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Constitution in Crisis

June 2012, Vol. 11, No. 6

In this issue:

2013 NDAA could make indefinite detention provisions even worse


Grassroots News

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities

2013 NDAA could make indefinite detention provisions even worse

Since the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) late last year, a transpartisan grassroots outcry has emerged to challenge its dangerous authorities that could allow the government to indefinitely detain in military custody anyone merely suspected (but not proven, or even accused) of terrorist activity.

On May 18, 2012, the US House of Representatives voted on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and amendments to the proposed law. Before ultimately passing the bill in a 299-120 vote, the House considered two very different amendments addressing the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions.Chicago Protest Against Guantanamo Jan 11, 2012 - Photo by FJJ

Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) introduced an amendment that would have restored the right to trial to all individuals, regardless of citizenship, detained within the US under the NDAA or 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). When encouraging his colleagues to pass the amendment, Smith argued that federal courts have successfully tried—and convicted—terrorists since the 2001 terror attacks, whereas the unconstitutional military commissions at Guantánamo Bay have failed to do so. Smith also emphasized Congress’s constitutional responsibility to limit the extraordinary expansion of the president’s power.

"The frightening thing here is that the government is claiming the power under the Afghanistan authorization for use of military force as a justification for entering American homes to grab people, indefinitely detain them and not give them a charge or trial," Representative Amash said during House debate.

The House rejected the Smith-Amash Amendment by a 182-238 vote.

Instead, the House adopted a competing amendment by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) by a vote of 243-173. The Gohmert Amendment was a red herring, stating that the NDAA will not “deny the writ of habeas corpus or deny any constitutional rights for persons detained in the United States under the AUMF who are entitled to such rights.” Some may perceive the Gohmert Amendment as a step forward, but it actually worsens the effect of the NDAA’s detention provisions.

Habeas corpus (which merely ensures a procedural right to appear before a judge to challenge a detention, without conferring any substantive rights) was never threatened by the 2012 NDAA. The NDAA, in contrast, dramatically expanded the government’s substantive detention powers, essentially rigging the outcomes of habeas corpus petitions. By approving the Gohmert Amendment the House voted for appearance over substance, “fixing” an issue that was never a problem while failing to limit the disturbing powers of the NDAA.Another potential “solution” to the NDAA’s detention provisions also poses a danger to American principles. By creating an unprecedented division between the rights of citizens and non-citizens, the proposal championed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) threatens the future of constitutional rights generally. The Constitution has always affirmed that all people under US jurisdiction, regardless of citizenship, are entitled to due process of law. If non-citizens are left uniquely vulnerable to indefinite military detention under the NDAA, will they also become subject to arbitrary violations in other parts of the law? And what will prevent the erosion of non-citizens’ rights from impacting  the rights of citizens? By trying to “fix” the constitutionally suspect provisions of the NDAA, Congress may continue to chip away at the Constitution itself, further eroding America’s founding  principles.

Recently however, House members have introduced a follow up bill known as the Civil Liberties Act (HR 5936). Reps. Amash and Smith are joined in sponsoring the bill by Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). Unlike the divisive nature of the Gohmert Amendment, under the Civil Liberties Act, anyone detained on US soil would be afforded all due rights and liberties under the Constitution, in some cases even terminating the ability to hold suspects in mandatory military detention.

A national call-in-day will take place on June 22, 2012 in support of the Civil Liberties Act. For more information on how to contact your members of Congress and demand that they restore due process and habeas corpus for all Americans, visit National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s Call-In Day page.


BORDC in the news

With Congress considering the 2013 NDAA and the presidential campaign largely ignoring civil liberties, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s work appeared in a number of media outlets this month.

On May 16, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar joined with Michael Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center to pen an op-ed for The Hill condemning the NDAA’s detention provisions and supporting the Smith-Amash amendment recently rejected by the House. They argue:

In the last two months, state legislatures in Virginia and Arizona passed, with broad bipartisan support, bills forbidding state cooperation with any attempts at federally sanctioned kidnapping under the NDAA. A dozen city and county councils in eight states from coast-to-coast—led by Democrats, Republicans and even Green Party members—have passed similar resolutions.

Why the fuss?

Because the NDAA’s detention provisions effectively suspend due process. Sections 1021 and 1022 allow the military to detain anyone whom it—without judicial review—decides “substantially support[s]” al Qaeda or “associated forces” until the “end of hostilities.”…

As Americans, we should not trust any president with the powers authorized by the NDAA. Not President Obama. Not President Bush. Not the next president. Not any future president. Yet, last December, Congress gave every future president this unchecked executive power.

Our defense must not come at the expense of our freedom. Representatives Smith & Amash—like "We the People of the United States" clamoring across the country—aim to unite our divided nation under the liberty promised by our Constitution. Everyone who has taken the oath of office owes them a vote.

Buttar followed up a week later with Congress Cans the Constitution, as Chicago Police Abduct Activists, a piece later cross-posted by Truthout. The article draws connections between the House’s vote on the 2013 NDAA and the Chicago Police Department’s crackdown on dissent at last month’s NATO summit:

Not only has Congress given its institutional middle finger to the Constitution, but the Chicago Police Department—which not long ago tortured hundreds of innocent African-American men into false confessions (sound familiar?)—is offering clues about what life under the NDAA might one day look like. Perhaps still reeling from the memory of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the CPD has learned from its mistakes, preempting First Amendment activity by abducting activists.

Read more from this piece later in this newsletter.

In addition, board member Wendy Kaminer and advisory board member Naomi Wolf also drew attention to BORDC’s work in their respective columns. Kaminer suggested to her readers in The Atlantic, “for regular, virtually daily updates on the nascent police state subscribe to Bill of Rights Defense Committee[‘s daily news digest].”

Wolf’s piece in The Guardian praised Judge Katherine Forrest’s injunction against the military detention sections of the 2012 NDAA:

This back-and-forth [between Judge Forrest and the Obama administration] confirmed what people such as Glenn Greenwald, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the ACLU and others have been shouting about since January: the section was knowingly written in order to give the president these powers; and his lawyers were sent into that courtroom precisely to defeat the effort to challenge them.

Though too many remain unaware of the ongoing erosion of constitutional rights, BORDC continues to shine a spotlight on these vital issues to an ever-expanding audience.

BORDC welcomes new staff and board members

This month, BORDC is pleased to welcome a new member of our staff and two new members of our board of directors.

samanthaSamantha Peetros joined the BORDC staff this month as communications specialist. In this position, she develops online and print communication and outreach materials, manages the agency's websites and social networking efforts, and handles media outreach and inquiries. She also oversees the agency's intern and volunteer program and serves as editor of the newsletter.

Samantha comes to BORDC with over nine years of political experience, having served as a liaison to state political organizations, field organizer, and new media specialist. She most recently worked as the events and communications coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Massachusetts, and for the Womanshelter/Companeras as an advocate for victims of domestic violence in state courts. After earning her bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2009, she earned a certificate in advanced paralegal studies from Bay Path College. Samantha is currently a law student at Western New England University School of Law, where she is focusing on constitutional law, gender and sexuality studies, and public policy.

amyAs Samantha joins our team, BORDC bids a fond farewell to departing Associate Director Amy Ferrer, who will become executive director of the American Philosophical Association. Amy joined BORDC in June 2008 as web and publications coordinator and was promoted to associate director in May 2009. She has led our online, communications, and media work for the past three years, while also managing the national office in Northampton, MA. We wish Amy all the best in her new position.

We also welcome two new board members: Wendy Kaminer and Rainey Reitman.

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer, social critic, and writer. She has been a contributing editor at The Atlantic since 1991, and has written seven books, including Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity and the ACLU. Her articles and reviews have appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, and The Nation.

Rainey Reitman leads the online activism team at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Prior to joining EFF, she served as director of communications for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization promoting consumer privacy. Rainey is interested in the intersection between personal privacy and technology, particularly social networking privacy, locational privacy, and online data brokers.

Recent BORDC events

BORDC’s George Friday addresses faith community in MA

On May 23, BORDC’s George Friday and Anna Bartlett of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) spoke to a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Cambridge, MA, about BORDC’s recent national grassroots convening in Chicago. The UUSC partnered with BORDC to hold the Chicago convening, which brought together nearly 30 diverse activists from around the country who are active on BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration (LCRR) campaigns. George and Anna explained how the Unitarian Universalist Association’s longstanding social justice efforts align with efforts across the country to restore the rule of law, such as BORDC’s LCRR initiatives and campaigns defending due process.

Cambridge, MA, is one of the latest cities to launch an LCRR campaign. If you are interested in this effort, contact the BORDC organizing team.

BORDC’s Shahid Buttar addresses national gathering in VA

On Sunday, May 27, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar addressed the Universal Muslim Association of America’s 2012 Convention in Reston, Virginia. He discussed why Muslims’ civil liberties matter for all Americans and how intelligence and policing practices have undermined them. Shahid was joined by Mohamed Sabur from Muslim Advocates in an informative session focusing on how civil liberties infringements endured by vulnerable communities indicate how the rights of all Americans may be violated.

During an enthusiastic discussion after their presenations, Buttar encouraged anyone concerned about civil liberties to get involved in building the movement to restore them.

Executive director discusses COINTELPRO 2.0 at Netroots Nation 2012 in New England

The seventh annual Netroots Nation event (#NN12) was a four-day convening hosted in Providence, RI, from June 7 through June 10. Netroots Nation is an opportunity for progressive bloggers to participate in 70 panel discussions and 30 trainings meant to inspire, engage, and educate.

On Saturday, June 9, Shahid Buttar presented as part of a panel focused on “COINTELPRO 2.0: Surveillance, National Security, and Our Eroding Civil Liberties.” Speakers, including moderator Zahra Billoo and Cyrus McGoldrick from CAIR, Linda Sarsour from the National Network for Arab American Communities, and Rose Regina Lawrence from Occupy Wall Street, discussed the impacts of government infiltration on their communities. Buttar focused on how the contemporary constitutional crisis continues abuses from the COINTELPRO era, and how concerned individuals can push back.

Institute for Strategic Dialogue invites Shahid Buttar to address civil rights experts in the UK

On June 12, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London hosted a one-day symposium on Comparative Approaches to Race and Community Politics. BORDC’s Shahid Buttar presented the Local Civil Rights Restoration (LCRR) campaign as a model for civil rights organizing across diverse communities. The symposium brought together experts from across the US, UK, and continental Europe to examine ways that communities can respond to issues surrounding race and law enforcement.

Upcoming BORDC events

Unitarian Universalist Annual General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona: Mobilizing Communities against Police Profiling

Building Bridges workshop: SeattleThe Unitarian Universalist General Assembly (UUGA) will be held on June 20-24 in Phoenix, Arizona. As part of a dialog on various ways of promoting social justice, Shahid Buttar will present BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns, through which Unitarian Universalists and other communities affected by profiling can work together to address profiling, dragnet surveillance, and the suppression of dissent or immigration by local police. The panel will take place on Friday, June 22, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia, PA, June 30 - July 4

Occupy sign as barrierLocal Occupy groups from around the country will come together beginning June 30 in Philadelphia to share best practices while considering how to expand the Occupy movement. With police having violently suppressed many Occupy sites and even charged some Occupy activists with terrorism, opportunities to move beyond physically occupying public space have emerged as the movement’s greatest hope.

BORDC’s Shahid Buttar and George Friday will facilitate a workshop and educational session on Tuesday, July 3. They will highlight case studies from BORDC’s various campaigns, as well as opportunities for attendees to pursue similar models where they live by recruiting diverse grassroots allies and organizing broad coalitions. For more information on the Occupy National Gathering, visit its Facebook event page.

Dallas Peace Center 8th Annual Summer Dinner Lecture: July 12 in Dallas, TX

On Thursday, July 12, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar will deliver the keynote address at the Dallas Peace Center’s 8th Annual Summer Dinner Lecture. Buttar will discuss community organizing for civil liberties related to national security and law enforcement abuses.The annual event, held at Bridge Bistro at 921 N. Riverfront Boulevard in Dallas, will include a 6 p.m. reception followed by a 7 p.m. dinner and lecture. For tickets and more information, visit the Dallas Peace Center’s website.

Washington, DC forum on the “war on terror” and the prison-industrial complex

On Saturday, July 14, Shahid Buttar will speak on a panel at Sankofa Books at 2714 Georgia Ave. near Howard University. The panel will feature a video screening of BORDC’s “COINTELPRO 2.0 and the unPATRIOTic Act,” as well as a discussion about incarceration, surveillance, and the private industrial interests responsible for driving those agendas.

San Francisco Bay Area mobilizes to resist domestic military detention

On July 29 and 31, BORDC supporters across the San Francisco Bay Area will host a series of local forums on domestic military detention, and how local governments can help resist it. One of the forums will be on Sunday, July 29 in San Francisco. Another is planned for the East Bay on Tuesday, July 31.

Get the latest news and analysis from the People’s Blog for the Constitution

Have you read BORDC’s blog lately? Here are some highlights from the past month:

Activist interviews from BORDC’s May 2012 Civil Rights Organizers Convening in Chicago

BORDC, with the support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, hosted a convening in Chicago in early May bringing together a diverse group of local civil rights activists from across the country. The convening focused on the BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration campaigns and coalitions that bring together activists working on immigrants' rights, racial profiling, and domestic intelligence collection. Participants worked to expand organizing and outreach skills, developed shared advocacy strategies, and deepen the community underlying this emerging national network.

The convening included 25 activists from 15 cities and 11 states, reflecting 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.

Several participants shared their thoughts on in brief video interviews about the contemporary constitutional crisis and their work to combat it. BORDC will be releasing these videos over the coming weeks on our blog. Several are already available. Watch the first two below:

Zahra Billoo, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of the San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA), spoke about her involvement in the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco and why civil rights activism is so important.


The vice president of BORDC’s board (and November 2010 Patriot Award honoree), Tim Smith from Tacoma, WA, is a military veteran quick to remind organizers about the power of imagination. His most important advice may be to “Find your hope, and don’t let it go.”

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: Elisa Martínez

Elisa MartinezEach 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 Elisa Martínez for her work on preserving civil liberties and the defense of immigrant communities in Amherst, MA.

Elisa began working with the Preserving Our Civil Liberties (PCR) campaign early last year to address racial profiling, domestic surveillance, and local enforcement of federal immigration law. Through her work with PCR campaign, Elisa helped pass a recent resolution in which the town of Amherst, MA decided to reject detainer requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). These detainers jeopardize people’s lives and communities every day.

Elisa’s passion for defending civil rights comes from her lifelong career in activism and nonprofit advocacy. Having worked to fight poverty and rights abuses in developing countries, shefelt compelled to find ways to bring her work closer to home as freedoms in the United States came under increasing pressure with passage of the PATRIOT ACT in 2001. “All those rights we have on paper weren’t able to be exercised in real life,” she says.

After graduating college with a background in foreign relations, Elisa spent three years for the InterAmerican Dialogue, a leadership forum for democratic dialogue in the Western Hemishphere, before returning to school to earn a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton University. Elisa worked with CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting global poverty, for the next 12 years, applying the lessons in policy and institutional change she garnered at Princeton. Since then, Elisa has continued her pursuit for higher education, currently working towards her doctorate in sociology.

She found herself drawn to PCR campaign after nearly 20 years working in the nonprofit community.“I was curious how people decide what they’re going to do to change the world, and what role organizations and social movements play in shaping people’s activism,” she explains. Emphasizing the importance of finding the right organization, Elisa says the PCR campaign helped inspire her to rediscover her commitment to activism.

The recent achievements of a campaign to block compliance with federal detainer requests was a personal highlight for Elisa. She recalled the sensation of power she felt at the Amherst town meeting when the vote took place: the room was filled to capacity, with entire families attending in support. That said, Elisa cautions not to think their work is done. “This is a step forward, but not a victory.” The resolution, though passed, is non-binding and limited, suggesting the need for continued pressure supporting stronger and broader reforms to protect civil rights.

Elisa continues to work on the PCR campaign and encourages all people to find a cause that speaks to their passions. For those who have limited time or don’t know where to start, she says you don’t have to be a full time activist—“just dip your toe in somewhere.”

BORDC thanks Elisa for working to ensure that everyone enjoys the liberties to which we are all entitled, and for continuing to promote public awareness about law enforcement abuses of civil rights. We are proud to honor her efforts with the June 2012 Patriot Award.

Diverse movement challenges NYPD discriminatory practices

Silent march to protest NYPD racial profilingThe Associated Press recently won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles about the New York City Police Department's constitutional violations. The NYPD continues to subject not only New Yorkers, but also residents of jurisdictions across the Northeast, to suspicionless and warrantless domestic surveillance based only on their beliefs or association with others. The NYPD has rejected any limit on its intelligence gathering powers evading attempts to impose civilian oversight.

The NYPD has also endured public criticism for its blatantly discriminatory stop-and-frisk program, as well as its brutality and suppression of dissent, both of which were apparent during the Occupy Wall Street mobilization and protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008. Despite the diversity among communities oppressed by the New York City police and the lack of any civilian oversight of the department, polls indicate widespread support for the NYPD.  However, the media has failed to connect the dots among seemingly separate—but ultimately very similar—abuses. As a result, public opinion of the NYPD is likely based on false or incomplete information from the media.

In fact, the public is showing that the polls don’t tell the whole story. On Sunday, June 17, diverse communities took to the streets in New York for a silent march demonstrating public frustration with the NYPD’s violations of civil rights, and the lack of accountability that allows those violations to continue.

Rhode Island becomes latest state to challenge domestic military detention

Working late Tuesday, June 12, the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted 52-15 to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA. Spearheaded by Representative Dan Gordon, Jr. (R-Portsmouth), this resolution joins a growing chorus of opposition to the NDAA that now includes red states Virginia and Arizona, as well as blue states Hawaii and Rhode Island.

A former Marine, Gordon passionately spoke of his loyalty to the Constitution, and corresponding obligations:

Given the fact that the constitutions of Rhode Island and that of the United States are replete with guarantees of individual liberties, right to habeas corpus, and right to freedom of speech, the offending sections of that law are repugnant to the sensibilities of anyone [who] has a basic understanding of the foundation of this country….

When I took the oath of office, I swore that I would support the constitutions of Rhode Island and the United States. And before one constituent of mine is snatched up in the dead of night, without due process under our laws, they’ll have to pry those documents from my cold dead hands.

BORDC is working with local campaigns and coalitions across the country to resist the NDAA. To get involved with a campaign in your community, check out BORDC’s campaigns for due process.

Amherst, MA: Town Meeting rejects local immigration enforcement

PCR CampaignThe Preserving Our Civil Rights (PCR) campaign celebrated a victory in Amherst, MA, last month when Article 29, a resolution against  participation in federal immigration enforcement, passed the Town Meeting almost unanimously. The resolution was the first in the state to follow a pronouncement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the controversial Secure Communities (S-COMM) immigration enforcement program would be implemented statewide, despite opposition from the governor, the mayor of Boston, and several other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Article 29 not only expresses Amherst’s opposition to participating in S-COMM, but also aims to prohibit Amherst police from honoring detainer requests from ICE. While Amherst may not be able to stop ICE from gaining access to its local arrest records, it can refuse to comply with ICE’s requests to detain arrestees following its review of those records. ICE admits that such requests are voluntary and rely on local cooperation, but most cities and towns remain intimidated by the rogue federal agency or mistakenly believe detainer requests to be mandatory. Refusing to honor detainer requests may be one of the last options available to communities who want to resist S-COMM and the detrimental impact it has on public safety and community trust.

The PCR campaign is also moving to challenge other racial profiling and domestic surveillance practices by local law enforcement agencies across Western Massachusetts. To get involved in the PCR campaign, contact the BORDC organizing team.

Connecticut: Statewide coalition mobilizes to oppose NDAA, S-COMM

Connecticut’s statewide coalition against the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is working to build public support to restore due process in New Britain and South Windsor, CT. The coalition hopes to mobilize other cities and towns across the state to follow their lead.

The coalition also organized a contingent for the June 17 Silent March to end NYC’s stop-and-frisk program, and had a presence at the recent Islamic Circle of North America Convention.

But Connecticut activists are not solely focused on indefinite detention. On May 31, organizers held a panel discussion on Secure Communities (S-COMM) and strategies for resisting it. Dozens of people gathered to discuss the national movement to resist S-COMM and how Connecticut can reject it. Speaker Falguni Sheth, a Hampshire College professor involved with the Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign in Western Massachusetts, spoke on the panel about the connections between Secure Communities and the FBI’s broader agenda. Hartford organizers are continuing a campaign to make those connections explicit.

To get involved in efforts to defend constitutional rights in Connecticut, contact the BORDC organizing team.

Takoma Park, MD: City Council votes to uphold rule of law

On May 21, as Congress began debate on the 2013 NDAA, the Takoma Park (MD) City Council made the wishes of its community clear by rejecting the domestic military detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA.

Just as the US House of Representatives was voting against the Smith-Amash amendment, which would have overturned indefinite detention, and in support of the Gohmert amendment that made matters worse, the city council of nearby Takoma Park, MD, did just the opposite. Five of the seven councilors voted to uphold the rule of law, sending a strong message to federal leaders about local resistance to the NDAA’s unconstitutional detention provisions.

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) is planning to build on the momentum of this victory as the 2013 NDAA moves to the Senate. Over the next several weeks, the MCCRC will expand their campaign to nearby Silver Spring, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda as they build broader support to challenge domestic military detention across their county and state.

Maryland could join the growing number of states that have passed legislation denouncing and rejecting NDAA’s unconstitutional provisions.

To get involved in efforts to defend constitutional rights in Maryland, contact the BORDC organizing team.

Asheville, NC: Local coalition is “Burning for Civil Liberties”

asheville parts signA coalition in Asheville, NC, holds a civil liberties night on the second Monday of each month to build public awareness about their concerns. At their upcoming July event, on July 9 outside Firestorm Café, the coalition will host a “Burning for Civil Liberties” grill-out, along with a popular civil rights trivia contest previously hosted in several cities. The event will combine food, education, and community building to involve more people in efforts to protect civil rights in Western North Carolina.

Prompted by escalating check points set up by local police and ICE, residents of North Carolina’s Franklin County aim to replicate some of Asheville’s civil rights restoration efforts in their own towns.  Jackson, Buncombe, and Henderson counties have also seen increased ICE activity in recent months. Local organizers recognize that county sheriffs play a major role in carrying out ICE’s policies and plan to craft a strategy for reaching out to each county’s sheriff in the coming months.

To get involved in efforts to defend constitutional rights in North Carolina, contact the BORDC organizing team.

Washington, DC: City Council limits cooperation with ICE

Last fall, immigrants’ rights activists in the nation’s capital claimed a victory when Mayor Vincent Gray pledged that the District was “not going to go about being an immigration agency for the federal government.” At the time, Gray signed an order prohibiting public safety officers from asking people about their immigration status or from arresting people based solely on immigration status. Since then,  ICE has declared participation in Secure Communities (S-COMM) mandatory despite opposition from local residents in DC and across the country.

In response, the DC Council passed the Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment Act on June 5. The law limits  compliance with ICE detainer requests only to individuals who are over 18 and who have been convicted of a dangerous crime. ICE claims that S-COMM was designed to identify serious criminals, despite evidence that many people without criminal records or with only minor violations have been caught up in it. Councilor Phil Mendelson, who introduced the act, is holding ICE to that goal: “This [law] helps them do just that and only that.”

Berkeley, CA: City Council to vote on measures to reform police practices

Tuesday, June 19, the Berkeley (CA) City Council will host a groundbreaking public workshop before voting on measures to reform police practices. Promoted by the diverse Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, which BORDC has advised since its inception, the reforms include measures to protect dissent, escalate local resistance to federal immigration enforcement, restore transparency, limit local police surveillance, and end the purchase of used military hardware.

First among the coalition’s concerns is the secrecy of agreements between their local police department and federal agencies, in direct violation of longstanding local law. The coalition has also challenged cooperation with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), a local fusion center. Further, the coalition opposes the Urban Area Shield Initiative. through which the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) sought a grant to buy a $300,000 armored personnel carrier—in a city with no conceivable need for such equipment.

The workshop will feature representatives from NCRIC, BPD, Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, Berkeley Police Review Commission (which endorsed a modified version of the coalition’s reform proposals), and the ACLU of Northern California. Should the Council vote to approve the reforms, they will include the nation’s most assertive local limits on the reporting of domestic intelligence information to fusion centers.

For more information about efforts to defend constitutional rights in the Bay Area, contact the BORDC organizing team.

Los Angeles, CA: Diverse coalition meets to continue anti-surveillance advocacy

To Protect and to ServeOn Tuesday, June 19, the Coalition to Stop LAPD Spying will meet at 6:30 p.m. at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, 675 S. Parkview on the west side of MacArthur Park between Wilshire Blvd. and 7th Street.

Over the last two weeks, coalition members sent a strong message rejecting recent LAPD surveillance reforms whose impact on the ground remains unclear. After hundreds of people contacted his office, LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore sought a meeting with the coalition. Rather than meeting behind closed doors, the coalition has invited him to participate in its next campaign meeting.

While there’s much to be discussed with LAPD on numerous issues, the June 19 meeting will focus on Special Order 1, which recently replaced a long controversial Special Order 11. Both orders allow intelligence collection based on non-criminal behavior, turning the LAPD into a spy ring rivaled only by the NYPD and FBI.

For more information about the Los Angeles anti-spying campaign, contact the BORDC organizing team.

Law and Policy

Congress cans the Constitution, as Chicago police abduct activists

The following is an excerpt from an article originally published on the People’s Blog for the Constitution. Read the article in its entirety.

In the wake of the recent House votes on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act—which left the NDAA’s domestic military detention provisions even more noxious than they were before—one might legitimately wonder what country we live in.

Once again, our nation has demonstrated that the “land of the free” is an empty slogan, a vestigial nod to a constitutional vision that has long inspired the world yet seems wasted on our own shores. For what purpose, exactly, did the United States squander decades, trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives during the Cold War?...

Thousands have mobilized all over the country to defend their rights. Dozens of Occupy sites joined with Tea Party chapters in national days of action in December, February, and decentralized actions dating back even earlier. Grassroots activists have organized forums, rallies, marches, protests, vigils, flashmobs, street theater, and more from coast-to-coast.

This week, Hawaii (a blue state) joined Arizona (red) and Virginia (purple), in addition to a dozen local jurisdictions across eight states—led by the conservative Colorado county that hosts the Air Force Academy—that have raised their voices decrying the NDAA’s detention provisions and demanding due process….

Not only has Congress given its institutional middle finger to the Constitution, but the Chicago Police Department—which not long ago tortured hundreds of innocent African-American men into false confessions (sound familiar?)—is offering clues about what life under the NDAA might one day look like. Perhaps still reeling from the memory of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the CPD has learned from its mistakes, preempting First Amendment activity by abducting activists. [UPDATE: Several of the activists abducted on Wednesday have since been accused of terrorism.]

This weekend’s NATO summit has already inspired crackdowns by the city government. Wednesday night’s warrantless raid of a Bridgeport apartment complex, and abduction of nine activists, took the militarization of domestic police to a new level. Chicago seems like a banana republic in its casual disregard for basic rights: the detainees were held incommunicado for a night, shackled hand & feet, and denied access to counsel….

 Activists raided by police because of their speech? Disappeared and held in shackles?

These are not things that are supposed to happen in America. Millions of armed servicemembers did not die in foreign wars so that timid politicians could legislate away the basic freedoms they fought to protect….

As an attorney, I’d suggest that members of Congress who opposed the Smith-Amash amendments take care, and watch their words.

If Big Brother decides (through what process, one wonders?) that Representatives Landry, Rigell, Gohmert and their allies are the real threats to our Republic (which is debatable), or our Constitution (which is undeniable), they may find themselves in a military brig one of these days.

They might want a right to trial then.

Goodbye blue sky? Elected officials respond to the easing of FAA restrictions on flying drones in US airspace

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration made it easier to fly unarmed aerial drones in American skies. Drones can legally be flown if they are no more than 400 feet above ground and weigh less than 25 pounds. The previous weight limit was 4.4 pounds.

usa watch out 4th amendmentHowever, the new FAA regulations made no mention of the threat drones pose to civil liberties. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee recently joined a coalition urging the FAA to include more privacy safeguards for using domestic drones.

Over 60 agencies have already applied to operate a drone. Drones are increasingly being flown by local law enforcement. In 2011, an unarmed Predator drone was used to arrest three men accused of stealing cows in North Dakota—the first time a drone was used domestically to arrest American citizens. However, one of the men arrested, Rodney Brossart, is now suing the state of North Dakota for “outrageous governmental conduct.”

Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office in Montgomery County, Texas purchased a $300,000 Shadowhawk drone, thanks to a grant by the Department of Homeland Security. The Shadowhawk can fly at 70 miles per hour and is equipped with a Taser that can incapacitate a target from up to 100 feet away. So far, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is the only law enforcement agency in the nation to own a weaponized drone.

Civil libertarians soon condemned the purchase. Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney, explained that allowing drones to use force could be “unconstitutional.”Similarly,prominent conservative intellectual Charles Krauthammer has denounced domestic drones, as has former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano, who has publicly worried that drones normalize warrantless searches and other constitutional violations.

Many elected officials also oppose the domestic use of drones. On Tuesday, June 12, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced S. 3287, the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, which would require the US government to generally secure a judicial warrant before using unmanned aerial drones to monitor US citizens. According to Senator Paul:

Like other tools used to collect information in law enforcement, in order to use drones a warrant needs to be issued. Americans going about their everyday lives should not be treated like criminals or terrorists and have their rights infringed upon by military tactics.

The bill would require a warrant to use drones and prohibit evidence collected with warrantless drone surveillance from being used as evidence in court. Unfortunately, it also includes a number of exceptions allowing continued unfettered use of drones to patrol national borders or whenever the government claims a risk of a terrorist attack.

Additionally, the entire Nebraskan congressional delegation, including Republican Reps. Adrian Smith, Jeff Fortenberry, and Lee Terry, Republican Senator Mike Johanns, and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, signed a letter pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Lisa Jackson about how drones violate privacy and private property protections. The letter was in response to the EPA’s use of aerial surveillance drones to spy on farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and Iowa. The EPA defended its drones, arguing they were a legal and “cost-effective” way to monitor runoff contamination. However, Smith, co-chairman of the Modern Agriculture Caucus and the Congressional Rural Caucus added, “Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural America.”

FISA to be reauthorized despite its threat to privacy, as Supreme Court reviews court challenge

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows intelligence agencies to seek approval for monitoring foreigners overseas. The FISA Amendments Act passed in July 2008 gives the government authority to eavesdrop on Americans’ emails and phone calls without any individual suspicion, so long as one of the parties to the communication is outside the US.

FISA:  Freedom is Sinking AwayThough such measures are reportedly designed to “acquire foreign intelligence information” in order to protect the rights of the American people, many individuals, including members of Congress, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers, agree that the NSA is actually targeting American citizens and violating privacy rights.

The Bush administration originally set the FISA Amendments Act to expire at the end of this year. However, President Obama has made extending the legislation for another four years a priority of his administration, despite originally expressing concerns about the legality of the bill when it was first proposed to the Senate.

This about-face could have terrifying implications. As reported by David Kravets from Wired Magazine, reauthorizing FISA means far more than just providing the government with access to email exchanges.

The secret FISA court generally rubber stamps  electronic surveillance requests that target Americans’ communications and the NSA does not have to identify a particular target or facility to be monitored. It can begin surveillance well before approaching the court, and may continue surveillance during the appeals process if, in a rare case, the court rejects the surveillance application. The court’s rulings are not public, impeding any independent oversight or debate, and the law also gives the corporate sector broad immunity to facilitate illegal NSA spying.

That’s not all. According to The New York Times, intelligence agencies emboldened by FISA have utilized techniques and intercepted communications even “beyond the broad limits established by Congress.” Such methods, says Jameel Jaffeer of the ACLU, “give the government nearly unfettered access to Americans’ international communications.” Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) agreed with this assertion, adding, “We should not be surveilling Americans with this low standard without significant oversight.”

Despite its profound threat to transform the US into a surveillance state, FISA will likely be reauthorized. However, every federal court ever to have reviewed the NSA’s program on the merits has struck it down as unconstitutional.

On the one hand, each of those rulings have been overturned on appeal, reasoning that plaintiffs have been unable to establish whether they have been individually subjected to surveillance authorized by FISA (due to government secrecy). On the other hand, the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal limited to the question of whether the plaintiffs in one particular case have a right to sue the government. Should the Court allow the challenge to proceed, it will continue for several years before reaching a final resolution.

The FBI and Facebook: “Going Dark” with CALEA

Dislike_IconThe FBI has announced plans for its next attack on privacy: the establishment of backdoors to social networking sites and other online networking services such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Google+. The FBI general council’s office recently drafted a proposal calling for new legislation which involves social networking applications to be modified to include a code that makes them “wiretap-friendly.”

Senior FBI officials argue that the increasingly widespread use of the Internet as a primary means of communication challenges the FBI’s ability to monitor illegal activities. They term it the “going dark” problem—the dilemma of technology racing ahead of the FBI’s surveillance capabilities.

The FBI’s proposal would amend the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which authorizes the FBI to conduct electronic surveillance of citizens through wiretapping, but is currently limited to telephone services and internet and broadband networks. The proposed amendment to CALEA represents yet another unconstitutional threat to Internet privacy launched by the FBI.

The FBI announced last year that it would launch a nationwide facial recognition service using biometrics in order to monitor potential suspects of criminal activity. The FBI’s proposal would allow it to use Facebook as a gateway for expanding its facial recognition powers. Bureau officials have already begun lobbying Internet service providers and White House officials to urge them not to oppose its latest proposed power grab.

New Resources and Opportunities

Book Review: Taking Liberties: the War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy by Susan Herman

Taking LibertiesSusan Herman’s latest book, Taking Liberties: the War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy, presents an alarming yet insightful account of our disappearing civil liberties in the decade following the events of September 11, 2001. Throughout the book, Herman returns to the questionable policy of exchanging liberty in the name of abstract security.

Divided into three sections—“Dragnets and Watchlists,” “Surveillance and Secrecy,” and “American Democracy”—Taking Liberties provides an informed and articulate report on the federal government’s hasty response following the attacks of 9/11 and their impact on our rights to privacy, due process, and freedom of speech.

Herman, president of the ACLU, frames her book around anecdotes of people including college student Abdullah al-Kidd and ex-paratrooper Erich Scherfen—ordinary people caught in the post PATRIOT Act security dragnet.

By basing the information of the book around the personal accounts of those persecuted by the overzealous actions of the federal government, Herman reacquaints the reader with the human cost of the “war on terror.” Moreover, Herman does not present these examples as rare and bizarre exceptions in an otherwise smoothly functioning terror prevention network; rather, she shares their stories as a warning that the constitutional protections we take for granted were significantly weakened by policies implemented since the 9/11 attacks over a decade ago.

As Abdullah al-Kidd learned first-hand, even the security of American citizenship is no longer a guarantee against unconstitutional prosecution. Born in Wichita, Kansas, al-Kidd, a star football player and Islamic convert, was on his way to study Arabic at University in Saudi Arabia in early 2003 when he was stopped and arrested at the airport. Detained, interrogated, and sent in shackles through five states, al-Kidd was then jailed in a maximum security cell for the next 16 days.

The charge? There never was one; al-Kidd was arrested under the material witness statute—a statute that beginning in fall 2001 was “pressed into service and used as a pretext in this and dozens of other cases to lock people up on the basis of hunches, biases, and flimsy evidence.” Al-Kidd was never called to testify.

Erich Scherfen is a former paratrooper and helicopter pilot with a secret security clearance who was ironically placed on an airport watchlist. Then, in April 2008 his employer, Colgan Airlines, told him he was being suspended without pay until he could get his name removed from the watchlist and that he would be fired if he could not do so quickly. After four months of bureaucratic dead ends, Erich sued to have his name removed. Unwilling to even stipulate to Scherfen being on a watchlist at all, the case was eventually dismissed after the government shared “secret information” with the judge.

From watchlists and secretive trials, to false arrests and unreasonable searches, Herman’s latest book serves as a wakeup call to all Americans. Our government is eroding our democracy. And as long as we remain silent, these abuses will continue to grow. As Herman phrases it, “The challenges are substantial, but we cannot afford to be daunted."

Torture Awareness Month events planned across the throughout June

June is Torture Awareness Month. This month of education and remembrance includes a multitude of issues that are already making headlines. The fight to repeal indefinite detention authorities in the 2012 NDAA is just beginning.

Chicago Protest Against Guantanamo Jan 11, 2012 - Photo by FJJAlso, efforts remain ongoing to secure transparency and accountability for torture policies initiated under the Bush administration. Unfortunately, none of the senior officials responsible for torture under the Bush administration have ever faced investigation for their involvement in human rights abuses. In fact, some of them, such as Jay Bybee, have been rewarded for their participation: Bybee now has a lifetime appointment as a federal appellate judge. In contrast, millions of Americans have been imprisoned for undeniably less abhorrent crimes.

To mark of Torture Awareness Month, a number of events are planned to bring attention to US human rights abuses, demand transparency and build the movement for accountability:

For a full list of events by state, visit the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. To get involved in the fight against torture in your community, check out BORDC’s local campaigns on executive accountability for torture.

How to help your federal representatives restore your rights

Every August, federal policymakers leave Washington to return to their districts. The summer recess is a great opportunity to meet with your members of Congress to share your concerns. Find contact information for your congressional representatives.

BORDC recommends encouraging their support for three measures:

1. The Civil Liberties Act would remove detention provisions from the NDAA

Congressional revisions to the 2012 NDAA have only further undermined due process and the right to trial. The amendment proposed by Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) failed, so its sponsors have introduced the Civil Liberties Act (H.R. 5936). The stand-alone bill would repeal the 2012 NDAA’s detention provisions entirely. In the House, support will be coordinated by Smith on the House Armed Services Committee and Amash from the House Liberty Caucus. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) is likely to serve as the Senate sponsor.

2. The JUSTICE Act would repeal the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments of 2008

Millions of Americans have raised their voices against the unconstitutional surveillance powers of the USA PATRIOT and FISA Amendments Acts. Opposing these laws by supporting the JUSTICE Act is one way for members of Congress to gain support from across the political spectrum. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are coordinating in the Senate.

By authorizing expensive government investigations without adequate controls, the PATRIOT Act and FISA violate constitutional rights of all Americans, while also inflating the federal budget. At a time when states are struggling to stay afloat, we should ensure that intelligence agencies spend their money wisely, instead of allowing massive dragnet surveillance at the taxpayers’ expense.

Finally, both the PATRIOT Act and FISA dramatically extended executive power without judicial or congressional oversight. Curtailing our government’s surveillance powers need not compromise security. Indeed, by focusing those powers, the JUSTICE Act would help enhance security. The material support provisions of the JUSTICE Act, in particular, would directly enhance US national security.

3. The End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) would address biases pervading the criminal justice system

It is long overdue for policymakers to prohibit profiling in all its forms. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (S.1670 and H.R.3618) to prohibit all forms of ethnic profiling, including stop-and- frisks, traffic stops, and surveillance.

The bill would require training and data collection on profiling for all agencies receiving federal law enforcement funding; support law enforcement initiatives that do not result in profiling; establish a private right of action to resolve complaints; and create privacy protections for individuals whose data is collected. Members of Congress should show their support and encourage the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the bill.

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Contributors: Shahid Buttar, Amy Ferrer, Zoeth Flegenheimer, George Friday, Munazza Khan, Annette Macaluso, Emily Odgers, Samantha Peetros, Mackenzie Peterson, Emma Roderick, and Nick Sibilla

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

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