Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
March 2008, Vol. 7, No. 2
In this issue:
- Building a People's Campaign for the Constitution: Public Forums: Community Groups Keep Up the Pressure on Legislators through Face-to-Face Meetings in Portland, ME; Hadley, MA; and New York, NY
- Legislation: The Beauty of Warrants; Congress Stands Up to Bush on Torture, While McCain Sides with Bush; State Secrets Bill Would Limit Government Shutdown of Court Cases
- Grassroots News: Marin County, CA - Ordinance to Require California Municipalities to Consider National Resolutions; Orange County, CA - League of Women Voters Hosts Impeachment Panel April 5; Los Angeles, CA and Portland, ME - Community Members Defend Right to Dissent
- In Brief: Sunshine Week; Stop Supporting the Telecoms that Break the Law; Justice Department Reveals Internal Review of Torture Practices
- Film and Book Reviews: Taxi to the Dark Side, Academy Award winning film directed by Alex Gibney; Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side, a book by Clive Stafford Smith
- BORDC News: BORDC Seeks Summer 2008 Intern; BORDC Needs Volunteers
Matching Grant Funds Still Available!
Doubling your support of BORDC's work to restore civil liberties is easy this year. Your gift - or additional gift - can be matched by funds remaining from the generous $40,000 challenge grant we received last fall from the Open Society Institute.
To contribute funds or stock online, click here, or mail a check or money order to:
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
We at BORDC have felt encouraged by congressional representatives' recent refusal to surrender our civil liberties in response to the Bush administration's politics of fear. (Read "The Beauty of Warrants" in this issue for more on the House-White House clash over telecom immunity.) As House leadership has stated, Congress's responsibilities include oversight of the executive branch. If we want Congress to fulfill its duties, we'll have to say so - as loudly and as clearly as we can.
We have been hearing from more and more of you that you believe a People's Campaign for the Constitution is needed during this election year and beyond, to put legislators and candidates on notice and communities on record as demanding full restoration of constitutional rights and full respect for constitutional principles. The input we have received helped us draft an initial plan of basic steps and tools that BORDC can provide to help community-based groups initiate People's Campaign coalitions in their cities, towns, and congressional districts. We are currently building a campaign website and preparing for a series of national conference calls in early March to discuss our developing plans with those who are interested in launching a People's Campaign.
Public forums and face-to-face meetings with legislators are key features of this campaign. Read on to learn about local coalitions that are already holding public forums with their congressional representatives to call for action that defends the Constitution.
Public Forums: Community Groups Keep Up the Pressure on Legislators through Face-to-Face Meetings
Portland, ME - Forum
with Maine's First Congressional District Candidates
On February 26, The Maine Campaign to Impeach and Maine Lawyers for Democracy held a forum on impeaching the president and vice president with five of the candidates running for Congress in Maine's first district. The event was titled, "Is Our Constitution in Crisis?" Portland lawyer John Kaminski, who moderated the discussion, put that question to the candidates, three of whom expressed strong support for impeachment. Nation reporter and impeachment advocate John Nichols began the evening with an overview of the key constitutional issues that have been created during the current Bush-Cheney administration. Click here to see a video clip from the forum that contains a unique example of congressional candidates speaking openly about their views on initiating an impeachment inquiry.
Hadley, MA - Meeting
with Congressmen Neal and Olver
On February 20, a local coalition held a Town Hall Meeting on Preventing War in Iran. Both of the congressmen from the local area, Richard Neal and John Olver, attended. The evening began with a panel including Hampshire College Professor Michael Klare, physician Ira Helfand of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and former Marine Captain Tyler Boudreau. Both congressmen called attention to their records of sponsoring and voting for legislation to assert the constitutional limits on presidential authority, particularly a bill that requires the president to obtain congressional authorization before any attack on Iran.
Upcoming: New York, NY - Town Hall
on Impeachment; Congressman Nadler Invited
On March 9, a local coalition including Democracy for NYC and Progressive Democrats of New York will hold a Town Hall Meeting on whether impeachment is necessary to protect the Constitution. Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda, Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine, and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman are scheduled speakers. Congressman Jerold Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, has been invited to speak on his response to this question. Here is an event flyer.
The Beauty of Warrants
The Bush administration recently stood in the way of Senate and House work to resolve differences between their FISA bills, and then it nixed the House's offer to extend the Protect America Act (PAA) in the interim. Only the Senate bill gave the immunity that the White House sought.
House leaders knew that retroactive, blanket immunity has nothing to do with protecting national security and everything to do with concealing what laws were broken and who was affected by the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Furthermore, the Bush administration was responsible for rejecting a PAA extension. And even after the PAA expired, wiretaps begun under the PAA could continue for another year, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would approve warrants for wiretaps of newly discovered terrorism suspects.
Administration officials, including Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, threatened that the government "lost intelligence information" because telecommunications companies would no longer cooperate with the government. Yet, hours later, the Bush administration admitted to House and Senate Intelligence committee members that the telecommunications companies were continuing to intercept communications.
Telecoms would stop cooperating? That's exactly why we have warrants: To provide a judge's assurance to those who receive them AND to those who may be wiretapped that the request is lawful and in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.
The American People Talk to Congress. And that is what we must continue to tell our House members right now: When our government operates within the Constitution - that is, by issuing warrants when it conducts searches (electronic or otherwise) - then the search is grounded in law. The Bush administration and telecoms are pressuring Congress because they participated in criminal acts, and they don't want to be held accountable. Those crimes cannot be overlooked. We need the assurance that only warrants and congressional oversight can offer.
Congress Stands Up to Bush on Torture, While McCain Sides with Bush
President Bush has vowed to veto an intelligence authorization bill on its way to his desk because it includes an amendment asserting the Army Field Manual as the authority for interrogations conducted by CIA agents and other intelligence officers. The amendment's intent is to prohibit torture. On February 12, forty-three retired admirals and generals wrote to Congress urging senators to ignore Bush's veto threats. And they did ignore the threats. The next day, the Senate voted 51-45 to establish the Army Field Manual's rules on interrogation as the baseline for all US personnel. The House approved the bill on December 13, 2007.
Surprisingly, Senator and presidential candidate John McCain, whose zero-torture-tolerance image has won him respect from human rights groups, voted against the Intelligence Authorization bill along with 42 other Republicans. Four Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (ME), Richard Lugar (IN), and Chuck Hagel (NE), voted with most Democrats to edge the bill to its slim victory. The two Democratic contenders for president, Senators Barack Obama (IL) and Hillary Clinton (NY), did not vote, but issued statements in support of the measure. McCain is now urging president Bush to veto the Intelligence bill, justifying his flip/flop by saying that the CIA shouldn't be limited by the 19 techniques approved by the Field Manual, as long as the CIA doesn't use torture. He fails to say how he plans to excise waterboarding and other forms of torture from the CIA's repertoire without tight regulations like those just passed by Congress.
State Secrets Bill Would Limit Government Shutdown of Court Cases
In January, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S 2533, the State Secrets Protection Act, a bill that would limit the government's ability to arbitrarily halt court proceedings by claiming any judicial process would reveal national security information. According to Kennedy, "Studies show that the Bush administration has raised the privilege in over 25 percent more cases per year than previous administrations and has sought dismissal in over 90 percent more cases." This overuse of the state secrets privilege has effectively shut down a judicial look at warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition (in the cases of Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri), whistleblowing (in the case of Sibel Edmonds), and many other legal questions about the way the government has conducted the "war on terror." The Kennedy-Leahy-Specter bill proposes to allow federal courts to safeguard national security by protecting documents and testimony from public view, if necessary. Additionally, the bill places responsibilities on the government to protect secrets, and to file non-privileged substitute documents in place of top-secret documents. According to co-sponsor Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), "The State Secrets Protection Act establishes a clear standard for application of the state secrets privilege and creates procedures for reviewing courts to follow in evaluating privilege claims." The bill had its first Judiciary Committee hearing on February 13, "Examining the State Secrets Privilege: Protecting National Security While Preserving Accountability."
Ordinance to Require California Municipalities to Consider National Resolutions
Marin County, CA - A coalition in Marin County has formed to force cities and counties to seriously consider local resolutions, and not just brush them off as non-essential to city business. Some communities have sent a clear signal that they'd rather deal with potholes than pass Bill of Rights or anti-war resolutions. So, the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition (MPJC) proposes to remind these communities that in 1967, the California Supreme Court ruled that city councils should take positions on national issues. To support that ruling, the MPJC plans to introduce ordinances in various parts of the county that will affirm the city councils' capacity and responsibility to consider national issues brought before them by their constituents. The first community the MPJC will approach is Fairfax. For more information about how you can get involved in your own community, contact Craig Slater.
League of Women Voters Hosts Impeachment Panel April 5
Orange County, CA - The League of Women Voters is sponsoring an April 5 panel, "Impeachment 101: How Impeachment Serves a Democracy." Three panelists will take an historical look at our Founding Fathers' intent to use impeachment as a tool to curb the abuse of power in government, and examine noteworthy cases in our nation's record in which Articles of Impeachment have been filed. Constitutional scholars, National Lawyers Guild (NLG) president Marjorie Cohn, BORDC Advisory Board member Stephen Rohde and Los Angeles NLG Executive Director Jim Lafferty will discuss the purpose of impeachment, the separation of powers, and the legal definition of impeachable acts. "Impeachment 101" will be held the evening of April 5, 2008, at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, CA. For more information, contact Elaine.
Community Members Defend Right to Dissent
Los Angeles, CA - History teaches that in every era demagogues spread hateful propaganda against marginalized religious and ethnic minorities, often as a prelude to aggressive military action. On February 4, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace presented an educational forum entitled "How People of Peace and Tolerance Can Combat Inflammatory Attacks on Muslims and Prevent Preemptive War Against Iran."
The event was held at the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation Abu Dawour Hall and featured a panel of community activists, who examined how neocons like David Horowitz and Ann Coulter foment fear of "IslamoFascists" and the Bush administration misleads the American people, all to justify the "War on Terror" in general and a US invasion of Iran in particular.
The action item for the night was opposition to the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Bill. Everyone received a copy of the BORDC flyer on this dangerous legislation. According to Stephen Rohde, a civil liberties lawyer and one of the organizers of the program, "That one sheet had an excellent summary of the bill and specific actions people could take to oppose it." The flyer is available in both full and half sheet formats. Thanks to BORDC Advisory Board member, Stephen Rohde, for sharing this story.
Portland, ME - On February 19, over 50 people rallied at Monument Square to protest S. 1959, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, which was introduced by Maine Senator Susan Collins. Local leaders spoke about how the bill may further erode civil liberties, silence or criminalize dissent, and intimidate and instill yet more fear into the American public through its overbroad definitions of "homegrown terrorism" and "violent radicalization." Many participants wore black X's across their mouths and carried portraits of social movement leaders in American history like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rachel Carson who today might fall within the bill's broad definitions.
After the speeches, demonstrators paraded to the offices of Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Democratic Representative Tom Allen. They crowded into the small offices where they expressed their concerns; asked for face-to-face meetings and informed - not formulaic - responses from their congresspersons; and demanded reconsideration of the bill. For more information contact Maureen Block.
"Sunshine is the best of disinfectants," said Judge Louis Brandeis about the power of public scrutiny to scrub clean the dark corners of government abuse. The American Society of Newspaper Editors has named March 16-22 of this year "Sunshine Week", a week-long assertion of the public's right to know what its government is doing.
The week's events include:
- March 14 - A National Freedom of Information Day Conference, sponsored by the First Amendment Center;
- March 17 - A National Freedom of Information Day Celebration, sponsored by Collaboration on Government Secrecy;
- March 18 - Remarks by Associated Press President Tom Curley at the National Press Club;
- March 19 - Webcast Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Rights with Mickey Edwards, from the Aspen Institute, and former Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma; Ann Beeson, from the Open Society Institute, formerly with the American Civil Liberties Union; and John Podesta from the Center for American Progress, formerly president Clinton's Chief of Staff. From 1 to 2:30 p.m. EST at the Washington Press Club, and also available online.
- March 20 - Professor Lawrence Lessig on corruption in government, sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation.
In 2007, Sunshine Week marked an effort by Congress to pass "sunshine" legislation, such as:
- A bill protecting whistleblowers (H.R. 985), which passed the House 331-94 on March 14, 2007. The bill has not made it out of committee in the Senate.
- A Freedom of Information Amendments Act (H.R. 1309), which passed the House 308-117 on March 14, 2007. H.R. 1309, however, was unable to make it through the Senate, so in mid-December, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Kyl (R-AZ) pushed through a moderated version (S. 2488) on voice votes, which became law on December 31.
What You Can Do:
- Ideas for local Sunshine Week events can be found in Bright Ideas, an assemblage of insights first published in 2007.
- Campaign resources, including public service announcements, brochures and opinion editorials, are available by clicking here.
Stop Supporting the Telecoms that Break the Law
Among the groups fighting back against telecom immunity is a small 4000-community cell phone service - Credo. For consumers who no longer want to support the telecoms who gave our phone records to the government without a legal warrant, this phone company offers an alternative. With Credo, there's still no guarantee that your phone calls won't be monitored, but the selling point is that you won't be giving your money to AT&T or Verizon. A product of Working Assets, Credo promises that 1% of the money you pay for cell calls will go towards progressive, non-profit groups. Thanks to Joy Parsons from Wichita Falls, TX for sharing this story.
Justice Department Reveals Internal Review of Torture Practices, Refuses Criminal Investigation
On February 5, CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the CIA used waterboarding in its interrogations of three detainees. The news prompted renewed congressional calls for a criminal investigation. Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified before the House Judiciary Committee that because the Office of Legal Counsel had concluded at the time of CIA's use of waterboarding in 2002 and 2003 that it was legal, the department cannot investigate whether a crime had occurred.
On February 14, acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Bradbury, who continues to seek Senate confirmation, testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Bradbury declared waterboarding is torture, but said the US government's interrogation procedure is nothing like that of the Spanish Inquisition, in which the victim's lungs fill with water and pressure is exerted on the victim's chest to expel the water. Because the US procedure involves "safeguards and restrictions," Bradbury concluded it is not waterboarding, and is not torture. Bradbury used the Office of Legal Counsel's memorandum of December 2004 to justify the "water" procedure used by the Bush administration - if a technique doesn't last long, then it won't cause extreme physical pain, and if it's not intense, it won't cause prolonged mental suffering. That kind of rationale is the underpinning for Bradbury's incredible justification of what appears to every other rational human being to be ... torture.
On February 22, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) revealed that it is conducting an internal review of all torture memos issued since 2002. OPR head H. Michael Jarrett said OPR is likely to make public an unclassified version of its report. Jarrett's disclosure was prompted by a letter to him and Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, from Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), asking for an investigation.
Film Review - Taxi to the Dark Side
In accepting an Oscar for best documentary, director Alex Gibney remarked that he had the choice of making a romantic comedy or Taxi to the Dark Side. The choice was clear after his late father, a Navy interrogator, urged him to make the documentary "because of his fury at what was being done to the rule of law."
Gibney's film is dark indeed, as it tells its story through a young Afghani taxi driver named Dilawar, who was brutally beaten and killed by US soldiers at Bagram Air Base - a prison that currently holds more prisoners than Guantánamo - 500. Though the Army never pursued the investigation of Dilawar's death up the chain of command, Taxi to the Dark Side does explore the higher-ups whose quest for unlimited power to fight the "war on terror" deeply influenced the actions of those soldiers the military brass calls "a few bad apples."
What You Can Do:
Now that it's won an Academy Award, it shouldn't be hard to get a showing of Taxi to the Dark Side in your local theater. It can be an opportunity to awaken more widespread public awareness of how the rule of law has been stretched out of proportion, by using opinion editorials, letters to the editor and benefit showings of the film at your local theatre. The film's excellent website features timelines, interviews, and other background information.
Book Review - Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side
Clive Stafford Smith is completely irreverent, except when it comes to the prisoners he's defending. He is the lawyer for more than 50 Guantánamo prisoners, and for 20 years, he's worked in the United States to defend the condemned.
Stafford Smith has written Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side, one of the most readable books about US imprisonment of terror suspects. His book is about real people, and about the big picture of violence and abuse towards those who are in US custody worldwide. Stafford Smith focuses his powers of observation and curiosity to reveal the cruel lies in Bush administration rhetoric, empowers the voices of those who name the Combatant Status Review Tribunals "con-missions," and asks perceptive questions of "experts" like Richard Perle about the value of testimony the US has gained by torture.
Through prisoner Binyam Mohammed, we learn not only of the pain of the physical acts of torture, but also the mental anguish of not knowing when torture will occur, and not being able to stop it no matter what you say. It becomes clear that the US began to rely on rendition, as if leaving US fingerprints off the torture makes it invisible.
I learned to stop using the word "detainee" to name the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The guards are not allowed to call them prisoners; they're required to call them "detainees." The officer who explained this to Stafford Smith would not even utter the word "prisoner;" in fear of being overheard, he mouthed it. Stafford Smith writes paraphrasing the soldier, "The Pentagon had come to the conclusion that it sounds better for us to 'detain' someone for several years, given that he has not been offered a trial."
I am also struck by the humor that escapes - all through Mohammed's trial, he is ingenious at verbally dominating those who hold him in chains, in part by naming the commission a "con-mission." Mohammed steals the show. Here is one quote: "You have a con-administration, which is trying to con the world to get re-elected, and the only way they can do that is to con-vict 500 people in Guantánamo Bay." It is enlivening to see a man, who is regularly chained to the floor for interrogations, using brilliance in words to stand up to his oppressor in court.
The appendices are wonderful resources - a timeline of relevant events, a brief history of Guantánamo Bay, and a "What You Can Do" appendix with dozens of ways to make a difference.
What You Can Do:
- Organize a reading of the play, Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.
- Write songs, like the band Seize the Day, who performed "the Guantánamo Shuffle" outside the headquarters of a British corporation that makes a profit from handcuffs used at Guantánamo.
to Guantánamo prisoners - some have never received a letter
BORDC Seeks Summer 2008 Intern
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is currently seeking applicants for our 2008 Summer Internship. The intern selected will work in our Northampton, MA, office to assist and advance the Bill of Rights defense movement. For a job description, preferred qualifications, and instructions for applying, click here.
BORDC Needs Volunteers
BORDC is a small organization with a big vision for restoring protections of fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. We act quickly on projects to provide needed resources to the grassroots civil liberties movement, and the involvement of volunteers helps us extend our capacity.
Please let us know about your talents and interests, and we will help you find a rewarding role in our efforts. We can use help with grant-writing and other fundraising, with video and audio production, lobbying, marketing, legal research, and more.
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Ben Grosscup, East Region Organizer
Joy Parsons, Wichita Falls, TX
Stephen Rohde, BORDC Advisory Board, Los Angeles, CA
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060