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Constitution in Crisis

April 2012, Vol. 11, No. 4


In this issue:

NYPD abuses impact activists and minorities across the Northeast

BORDC News

Grassroots News

Law and policy

New resources and opportunities


 

NYPD abuses impact activists and minorities across the Northeast

EM_120303_PROTEST_NYPD_011Recently, a new report about racial profiling and biased surveillance by the New York Police Department has emerged seemingly every few weeks. Reporters have even revealed that the NYPD is monitoring law-abiding people well beyond its jurisdiction, invading neighboring cities, states, and even countries without authorization. The NYPD’s surveillance has not been limited to Muslims, Blacks, or Latinos—the NYPD has been monitoring activist groups, too. Despite the fact that this kind of profiling and surveillance is counterproductive, it continues.

Despite the fact that political activism is unequivocally protected by the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and association, the NYPD has apparently determined that it is appropriate for officers to infiltrate law-abiding activist groups and monitor their activities. As the Associated Press (AP) reports,

The infiltration echoes the tactics the NYPD used in the run-up to New York's 2004 Republican National Convention, when police monitored church groups, anti-war organizations and environmental advocates nationwide.…

Police said the pre-convention spying was necessary to prepare for the huge, raucous crowds that were headed to the city. But documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the police department's intelligence unit continued to keep close watch on political groups in 2008, long after the convention had passed.

All of these NYPD surveillance activities stem from the post-9/11 culture of fear. The AP explains:

Before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, infiltrating political groups was one of the most tightly controlled powers the NYPD could use. Such investigations were restricted by a longstanding court order in a lawsuit over the NYPD's spying on protest groups in the 1960s.

After the attacks, [the NYPD’s top intelligence officer] told a federal judge that, to keep the city safe, police must be allowed to open investigations before there's evidence of a crime. A federal judge agreed and relaxed the rules.

Since then, police have monitored not only suspected terrorists but also entire Muslim neighborhoods, mosques, restaurants and law-abiding protesters.

New Yorkers have raised widespread concerns about the NYPD’s surveillance and profiling activities, as the various affected communities (Muslims, South Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and political activists, to name just a few) have grown to understand that their respective experiences are not independent of one another, but rather reflective of a civil rights problem that pervades policing in New York. The NYPD seems to view anyone who is “different”—whether that person is a religious minority, racial minority, or engaged in the political process—as a potential threat. With such broad swaths of the public falling within those categories and the NYPD monitoring law-abiding Americans both within and well outside New York’s borders, how long will it be until their overzealous persecution impacts you?

BORDC News

BORDC's Shahid Buttar recruits activists at Midwest and West Coast audiences

Occupy the MidwestAudiences in Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Tacoma all got the opportunity to learn about the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s work to restore the rule of law this month. On March 15, Executive Director Shahid Buttar kicked off the Occupy the Midwest conference—which later endured noteworthy police violence—in a speech on indefinite detention in Kiener Plaza in St. Louis.

The following day, March 16, Buttar delivered the keynote address at Loyola Law School’s Public Interest Law Reporter Symposium, “Forcing the Agenda: Provoking Policy Reform through Legal Action and Community Collaboration." Buttar’s speech addressed issues including Attorney General Holder’s defense of the authority to kill US citizens without trial, the National Defense Authorization Act’s military detention provisions, the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs, the FBI's infiltration of First Amendment protected groups, and civil rights abuses by local police.

Buttar also traveled to the West Coast for two events on Saturday, April 14. He spoke in San Francisco on a plenary panel at the American Constitution Society’s Winning Hearts and Minds Conference, co-sponsored by the ACS student chapters at Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UC-Hastings, and Golden Gate Law Schools. He joined Robert Rubin of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Natalie Foster of the Rebuild the Dream Movement, and Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus, on a panel exploring “Movement-Making: Tales from the Front Lines.” Then, in Tacoma, WA, Buttar joined BORDC Vice President Tim Smith at King’s Books for a presentation onthe future of government surveillance and detention in the Pacific Northwest.

In the coming weeks, Buttar will speak at the Green Festival in New York City on April 21, followed by Northeastern Law School in Boston, MA on April 25. After returning to DC for a convening on April 26 focused on building a grassroots movement supporting executive accountability for torture, Buttar will speak in the nation’s capital on April 28 at a criminal justice reform symposium hosted by the local NAACP, as well as a drone summit co-sponsored by Code Pink and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

BORDC in the news

Over the past month, radio programs from coast to coast have featured BORDC’s commentary on important civil liberties issues. On March 26, Executive Director Shahid Buttar appeared on WBAI’s Wake Up Call in New York to discuss the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and its unlawful detention provisions, telling host Esther Armah:

The [NDAA] passed with the authority for the US government to detain without trial, domestically, anyone—it’s basically taking the principle that was at work at Guantánamo Bay and threatening its importation and expansion across the domestic United States.

On April 2, Buttar was a guest on KBOO’s Air Cascadia in Oregon to discuss the NDAA’s implications for the First Amendment:

[The NDAA is] a wholesale attack on the First Amendment, and any journalist should be very concerned… We routinely treat activism, advocacy, association—even when completely nonviolent—as terrorism, and that’s become well-established now, over many, many cases.

Two days later, on April 4, Buttar discussed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling authorizing the strip-search of anyone arrested for any reason, legitimate or otherwise, on WZAB’s Let’s Talk About It! in Florida. He pointed out the many failings of the system that can combine to create devastating results for innocent Americans:

It’s beyond indignifying…when you have someone going in for a traffic offense or, in this case, a warrant that didn't even end up being real… and the guy is racially profiled, one, subjected to an arrest for an erroneous warrant, two, and the subjected to a strip search, three, that is ultimately decided by the Court to be legitimate.

Let your local radio station know you’d like to hear from BORDC on their next broadcast!

Get the latest news and information on our blog

Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:

Job opportunity: Communications specialist

BORDC seeks a communications specialist to be based in either Northampton, MA, or Washington, DC. This position may be expanded to communications manager, with associated administrative and supervisory responsibilities, for the right candidate.

The communications specialist oversees all of BORDC’s communications, media, and online programming. This includes serving as editor of BORDC’s monthly newsletter, maintaining content for BORDC’s websites and blog, managing BORDC’s social network presence, drafting email action alerts and fundraising appeals, and managing media outreach. Additional responsibilities, including staff and intern supervision and office management, may be included in the position for a candidate with appropriate experience and interest. A full job description is available on BORDC’s website.

This is a full time position with benefits, including health insurance and paid vacation. Salary commensurate with experience.

A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (or equivalent experience) and at least two years’ experience in nonprofit administration, communications, marketing, and/or development are required, as are well-developed writing and editing skills and a familiarity with constitutional rights and civil liberties issues. Candidates with a master’s degree and three to five years’ experience will be given preference. Experience with the Salsa CRM platform, graphic design, and HTML content management is preferred. Supervisory experience is also a plus.

To apply, email a cover letter and resume to jobs@bordc.org with "Communications Specialist" in the subject line. Applications will be accepted through Sunday, April 29, 2012. Electronic applications only. No phone calls or snail mail, please.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and an equal opportunity employer: women, people of color, people with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are encouraged to apply.

Support BORDC—without opening your wallet!

CREDO

CREDO BallotEach year, CREDO Mobile and Working Assets select 40 charities to support. Then they donate their profits to those charities in proportions determined by their customers and supporters. This year, CREDO has selected the Bill of Rights Defense Committee as one of the eight civil rights charities it will support, but to make the most of this opportunity, we need your vote!

You’re already eligible to vote if you are a CREDO mobile or Working Assets customer. But you don't have to be a customer to participate: you can also vote by becoming a member of CREDO Action. Simply visit CREDO Action and sign one of their petitions or join one of their campaigns and you'll be eligible to vote! And voting is easy: just visit the online ballot and allot your points to the charities you want CREDO to support.

BORDC is supporting crucial civil rights efforts all over the country, but we need more resources to meet the demand for our work. By voting for BORDC on the CREDO ballot, you can help expand our efforts without having to open your wallet.

Great Nonprofits

You can also support BORDC without ever opening your wallet by submitting reviews of BORDC’s work on Great Nonprofits. For example, supporter Michael Beer wrote an enthusiastic personal review of BORDC. You can see his feedback on our work, as well as other information about BORDC, on our GuideStar profile.

Have you had a positive experience with BORDC? Please share your feedback for others to read.

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: Sarah Nuñez

Sarah Nunez | Photo copyright Zaire Kacz PhotographyEach 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 Sarah Nuñez from western North Carolina for her work defending civil liberties and the rights of immigrant communities.

Sarah Nuñez was one of the first activists in Asheville to help address racial profiling using BORDC's Local Civil Rights Restoration model. She helped City Councilor Cecil Bothwell draft a civil liberties ordinance for Asheville, and she is a champion for coalition building, community education, and civic engagement. Sarah opens up her home for community meetings, helps organize monthly Civil Liberties Nights at Firestorm Café, and makes powerful presentations at schools, colleges, and churches to promote the principles behind the LCRR campaign.

Sarah’s passion for assisting and educating immigrant communities developed, in part, as a result of her own experience growing up in a multiethnic family in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although her father was Columbian, she had little exposure to her Latin American heritage and language. At age 20, she traveled to Columbia, where she spent nine months learning the language, culture, and rediscovering her ethnic identity.

During this time, she was struck by the vivid differences between social classes, which fostered in her an overwhelming desire to work for equality. Upon returning to the US, she became involved in a local immigrants’ rights advocacy group, “El Centro,” located in Hendersonville, NC. She also worked as a professor at Western Carolina University (WCU), where she spent many years mentoring students from low income, first generation American, and minority households, helping them discover their passions and encouraging them to be a positive influence in their communities. It is remarkable to see the genuine excitement that she feels in helping those who weren’t able to have the opportunities that she had growing up in America.

In addition to her work at WCU, Sarah spent several years working with the Latino Advocacy Coalition, also in Hendersonville, NC. Earlier this year she became the new executive director of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council, which has been helping communities develop mutual respect and eliminate discrimination since the 1950s.

One of the most recent efforts she helped to coordinate was the Our Voices, Our Stories art exhibit, which was displayed at UNC Asheville’s Highsmith University Union Gallery and Enka High School. The exhibit is a unique expression of the hardships that immigrant and minority families struggle to endure, as reflected in the hundreds of personal testimonies gathered from people of all backgrounds. The goal of the project was to raise awareness among the broader community, and also to create an intentional space where people could feel free to share their own experiences and know that they are not alone in their struggle. Sarah reflects, “I went through a lot in my life, but there are so many more people out there whose stories need to be heard.”

Sarah continues to work bringing people together in fun and educational ways.  “Creativity is an important part of this process,” she says, “but even more important is making sure to reach out, not only to peoples’ minds, but to their hearts as well.” As the Our Voices, Our Stories exhibit illustrated, thinking outside of the box is essential when appealing to diverse audiences.

BORDC thanks Sarah for standing to defend those who do not have a voice, and we are proud to celebrate her work building the movement for constitutional rights.

North Carolina: Activists stand up for civil liberties across the state

Leaders of North Carolina organizations representing vulnerable communities know that a broad-based movement is necessary to stop mounting threats to civil rights and civil liberties. This month, cultural, educational, and organizing events across the state will underscore that message.

In Asheville, the annual Stand Against Racism events opened this year with the Our Voices, Our Stories art exhibit, which will be followed by a series of workshops, films, art exhibits and cultural performances between April 19 and May 14. These events will raise awareness, highlight opportunities to strengthen unity across communities, and encourage ongoing engagement to promote racial justice.

In Greensboro, concerned residents gathered on April 12 to protest mass incarceration, arguing that the war on drugs has become a vehicle to persecute vulnerable communities, and that the costs of constructing a proposed new jail would be better applied elsewhere. Later that evening, at the Beloved Community Center, BORDC joined the ACLU, NCPCF, and Friends of Human Rights for A Wake-Up Call for Civil Liberties. On April 17, those same partners will reconvene to conduct the Wake-Up Call for Civil Liberties program with activists and interested participants in the Raleigh area.

Greensboro will also host a statewide conference on April 28 on "Our Responsibility to Oppose the State Abuse of Power," aiming “to help build a powerful movement to create a more humane, just society.” Discussions will address racial bias in mass incarcerations, repression of Latinos and Muslims, torture with impunity, indefinite detention without trial, and the criminalization of dissent. The conference will also include cultural performances and an address by Chicago civil rights attorney Flint Taylor, who represented victims of torture by Chicago police.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in a civil rights effort in North Carolina, contact National Field Organizer George Friday.

Western Massachusetts: Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign makes progress in Northampton and Amherst

The Preserving Our Civil Rights (PCR) Campaign, a Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, is working hard to restore constitutional rights in its communities.

In Amherst, organizers are building support for proposals to stop the dangerous and misleadingly named "Secure Communities" program from tearing apart Amherst families. Organizers packed the room at an Amherst Select Board meeting on April 9, presenting more than one hundred signed postcards opposing Amherst’s participation in the program. The postcards were collected by members of the Alliance to Develop Power, a new member organization of the Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign. The Select Board is currently awaiting an analysis from legal counsel before making a recommendation to the full Town Meeting about the proposed bylaw. In the meantime, the PCR campaign will host a human rights trivia night at Food For Thought Books in Amherst on Thursday, April 19, at 7 p.m.

In nearby Northampton, where the PCR campaign first started, organizers are continuing to organize support for reforms to curb domestic surveillance by local police. The campaign will host the "Preserving Our Civil Rights Dance Party" at the Haymarket Café on Friday, April 27, at 9:30 p.m. The dance party will be a great place to meet people concerned with civil rights and liberties, celebrate accomplishments from the year, and dance! The campaign also plans to meet with Rep. Richard Neal's office to explore his support for the End Racial Profiling Act as part of the Rights Working Group Advocacy Week.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in Western Massachusetts’ Preserving Our Civil Rights campaign, contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.

Hartford, CT: Organizers take fight against racial profiling to the state legislature

Organizers of the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition are working to secure long overdue enforcement of the Penn Act, a bill signed into law 13 years ago to stop racial profiling that has never been enforced. Responding to recent federal arrests of biased local police officers in East Haven, the coalition supports amendments to finally make the law effective on the ground. With a new spotlight on racial profiling in Connecticut, the coalition is taking the opportunity to focus the public on the need for increased transparency and oversight to protect Connecticut residents.

But racial profiling is just one issue the Connecticut coalition is pursuing. Coalition members are also organizing a statewide campaign to prevent indefinite military detention under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). On April 14, they brought together over 30 different organizations for a strategy conference.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved with the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition, contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.

Albany, NY: Legislators issue proclamation against NDAA

Last month, a majority of Albany County Legislators supported a proclamation opposing the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Following that victory, local organizers are now raising awareness about the issue to educate and inform others in their community. A coalition in Albany, spearheaded by the peace and justice community, is planning a forum and seeking cosponsors.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in these efforts in Albany, contact Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick.

Washington, DC: A rising tide of grassroots activism

Several upcoming events in and around our nation’s capital will reinforce concerns about the erosion of constitutional rights.

On April 15, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald will keynote a banquet hosted by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms at The Waterford (6715 Commerce Street) in Springfield, VA. Tickets are available for $40 (or $30 for students).

On April 26, the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition will host a grassroots hearing addressing concerns about domestic military detention under the National Defense Authorization Act. The hearing will feature comments by Heather Hurlburt from the National Security Network, as well as BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, at the Takoma Park Community Center (7500 Maple Avenue) in the Azalea Room.

On Saturday, April 28, the DC chapter of the NAACP will host a Criminal Justice Reform Symposium at Howard University in Washington, DC. BORDC’s Shahid Buttar will address the symposium about local opportunities for diverse communities to come together around shared interests in civil rights and civil liberties.

Later that afternoon, Buttar will moderate a panel at the “Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control” at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church (900 Massachusetts Avenue NW). Speakers on the panel will include representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Center for International Policy. The summit is co-hosted by CODEPINK, Reprieve, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in civil liberties efforts in Washington, DC, contact BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.

Santa Cruz, CA: City council rejects indefinite detention

Santa CruzOn Tuesday, April 10, the City Council of Santa Cruz unanimously passed the "Resolution to Restore Due Process and the Right to Trial," which stands against the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act. In doing so, Santa Cruz became one of at least a dozen cities across the United States that have passed similar resolutions, sending an important message to Washington that We the People will not stand for indefinite detention without trial. Santa Cruz also passed a resolution against the PATRIOT Act in 2002, and this month’s resolution continues its legacy of standing up for civil liberties.

At the council meeting, the resolution’s supporters displayed signs reading "The NDAA is unconstitutional" and "No to Indefinite Detention." Earlier, organizers had delivered a signed letter to members of the council, which read in part, "Santa Cruz can again be an example for all communities and real patriots in America who intend to defend the Constitution and remain free in a country under constitutional law."

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in civil liberties efforts in Santa Cruz, contact BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.

Los Angeles, CA: Diverse voices defend constitutional rights

On April 10, the Stop LAPD Spying campaign hosted an event at Los Angeles City Hall to resist Special Orders 1 and 11, a pair of local domestic intelligence programs authorizing surveillance of legal activities. The coalition includes numerous groups reflecting immense demographic diversity, and has called attention to not only police spying, but also racial profiling offenses long endured by communities of color vulnerable to law enforcement abuses. For more information about the campaign, contact BORDC’s George Friday.

On May 3, the Tenth Amendment Center and the LA County Republican Liberty Caucus, in association with Oath Keepers CA, will host “Nullify the NDAA: Los Angeles,” an evening focused on the powers outlined in Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA. These provisions, which the event organizers characterize as "kidnapping powers," could allow indefinite and arbitrary military detention, without a trial or day in court, of anyone accused of any “belligerent act” or terror-related offense—including "material support" allegations based strictly on speech or association.

The event, which will be held at The Standard in downtown Los Angeles, is free and open to the public, but because of limited space, pre-registration is required.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in civil liberties efforts in Los Angeles, contact BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.

Berkeley, CA: Police Review Commission approves coalition’s civil rights recommendations

On April 11, the Berkeley Police Review Commission (PRC) approved a series of recommendations promoted by the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, a Local Civil Rights Restoration coalition that BORDC helped bring together. The PRC, which publicly thanked BORDC for its work informing the local debate, voted—sometimes unanimously—to endorse the coalition’s recommendations to the City Council, which will consider them in May.

The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley issued its recommendations to challenge several agreements between the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) and other agencies. One limits how and when the BPD submits suspicious activity reports (reports of "suspicious" behavior that often detail perfectly legal and even First Amendment-protected activities, such as photographing government buildings) to the local fusion center.  Another encourages the BPD to deny mutual aid to surrounding law enforcement agencies known to abuse civil rights, such as the Oakland Police Department and University of California police, each of which have violently attacked non-violent activists—not only decades ago, but also in the past six months. Another directs the BPD to refuse to comply with detention requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, given that agency’s documented racial profiling and inept attempts to deport even US citizens.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, contact BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.

San Francisco, CA: Community groups work with mayor to achieve surveillance reforms

On April 11, the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco  (of which BORDC is a part) announced a compromise measure, endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee, to help restore local privacy laws violated by the San Francisco Police Department’s collaboration with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

Around the country, JTTFs have essentially co-opted local law enforcement bodies, encouraging domestic surveillance without meaningful oversight or constitutional limits. San Francisco’s measure comes on the heels of the mayor’s veto of the San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, approved by the Board of Supervisors through a 6-5 vote on March 13 and April 3, which would have replicated a successful model already in place in Portland, OR.

The new measure achieves several of the coalition’s major goals, such as bringing the SFPD’s JTTF activities in line with the California constitution and local laws, requiring new agreements be subject to public review, and mandating annual reports to the police commission about SFPD officers’ JTTF-related activities.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian interviewed BORDC's Shahid Buttar about the compromise measure:

Activists like Shahid Buttar, executive director of Bill of Rights Defense Committee and a member of the Coalition, are trying to look on the bright side and they say they're happy that Lee now wants to work with activists on the issue. But the compromise and consensus are what's been happening over the last several months—now, it's simply Lee bowing to the SFPD rather than trying to regulate it and trying to save face on a bad veto.

As Buttar told us, "It's disappointing that Mayor Lee would choose to overrule the voice of residents of the city and their representatives on the Board of Supervisors."

If you or someone you know would like to get involved in the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco, contact BORDC’s Shahid Buttar.

Law and policy

Bills to address NDAA and prevent domestic military detention introduced in Congress

Chicago Protest Against Guantanamo Jan 11, 2012 - Photo by FJJSince the rushed passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in December, several bills have been introduced in Congress to amend, and in some cases repeal, the indefinite military detention provisions (Sections 1021 and 1022) of the NDAA.

The Due Process Guarantee Act of 2012, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), has received the greatest traction of all the bills. Unfortunately, it is also the weakest among them. Brought forth in the Senate in December, Feinstein’s bill ensures the right of habeas corpus for American citizens apprehended on American soil. However, Feinstein’s bill does not protect the due process rights of Americans abroad, nor those of non-citizens, such as visitors and legal residents. Yet the Fifth Amendment has long applied to all people within the US, not just citizens.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Feinstein bill at the end of February. At the hearing, legal experts, as well as Congressmen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Landry (R-LA), spoke on behalf of the bill. In his testimony, Rep. Landry explained how the fight against the NDAA brings together transpartisan allies:

Protecting Americans’ rights is not a Republican or a Democrat issue; it is a national priority… This issue is larger than us all and strikes at the very root of what makes our country the most perfect union ever conceived.

Landry himself has also introduced a bill to amend the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA, H.R. 3676. While the Landry bill is slightly stronger than Feinstein’s, it would amend Section 1021 of the NDAA to prohibit the indefinite military detention only of American citizens, despite the constitutional guarantee of due process to all, regardless of citizenship.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has also brought forth a bill, H.R. 3785. Stronger than Landry’s and Feinstein’s, it would repeal the entirety of Section 1021 of the NDAA, although even Rep. Paul’s measure would allow Section 1022 to remain.

Most recently, Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) and Senator Mike Udall (D-CO) introduced the Due Process and Military Detention Amendments Act in the House and Senate, respectively. The bill would codify that any individual detained on American soil—but not abroad—would be provided access to due process via the federal court system and could not be detained indefinitely by the military. In a joint statement, the Congressmen said:

While some claim we should shy away from using a court system that has been a model for the world for more than 200 years, we believe that we should embrace it. We should not fear our Constitution. We should embrace it.

Domestic military detention threatens the most fundamental freedoms once protected by the Bill of Rights. With both major parties in Washington having endorsed potentially draconian executive powers, it is a profound relief that some members of Congress do take their oaths of office seriously.

BORDC will monitor the status of these pieces of legislation and provide updates going forward about their prospects in Congress. In the meantime, grassroots efforts around the country continue to build a mounting chorus in support of due process and the right to trial.

NSA building massive surveillance facility

NSA sealYou might not have known about a mammoth compound being built deep in the desert of Utah. But when construction is complete in 2013, this data center will know everything about you. Under control by the National Security Agency (NSA), this $2 billion complex will have a copy of every piece of your daily communication—from personal emails to parking receipts to entire cell phone calls.

Intelligence expert and bestselling author James Bamford broke the story about the surveillance facility in Wired last month. According to top intelligence officials, this data center will not only be home to all wiretapped communications; it will also hold the world’s largest supercomputer, which is needed to break codes for heavily encrypted personal data.

The construction of this data center should come as little surprise, given the NSA’s persistent efforts to establish a domestic spying program. During the Bush administration, the NSA violated federal law by secretly carrying out warrantless wiretapping. William Binney, a former NSA official, explains that the agency monitored AT&T’s satellite dishes and installed wiretapping rooms all over the country to gain access to international and domestic telecommunications.

Although the NSA’s actions were exposed and many of its wiretapping practices made illegal under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Binney asserts that the program was much larger than publicly known. The NSA was not just intercepting calls; its software scours emails for targeted individuals’ locations and phone numbers. Any content deemed suspicious would warrant placement on watch lists, and all subsequent communication would be recorded and sent to the NSA for analysis. Before leaving the NSA, Binney had attempted to bring about a new system enabling court review, but officials weren’t interested in limiting their capabilities.

“They violated the Constitution setting it up,” [Binney] says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.”

Given the magnitude of this construction project and the accusations of widespread intrusion of privacy, it is bizarre that the federal government has remained so silent on such an undertaking. In response to many of the rumors surrounding the new facility, an NSA information officer failed to answer any concerns or explain the NSA’s intent.

Warrantless cell phone tracking becoming routine for police

15.DupontCircle.NW.WDC.PM.03apr07Local law enforcement officials are tracking cell phones with little or no judicial oversight. This ACLU obtained 5,500 pages of internal records from 205 police departments across the nation, providing some of the first data about this disturbing—and widespread—violation of individual privacy.

These documents show that police departments are asserting extensive discretion to acquire cell phone records for both emergency and everyday investigations, without first obtaining warrant. Moreover, telecommunications companies make money through this kind of tracking by charging police departments “surveillance fees” that can range into the thousands and millions of dollars.

Police argue that the ability to trace cell phones is an invaluable tool in urgent situations, such as abductions, suicide calls, and murders. However, the New York Times reports that the matter of cellphone tracking has been highlighted by “a Supreme Court ruling in January finding that a Global Positioning System [GPS] tracking device placed on a drug suspect’s car violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches.” Although this case does not directly involve cell phone tracking, it has created some questions about police surveillance.

The documents reveal that police departments from North Carolina to California have tracked cell phone signals as a part of non-emergency investigations. The police department of Gilbert, Arizona, for example, spent $244,000 on tracking equipment so that it could monitor cell phones without having to go through the phone companies. This extensive use of cell phone tracking lacks transparency and oversight, and subjects cell phone users to arbitrary violations by the state. As long as these abuses are allowed to continue, using a cell phone in America means giving up one’s privacy entirely.

US falls behind Europe in seeking accountability for torture

Just as the European Parliament pledged to investigate and report on war crimes committed by the Bush administration, the US has learned of the Bush administration’s attempts to cover up a six-year-old State Department memo declaring so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” to be war crimes.

Last month, the European Parliament held a public hearing to address the involvement of some member states in the CIA’s illegal detention program during the Bush administration. In light of new evidence regarding secret prisons on European land, the Civil Liberties Committee has pledged to move forward with the investigation and produce a report.

Experts at the hearing condemned actions taken by some European governments in support of the CIA’s secret prisons. Members of the European Parliament expressed regret for the delays in the search for truth, but one member promised, “If it is established that Member States cooperated actively, the EU will have to take the necessary measures.”

While some European governments have resisted cooperation with this inquiry, officials have persisted in their quest for accountability. Progress has been slow to shed light on the past, but these efforts reflect enormous strides relative to the US government’s unwavering refusal to seek accountability.

Waterboarding BushYet things may change in the wake of revelations of a torture cover-up within the Bush administration. Early this month, we finally learned of a six-year-old State Department memo stating that interrogation techniques approved by the White House constitute war crimes. Even more troubling, the Bush White House attempted to destroy every copy of the memo, covering up the fact that the administration was engaging in torture by its own admission. Though the Obama administration has not continued its predecessor’s torture policies, it has refused to even investigate these crimes, choosing instead to allow politically connected criminals—some of whom, like Ninth Circuit judge Jay Bybee, continue to draw taxpayer-funded paychecks—to remain above the law.

The European Parliament’s recent actions demonstrate that it is never too late to right past wrongs. Every day that passes without America accepting responsibility for the crimes of our leaders erodes our standing in the world and the legitimacy of our justice system.

New resources and opportunities

BORDC to host convening for civil liberties organizers May 4-6 in Chicago

This May 4-6, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee will host a convening in Chicago, IL, bringing together a diverse group of local civil rights activists from across the country. The convening is open to organizers engaged in (or soon to be engaged in) BORDC's Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns, or organizers working in a coalition that brings together immigrants' rights, racial profiling, and domestic intelligence collection.

BORDC can provide travel and lodging scholarships to two participants per coalition. After the convening, BORDC will continue to support the work of our local coalitions by providing microgrants and technical support.

At the convening, we will work to expand organizing and outreach skills, develop shared advocacy strategies, and deepen the community underlying this emerging national network. The convening aims to increase the capacity of our coalitions to impact policy at the local level, while also mobilizing a cohesive network of civil liberties activists to shift the debate at the federal level.

To apply, fill out this registration survey. We want to know as much as possible about each participant and coalition attending to make this convening as effective as it can be. After you complete the survey, we will be in touch to follow up. Contact us if you have questions about whether this convening is right for you.

The convening will begin on the evening of Friday, May 4, with a reception at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, located at 656 West Barry Avenue. On Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, May 6, leaders will gather at Loyola University School of Law (25 East Pearson Street) for skill-building workshops, relationship-building activities, and strategic planning sessions. A detailed agenda is available online.

April 16-20: National End Racial Profiling Advocacy Week

The week of April 16-20 is National End Racial Profiling Advocacy Week, which will bring together communities across the country for a week of advocacy and activism to end the discriminatory practice of racial profiling.

On April 18, advocates, organizers, and community members will convene in Washington, DC, to share this message with their representatives in Congress. Impacted individuals, community and faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and advocates will meet with members of Congress to urge them to take decisive action by co-sponsoring the End Racial Profiling Act and by putting pressure on the Department of Justice to reform its 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race and Ethnicity by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies.

June is Torture Awareness Month

June 26 is United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims. Several years ago, religious and human rights organizations in the United States declared the month of June to be Torture Awareness Month as a way to provide greater visibility to this issue and provide an opportunity for coordinated efforts across the country.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture notes that this year’s theme, “Confronting the Culture of Torture,” will allow human rights groups including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to push back against the public advocacy of torture, repeal indefinite detention, end prolonged solitary confinement, combat anti-Muslim bigotry, and pursue accountability for US-sponsored torture.

BORDC in particular will focus on pursuing accountability for torture through the “torture-free zone” model. Visit the People’s Campaign for the Constitution to learn more about this model and help make your community a torture-free zone.


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Contributors: Shahid Buttar, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Robert Jain, Gigi Macaluso, Lindsey Needham, Emily Odgers, and Emma Roderick

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
www.bordc.org
info@bordc.org
Telephone: (413) 582-0110
Fax: (413) 582-0116