 27 as an administrative and development assistant. She provides office and technical support, updates BORDC's website, coordinates intern and volunteer work, and assists with fundraising efforts. She is also the managing editor of this publication.
9/11 "Time Warp" Hides True Debate
Constant reminders of 9/11, with periodic boosts from terrorist attacks abroad, are fueling Congress's imminent reauthorization of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions, without proof that the expiring provisions or any post-9/11 laws and policies are needed or have been effective. Three vignettes suggest how the administration avoids debate on this issue.
In September, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Porter Goss finally released a report to Congress, completed in 2002, on the agency's pre-9/11 failures, but he is keeping it classified. The Republican chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have joined Democrats in urging Goss to make the report public. Read the 9/18 Reuters article.
In President Bush's policy address on October 6, he claimed that the U.S. and allies had successfully foiled 10 al Qaeda plots. The press was skeptical, and the story fizzled after the White House put out the list. Among the three attacks that were to take place on U.S. soil was Jose Padilla's "dirty bomb" attack. (See the 10/8 Los Angeles Times article.) Padilla's alleged plans, which led to his designation as a U.S. citizen "enemy combatant," were replaced long ago by the claim that he had been planning gas leaks to blow up apartment buildings, and most recently that he had fought in Afghanistan against the U.S.
Finally, the administration has used 9/11 to justify cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. Neal Mackay's 10/16 story in the Sunday Herald supports the notion that harsh treatment is used to force victims to back administration claims, not to obtain valid information. Here is an excerpt from Mackay's story about the "rendition" of Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi:
They then coached him in how to make a statement against himself and Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber”.
“They said ‘this is the story that Washington wants’. It was about a ‘dirty bomb’. I was meant to steal the parts and build it with Padilla in New York. I didn’t even know what a dirty bomb was ... I could not understand and got it wrong. They hung me up for 10 days, almost non-stop.”
FBI Admits Wiretap Mistakes
The FBI recently admitted to intercepting the wrong telephone conversations in their wiretap investigations aimed at combating terrorism. Since the PATRIOT Act passed in 2001, new FBI capabilities such as the “roving wiretap” have raised concerns about the bureau’s growing power. A new report states that an unknown number of calls were recorded from the wrong source “due to technical problems.”
In 2004, FISA courts granted warrants for 1,754 secret searches and wire taps. The FBI does not have to notify the target of the investigation for up to one year. Although they cannot use any mistakenly collected information in court, it is largely believed that this material influences investigations. For more information, see the 9/30 New York Times article.
Coalition Asks Pentagon to Dump Recruiting Database on Privacy Grounds
More than one hundred national, state, and local organizations including BORDC and several groups with whom we work sent a letter today to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the oversight and appropriations committees for the Department of Defense (DOD), seeking an end to a database recruitment project called the Joint Advertising and Market Research Studies (JAMRS) Recruiting Database. The database unduly compromises the privacy of 30 million U.S. residents between the ages of 16 and 25. The military is contracting with private companies to amass a comprehensive database that may be used for nonmilitary purposes for the rest of the students' lives. Read 10/18 Washington Post article for more information.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Meredith Gray, Administrator
Jessie Baugher, East Region Organizer
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Ashley Nash-Hahn, Intern
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
To unsubscribe, send a message to email@example.com with "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the Subject line. If you have received this message as a forward (the "From" address is anything other than firstname.lastname@example.org), you must respond to the sender directly.
To subscribe, go to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's web site and click on the Subscribe link on the left.