May 2012, Vol. 11, No. 5
In this issue:
- BORDC informs new audiences around the country
- BORDC in the news
- Summer interns join BORDC team
- Get the latest news and analysis on our blog
- Job opening: Legal fellow
- Patriot Award: Melinda and Margaret Power
- Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign organizers convene in Chicago
- Western Massachusetts: Local activists dance for their rights
- New Britain, CT: Campaign against NDAA begins
- Takoma Park, MD: Activists challenge the NDAA’s military detention provisions
- Charlotte, NC: Coalition mobilizes to protect dissent and communities
- Los Angeles, CA: Forums shed light on detention and surveillance
- San Francisco, CA: Mayor signs coalition’s civil liberties ordinance
- Berkeley, CA: City council to vote on groundbreaking reforms
Law and Policy
- Landmark Senate report rejects torture, but may remain secret
- White House officially acknowledges drone strikes
- NSA's surveillance could create an "Orwellian state"
- CISPA moves forward, threatening online privacy
- Cosmetic changes to S-COMM change little on the ground
New Resources and Opportunities
Dozens of members of Congress have introduced or co-sponsored legislation to fix the domestic military detention powers asserted by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress may debate beginning any day now. The amendment offered by Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) is among the strongest, as is one championed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and another introduced by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Unfortunately, an amendment authored by Reps. Scott Rigell (R-VA) and Jeff Landry (R-LA), as well as one by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), are both counterproductive and could make the NDAA even worse.
US Navy Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret.) wrote an analysis for The Hill, noting that the Smith-Amash amendment, which is also supported by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO),
would ensure that no one within the United States can be indefinitely detained without charge or trial, or tried by legally problematic military commissions. It also reverses an NDAA provision—opposed by virtually every national security expert, even former Bush administration officials—that tries to force our military to take custody of a category of foreign terrorism suspects. The Smith/Udall bill, while far from perfect, is the best available first step towards fixing the NDAA.
Hutson notes that the Feinstein-Garamendi proposal creates a disturbing precedent under which non-citizens could be denied rights long guaranteed to all people under US jurisdiction, and “concedes to the NDAA’s proponents one of their key arguments: that the United States can be considered a ‘battlefield.’”
Meanwhile, the Rigell-Landry proposal would protect rights to habeas corpus that the NDAA never aimed to restrict, diverting focus from the real problems with the law. It’s true that habeas corpus rights have dramatically eroded such that they now offer little more than a procedural speed bump to indefinite military detention, but that erosion is mostly the work of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, not the NDAA. The Rigell-Landry bill would do nothing to address the issues with the court and would thus have little effect.
Proposals introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Ron Paul are substantively stronger than the rest. Unfortunately, even though they offer the most principled congressional responses to the military detention controversy, they may never come up for a vote because they lack broad support.
With the intelligence establishment dictating oppressive national security policies in Washington, it will take a movement of millions to restore the rule of law in the United States. If you share BORDC’s concerns about the NDAA and looming specter of indefinite military detention, call your congressional representatives today.
Tell your senators and representative that you expect them to support efforts to restore due process and the right to trial. Urge them to vote in favor of the Smith-Amash-Udall amendment when it comes up and to help bring the Nadler and Paul proposals to the floor.
BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar spoke at several events around the country over the past month, in both the Northeast and the Midwest, as National Field Organizer George Friday addressed audiences in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest.
George spoke in Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, April 14 to a group of national and statewide activists about using the Local Civil Rights Restoration (LCRR) model to address profiling in the city. The following week, George was also a featured speaker at Lane Community College’s 2012 Peace Symposium in Eugene, Oregon on April 20 and 21. While George spoke in Oregon, Shahid visited the Green Festival in New York City on Saturday, April 21, to highlight the connections between the NYPD’s various civil rights violations.
The following week, on Wednesday, April 25, he spoke at Northeastern Law School (see photo) in Boston, MA, about opportunities for grassroots activists interested in forming a local coalition to champion a LCRR campaign.
The next night in Takoma Park, MD, Shahid spoke about the military detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that preceded it. That weekend, on Saturday, April 28, he spoke at an NAACP criminal justice symposium in DC, followed by a grassroots drone summit convened by peace group CODEPINK and legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Finally, he spoke on the south side of Chicago on Thursday, May 3, at Trinity Episcopal Church about the restrictions on dissent imposed by the Chicago Police Department during the upcoming NATO summit on May 20 and 21.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s efforts to defend and restore constitutional rights through local action took to the airwaves this month, with both Executive Director Shahid Buttar and Grassroots Campaign Coordinator Emma Roderick appearing on radio programs.
Emma Roderick appeared twice on the Spanish- and English-language radio program Canción Urgente (Urgent Song) on WMUA in Amherst, MA, this month. On April 18, Emma was one of three organizers working on Western Massachusetts’ Preserving Our Civil Rights (PCR) campaign who appeared on the show. She was joined in the studio by Emma Febo, a Puerto Rican Amherst resident who's working on the PCR campaign through Alliance to Develop Power, and PCR volunteer Elisa Martinez. The next week, on April 25, Emma called in to the program to discuss the PCR campaign’s efforts to have the Amherst Town Meeting adopt a Local Civil Rights Restoration resolution.
Shahid Buttar also appeared on several programs, mostly to discuss the FBI’s violations of constitutional rights and how local actions can help change the national conversation about these infringements. New York’s WBAI included a piece featuring Shahid in its evening news on April 30, and KBOO’s Air Cascadia in Oregon hosted Shahid on both April 30 and May 1. Shahid also joined hosts Steve Scalmanini and Annie Esposito in Mendocino, CA on KZYX’s Corporations and Democracy on May 4.
BORDC is excited to welcome six new interns to the organization for summer 2012. Each of them will write for the BORDC blog, work with our organizing team to support grassroots coalitions across the country, and conduct research assignments for BORDC’s website and organizational development.
Zoeth Flegenheimer is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College, from Northampton, MA. He is interested in pursuing a course of study in political science and Islamic studies. After college, Zoeth plans to attend law school.
Munazza Fairooz Khan is a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, with a double major in international relations and economics. Her areas of interest include human rights, accountability, counter-terrorism policy and international security.
Gigi Macaluso is originally from Marco Island, FL, and currently attends Smith College in Northampton. She majors in comparative literature and government and has previously worked for Emerge Massachusetts, United Way, and Asheville School. She hopes to enter law school in the next year and study constitutional or public interest law.
Umer Malik is a rising junior at Providence College and is currently studying to achieve a degree in psychology. In his spare time, he likes to read novels, perform community service, and play basketball.
Mackenzie Peterson, a Virginia native, is a senior studying political science, economics, and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. In her free time, she enjoys reading, mountain climbing, traveling, trying new foods, and learning foreign languages.
Nick Sibilla, the son of a diplomat, has spent half of his life living abroad, in cities including Havana, Moscow, and Vienna. He recently graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a full-tuition scholarship. Before interning at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Nick worked at NORML, Cascade Policy Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and Reason magazine.
Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:
- Bob Woodward calls for journalistic due diligence to address “problem of secret government” by Mariel Villareal
- Senate hearing reopens debate on profiling Muslims by Emily Odgers
- John Yoo can’t be sued for torture by Nick Sibilla
- BORDC joins amicus brief in suit against NDAA by Sara Fawk
- Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board finally gets nominations hearing by Louisa Rockwell
- High Court holds torture statute does not apply to organizations by Farid Zakaria
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee seeks a legal fellow. This position will likely be based in Washington, DC, but could become a telecommuting position for the right candidate.
The legal fellow will coordinate our national network of legal professionals, and its efforts in conjunction with the Yale Law School Library to seek and compile information about fusion centers and surveillance by local law enforcement authorities. The fellow will also write analysis of current events relating to civil liberties and constitutional rights for a public audience, primarily on BORDC’s blog and occasionally for third party outlets. The fellow’s work will also include grassroots organizing, particularly involving outreach to Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities across the US to connect those communities to local civil rights coalitions that BORDC supports. This may entail occasional travel, as well as speaking engagements before public audiences, such as forums hosted by grassroots coalitions or events organized by student groups.
A full job description is available on BORDC’s website. To apply, email a cover letter and resume to email@example.com with "Legal Fellow" in the subject line. Applications will be accepted through Sunday, May 27, 2012. Electronic applications only. No phone calls or snail mail, please.
Each month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring that person with our Patriot Award. This month, we honor sisters Melinda and Margaret Power from Chicago, IL, for their work to promote human rights and end the use of torture both domestically and internationally.
Melinda and Margaret lived in Chile during the 1970’s when General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship was in full force. While there, many people they knew were taken as political prisoners and tortured. Having fully observed the human and community costs of this cruel treatment, the two sisters were inspired to promote humane treatment by US law enforcement and the military.
Two and a half years ago, they joined the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT), a collaboration among local, state, and national groups to stop cruel and inhumane treatment. As members of ICAT, Melinda and Margaret were key advocates for the Chicago “Torture-Free Zone” Resolution, which the Chicago City Council unanimously passed this January, making it the first city in the United States to take a stand against all forms of torture, including extended solitary confinement.
The resolution requires the mayor and city council not only to oppose torture, but also to hold those who commit torture accountable and publicly declare support for survivors of torture. It further states that the mayor and city council must affirm the human rights of prisoners, with no restriction on whether they are local, state, federal, or international detainees.
Melinda worked on the technical parts of the resolution and met with elected officials to advocate for its passage. Margaret, on the other hand, did more organizing groundwork, mobilizing supporters to circulate their petition of support and also hitting the streets to meet the people of Chicago face to face. Together, the coalition collected more than 3,500 signatures from both local Chicago residents and people from all over the world who signed online.
The two met many people with mixed feelings along the way. They found many people were less sympathetic about military torture because of what they deemed the “threat of terrorism.” “People are becoming oblivious,” says Melinda. “There is a view that some people are worth less.”
They found that people were more sympathetic when they spoke about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who during his tenure was responsible for the torture of more than 100 African Americans. At the same time, the Power sisters were bothered by how little many people knew about the case.
“It’s imperative to expose and oppose torture because it deals with the moral fiber of our society,” says Melinda. The two sisters will soon publish a toolkit detailing their process as a case study for others interested in passing similar resolutions. BORDC salutes Margaret and Melinda for their inspiring activism.
Earlier this month, 25 activists from 15 cities and 11 states gathered in Chicago for BORDC’s first civil rights anchors convening. They reflected the full diversity of our nation, including high school students and retirees, African-Americans, Latinos, Arabs, and South Asians, alongside allies from all ages, backgrounds, and parts of the country.
The gathering was not only an inspiring opportunity for participants to connect with other activists working on Local Civil Rights Restoration (LCRR) campaigns, but also a chance to begin coordinating across the various LCRR efforts towards a national strategy to restore civil rights.
The convening brought together active organizers from the various communities affected by law enforcement abuses to help share their organizing and outreach skills, develop joint advocacy strategies, and deepen their collaboration across the cities in which they live and organize. BORDC organized the convening to strengthen their respective LCRR coalitions, and also to build stronger connections across the network of activists we support. The convening exceeded every expectation.
The gathering began quietly on a Friday afternoon as participants listened to their colleagues share highlights from their lives that bring meaning to their work. Few national conventions begin with hours of interpersonal sharing, but building community is essential to building the depth of relationship required to develop shared power across and within affected communities.
Over the course of a weekend that included a reception at the Second Unitarian Church and two sessions at Loyola School of Law, participants presented case studies capturing best practices from their respective campaigns. Examples include cross-cultural outreach from Los Angeles, creative action models from New England, mobilizing community stakeholders from San Francisco, and effective use of video and social media from Washington, DC, and Montgomery County, MD. Of 16 hours of content delivered over three days, BORDC staff facilitated less than four hours of the agenda.
Going forward, the civil rights anchors will continue to coordinate through an email list and monthly conference calls to identify synergies among their respective projects and craft collaborative campaigns. For more information or to join these ongoing efforts, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
Following a successful "Dance for Your Rights" party in Northampton last month, Western Massachusetts’ Preserving our Civil Rights Campaign is turning to nearby Amherst, where proposed Article 29 would challenge local implementation of the misleading and dangerous "Secure Communities" program (S-COMM). The campaign has new urgency following the federal government’s recent announcement that S-COMM would become effective across Massachusetts by May 15, even over the objections of state officials who had been told S-COMM would not take effect until the end of 2013.
S-COMM is coming to Massachusetts despite Governor Deval Patrick’s public opposition to the program and attempts to resist it. And Governor Patrick was not alone: Mayor Thomas Menino also criticized the program after it was launched in Boston in 2006, and several Massachusetts towns and cities, including Northampton and Springfield, have attempted to opt out of S-COMM in order to protect the civil rights of their residents.
Members of the Amherst Town Meeting will soon vote on Article 29, supported by the current and former police chiefs of Amherst, to stop Amherst police from sharing information about arrestees with ICE.
If you or someone you know would like more information on Western Massachusetts’ Preserving Our Civil Rights campaign, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
Following on a successful statewide convening in February, organizers of the “Connecticut Stop Indefinite Detention Campaign” have launched a campaign in New Britain to seek a local resolution rejecting the detention provisions of the NDAA. The NDAA contains provisions that 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. It essentially subjects everyone within the US (including citizens, legal residents, and visitors) to the same lawless standards at work in Guantánamo Bay.
If passed, the resolution would join another dozen resolutions already passed across the US, including several in the Northeast.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in the Connecticut coalition, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
On April 26, the Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition—which has previously challenged issues ranging from a proposed youth curfew to random bag searches on the DC-area transit system—hosted a forum on the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). BORDC’s Shahid Buttar spoke alongside Heather Hurlburt from the National Security Network on a panel moderated by Eric Bond, editor of the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Voice. Hurlburt and Buttar had previously debated counter-terror policies in a video featured by the New York Times, but found broad agreement on the dangers presented by the detention provisions of the NDAA and 2001’s Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Heather explained the need for grassroots mobilization to challenge a false consensus driving national security policy. Shahid noted grimly that “we once used military detention as a definition of authoritarianism,” prompting Heather to add that we “still do.” A resolution proposed by the coalition will appear before the Takoma Park City Council on Monday, May 21.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
In Charlotte, NC, local and national organizers are working hard to defend First Amendment rights during the upcoming Democratic National Convention (DNC). Meanwhile, local leaders aware of the challenges confronting communities of color, which face frequent rights violations in Charlotte, have decided to seek legal protections against racial profiling using BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration model.
In January, the Charlotte City Council passed new laws that restrict parades, marches and public gatherings. While not as severe as the “sit-down-and-shut-up” ordinance Chicago has enacted to chill dissent at the upcoming NATO summit, Charlotte’s new laws are similar in terms of expanding local authority to suppress protests. In both cities, authorities have refused to grant (or granted and then rescinded) march permits. And in Charlotte, beneficiaries of the new dissent restrictions include not only the DNC, but also Bank of America, which held a shareholders meeting declared an “extraordinary event subject to special restrictions” under the new laws, resulting in a number of arrests of protesters (see photo).
BORDC’s work will help bring communities seeking legal protections from seemingly routine law enforcement abuses together with allies supporting protections for dissent. BORDC’s George Friday has met with numerous local leaders who are working to build a coalition.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in Charlotte’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
On May 3, a coalition of groups spearheaded by the Tenth Amendment Center organized a forum on military detention under the NDAA and AUMF in Los Angeles. Over 100 people attended, hearing speakers including Michael Boldin from the Tenth Amendment Center and Ahilan Arulanantham from the ACLU of Southern California. Organizers of the event are working to mobilize a coalition and secure a resolution from the LA City Council rejecting the NDAA’s military detention powers.
The week before, on April 28, the LA Police Department (LAPD) hosted a symposium on its implementation of the controversial suspicious activity reporting (SAR) program. A coalition including the Council for Humane Immigrant Rights of LA (CHIRLA), the South Asian Network (SAN), the Council on American-Islamic Relations’s LA chapter (CAIR-LA), and the ACLU of Southern California has encouraged the LAPD to address concerns about the program and adopt policy reforms. The grassroots STOP LAPD Spying coalition, meanwhile, insists that the LAPD scrap the program entirely, along with its parallel surveillance initiatives.
During the April 28 symposium, observers noted several areas of concern, including transparency and accountability. The cost of the SAR program remains unknown, and any potential public safety benefits have proven limited: over 630 reports have reportedly included only 15 incidents justifying investigation. According to attorney Jim Lafferty from the National Lawyers Guild, the LAPD’s efforts resemble the infamous COINTELPRO programs, now operating through local surveillance.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in civil rights restoration efforts in Los Angeles, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
On May 9, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed into law the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, which imposes limits on the San FranciscoPolice Department (SFPD) and its collaboration with the FBI. The ordinance restores local privacy protections eroded by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) through which the FBI and SFPD collaborate, and also requires that the SFPD submit future proposed inter-agency agreements for public discussion and comment.
Based on a similar model previously adopted in Portland, OR, the measure won unanimous support in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors after nearly two years of organizing and community mobilization, and the mayor’s veto of a similar measure approved by the board just a few weeks ago. According to Arab-American civil rights activist Adel Somaha, “This is a first step in a long way to go for this issue.”
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in civil rights restoration efforts in San Francisco, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
On May 15, the Berkeley City Council will hold a hearing and vote on a series of measures proposed by the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, each of which has gained the formal support of the city’s Peace & Justice Commission and Police Review Commission. The measures aim to address issues including transparency, the suppression of dissent, domestic surveillance and intelligence collection, and local support for federal immigration enforcement.
The proposal to limit domestic intelligence data reported to the Northern California Regional Information Center (NCRIC), a local fusion center, is among the first of its kind in the country. It would also require greater transparency for paramilitary training under the Urban Areas Shield Initiative (UASI).
Another measure aiming to block voluntary compliance with ICE detainer requests will follow on the heels of similar resolutions adopted across the country. A third measure was prompted by the Berkeley Police Department’s participation in the Oakland Police Department’s crackdown at Occupy Oakland on October 25, where police violence seriously injured Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen.
The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley has been mobilizing a broad cross-section of the Berkeley community for roughly a year. Organizational supporters include the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, NAACP, National Lawyers Guild, National Network of Immigrant & Refugee Rights, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Berkeley Peace & Justice Commission, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in civil rights restoration efforts in Berkeley, contact BORDC’S organizing team.
Law and Policy
As June, torture awareness month, draws closer, the Senate has completed a three-year investigation into torture methods used during the Bush administration. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has analyzed over six million documents extensively detailing the so-called “enhanced interrogated techniques” used by the CIA, compiling a final report expected to run over 5,000 pages, with more than 20,000 footnotes. According to a source familiar with the report,
One official said investigators found "no evidence" such enhanced interrogations played "any significant role" in the years-long intelligence operations which led to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden last May by U.S. Navy SEALs.
While critical of torture, however, the SSCI’s inquiry has not been released to the public. BORDC joined dozens of allied organizations urging the release of the SSCI’s findings, arguing that “there can be no justification for continuing to deny the public the facts.”
The Committee’s findings are particularly important because they directly contradict claims made by torture apologists. Most recently, Jose Rodriguez, former head of the National Clandestine Service in the CIA, defended harsh interrogation practices. Rodriquez is peddling a new book in which he argues that torture was necessary to extract vital intelligence to prevent terrorist plots.
Contrary to Rodriguez, CIA Directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta, as well as Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Dianne Feinstein all agree that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other forms of torture did not provide any useful or actionable intelligence. Furthermore, as Reuters reports, “the CIA never carried out a scientific assessment of the [interrogation] program's effectiveness.” Indeed, before his new book’s release, Rodriguez was best known for obstructing justice by ordering the destruction of 92 videos of CIA waterboarding, a move he defended as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”
The SSCI needs to publically disclose its landmark inquiry so that Americans can be fully aware of the detainee abuses committed by the CIA. Such abuses are counterproductive and unconstitutional, but powerful former (and current) officials responsible for them continue to escape accountability. Writing for Human Rights First, retired FBI special agent Jim Clemente explains why releasing the SSCI report is crucial:
Once we have all the data, then we can account for all the negative long-term consequences of torture as well as any alleged short-term benefits. We can consider the fact that it helped al Qaeda to recruit thousands of new members, degraded America’s ability to preach for the rule of law to other countries, made other detainees less willing to cooperate, and a host of other consequences. When these factors have been weighed, then we can decide in totality whether or not torture works.
On April 30, John Brennan (pictured), chief counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, formally recognized the existence of US drone strikes. In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Brennan defended remote robotic assassination as “ethical and just,” despite a rising backlash around the world. Just days before his remarks, people from around the world convened in Washington, DC, for a grassroots “drone summit” at which BORDC’s Shahid Buttar moderated a panel featuring experts from the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In his April 30 speech, Brennan argued that the US government has the authority to use drone strikes to pre-emptively kill suspected members of al-Qaeda:
In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qaeda or its associated forces are legitimate military targets. We have the authority to target them with lethal force, just as we target enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as Germans and Japanese commanders during World War II.
But unlike Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, al-Qaeda and its “associated forces” do not wear uniforms or fight for any particular government. In addition, as observed by Tom Parker at Amnesty International, “in World War II the United States and its allies recognized the neutrality of non-combatant states.” Furthermore, not all members of al-Qaeda or an “associated force” can be lawfully targeted. Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel at Human Rights First, explains in Politico:
In a non-international armed conflict...the only “enemies” targetable are those “directly participating in hostilities”.... A cook, dishwasher or doctor aiding Al Qaeda fighters may well be a “member” of Al Qaeda—yet not be lawfully targetable. Brennan, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, ignored that fact.
In addition, Brennan’s comments were the first official acknowledgement that drone strikes have killed civilians. He declared that civilian deaths have been “exceedingly rare,” despite an analysis by the New America Foundation showing that approximately 11 to 17 percent of those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan have been civilians. Meanwhile, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that since President Obama took office, at least 282 (and possibly as many as 535) civilians have been killed by drone strikes, including more than 60 children.
Finally, as David Ignatius notes in the Washington Post, the administration’s endorsement of drone attacks set a dangerous and disturbing precedent:
What if Iran used them against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the United States take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face “imminent” or “significant” threats?
Federal agencies are not only collecting unlimited information on all Americans, but they are also persecuting the whistleblowers who attempt to disclose these surveillance activities. A Democracy Now! special on surveillance brought together three privacy advocates to discuss the state of surveillance in the US.
William Binney, former technical director for the National Security Agency, reports that he helped devise a system that would detect foreign threats from electronic data, yet protect the privacy of Americans by anonymizing data. Immediately after 9/11, however, the system was discarded upon agreement by the White House, NSA, and CIA to eliminate privacy protections and collect vast amounts of data domestically. According to Binney, AT&T provided about 320 million records of communications between US citizens. In response to flagrant abuses of many federal laws and the Constitution, Binney resigned from the NSA shortly after 9/11.
When in 2007 Binney and others signed a Pentagon complaint against the NSA on corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse, the FBI invaded their homes and held them at gunpoint. Under the pretext of a leak to the New York Times, the agents attempted to intimidate these individuals to prevent them from revealing key facts about the NSA’s operations to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The NSA has expanded these programs dramatically since then. Rather than collect data only from targeted individuals, the NSA tracks everyone in the US indiscriminately, enabling retroactive investigation based on its massive database. In fact, the NSA is building a massive surveillance data center in Utah to store the enormous amount of data it collects from cell phones, emails, Internet searches, and more. It will be the most sophisticated and powerful computing facility ever built. Binney notes that surveillance has increased under the Obama administration, and estimates that 20 trillion transactions of US citizens have been intercepted.
In response to a mounting public outcry against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), the House Intelligence Committee added 44 amendments to CISPA to address concerns about civil liberties. Recalling the grassroots fury that ultimately beat back the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) earlier this year, CISPA’s opponents argue that although the amendments are helpful, the bill still falls short in protecting civil liberties. Following a debate, CISPA passed the House 248 to 168, largely along party lines, sending the bill to the Senate.
CISPA aims to make it easier for businesses and federal agencies to share information related to cybersecurity. However, it provides vague guidelines about what information can be shared and with whom, while also (like the FISA Amendments of 2008) providing corporate immunity for any civil suits arising from the privacy breaches that would result from its passage. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), CISPA raises two fundamental crucial issues:
1. In terms of who the information can be shared with, the amendment allows information to flow from ISPs and other service providers directly to the NSA. This is a fundamental remaining concern, since the bill could result in the NSA having a wider window into traffic on private sector networks.
2. The bill allows the information that the private sector shares with the government to be used for national security purposes unrelated to cybersecurity. This, too, is a remaining fundamental concern for us.
On April 27, in response to a rising public backlash, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced that it would modify the Secure Communities (S-COMM) program. As it turns out, these proposed policy changes won’t make a significant difference on the ground.
As California assembly member Tom Ammiano said in a statement following the ICE announcement,
This is it? Frankly, I'm glad I didn't hold my breath. Today's announcement will do absolutely nothing to repair the tremendous damage which S-Comm has caused to public safety and local governments….The task force’s recommendations were so inadequate to begin with that Retired Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas and others resigned in protest. And now, in its response, ICE mostly papers over even those recommendations, citing memos which it had issued even before the task force was convened and trumpeting such “changes” as updates to its website, changes in paperwork, and new videos. The only change that could have had any substance has so many loopholes as to be nearly meaningless.
Even before ICE’s announcement, a consensus emerged among S-COMM critics that the proposed modifications fell short. Five out of the 19 members on a task force charged with modifying S-COMM policies ultimately resigned because they could not support the final recommendations. ICE did not even accept all of those (inadequate) recommendations. According to Sarahi Uribe, campaign coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, “To take recommendations that were to start with inadequate and then to only adopt an even more watered-down version is absurd. It will have absolutely no impact.”
Ultimately, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s statement, the biggest change to S-COMM will be that, “For individuals arrested solely for minor traffic offenses, who have not previously been convicted of other crimes and do not fall within any other ICE priority category, ICE will only consider making a detainer operative upon conviction for the minor criminal traffic offense.” This change, however, is cold comfort. Not only will ICE still hold the authority to deport people even for minor traffic violations, but its support for the FBI’s expanded biometric data collection, storage and sharing regime beyond immigrants—what the Bureau calls its Next Generation Identification initiative—will remain undeterred.
New Resources and Opportunities
June 26 is United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims. Several years ago, religious and human rights organizations in the US 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 offer human rights groups opportunities to challenge arguments supporting torture, especially those promoted by current and former government officials who authorized or participated in human rights violations.
BORDC, in particular, will focus on pursuing accountability for torture through local activism. Chicago’s recent “torture-free zone” resolution offers one model for local action against torture. Visit BORDC’s People’s Campaign for the Constitution to learn more about how your community can support accountability for international human rights abuses. Beyond seeking accountability for US-sponsored torture, BORDC will also continue working to repeal any legal authorities, such as those in the National Defense Authorization Act, that could be used to enable indefinite domestic military detention.
Earlier this month, BORDC hosted a convening in Chicago for 25 grassroots organizers. Participants, who came from 15 cities in 11 states, reflected the tremendous intergenerational and demographic diversity visible across the contemporary civil rights movement.
The Chicago convening offered an opportunity for participants to share best practices, develop organizing and advocacy skills, build relationships between their respective cities, and identify resources to build effective coalitions uniting diverse communities at the local level.
BORDC will follow up on the convening in several ways, including by providing micro-grants to support further local organizing. Made possible through a generous grant from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the micro-grants are available to all coalitions represented at the Chicago convening.
For more information, review the application instructions. Applications are due by June 15 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Grants of $300 to $500 will be awarded to help active coalitions expand their local visibility, host an event, or build capacity. For instance, micro-grant funds might be used to provide food for a civil rights block party, print educational posters, provide transportation or childcare to boost event participation, or purchase a video camera to record and publicize campaign activities.
Grants will be announced by July 1 and disbursed that same month.
Help BORDC restore the rule of law
- Take action! Volunteer, organize, raise your voice—we have an opportunity that's right for everyone.
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securely online, call (413) 582-0110 to donate by phone, or mail a check or money order to:
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
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Contributors: Shahid Buttar, Amy Ferrer, George Friday, Lindsey Needham, Emily Odgers, Louisa Rockwell, Emma Roderick, and Nick Sibilla
Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston