Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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BORDC's Recommended Resources

The following books, films, online videos, and plays address the USA PATRIOT Act, detention, and other threats to civil liberties, as well as the grassroots movement that has emerged to defend the Bill of Rights.


America's Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror," edited by Rachel Meeropol (2005)

This book documents abuses of human and constitutional rights through analysis and testimony related to Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, rendition, detentions during the 9/11 terrorism investigation, and detentions of US citizen enemy combatants.

In this book, Dow provides a startling look at immigration detention, a cruel and secretive prison system operating throughout the U.S. While such prisons have existed for over 2 decades, the number of daily detentions has risen from 5,532 in 1994 to over 23,000 in 2004! Through brief explanations of immigration laws and procedures as well as shocking and horrifying personal accounts of current and former prisoners, guards, and lawyers, Dow exposes the institutional as well as individual effects of this unconstitutional prison system.

The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent: A National Lawyers Guild Report on Government Violations of First Amendment Rights in the United States by Heidi Boghosian (2004)

The National Lawyers Guild analyzes how the Department of Justice reacts to and handles local police action regarding lawful public expressions of dissent and free speech. The report methodically evaluates the monitoring and punishment of dissenters, beginning prior to actual demonstrations and continuing through the end. Ultimately, the NLG concludes that instead of the protecting the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens and prosecuting police abuses, the DOJ under Attorney General John Ashcroft has done just the opposite.

Assessing the New Normal: Liberty and Security for the Post-September 11 United States by Human Rights First (2003)

The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry (1987)

Harvard English Professor Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain offers a riveting interpretation of the “making” and “unmaking” process as it pertains to torture. In her book, she closely studies the politics of pain in letters and testimony from torture victims, medical case histories and questionnaires, soldiers’ diaries, transcripts from personal injury trials, and literature. Although The Body in Pain was written more than 20 years ago, unfortunately it is still relevant to the current “war on terror” and the post-9/11 human rights abuses. The Body in Pain still remains a standard work on torture well respected by academics and human rights organizations alike. Read more.

Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy, and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror by Charles and Gregory Fried (2010)

In the recently published book Because It Is Wrong, Charles and Gregory Fried present the question of whether torture, under any circumstance, is wrong. They make the argument that “torture, as a way of gaining knowledge even in case of desperate need, is absolutely wrong.” They repeatedly come back to this contention as they analyze the juxtaposition of surveillance and torture in the past decade.

Charles Fried is a professor of law at Harvard and his son, Gregory, teaches philosophy at Suffolk University. Together they have constructed an argument against torture that incorporates historical, legal, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives that draw from Aristotle to Machiavelli. The Frieds focus on the context of a post-9/11 America, an “age of terror” that has put into question “our dignity as human beings.”

The book brings to light the moral ambiguity that surrounds torture and the great and convoluted chasms that exist between what is supposedly right for your country and what is absolutely wrong. At the crux of this crucial decision-making are the president and executive power. The authors examine the actions of past presidents in extreme situations, such as Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt and contrast them to the actions of Bush administration officials after 2001. The book delves into the complex historical and moral contexts that provided the justifications for torture.

The authors also discuss government surveillance and its increasing role in the past decade. Sensitivity about privacy is a “modern sentiment,” that was elevated post 9/11 when

systems of ease and confidence were replaced with wary precautions everywhere. We did not even know where the enemy was or even exactly who he was. Suspicion replaced trust. Ordinary citizens, living far from potential targets, felt undermined, threatened, and violated.

The authors provoke an interesting discussion about privacy, the law, and torture, pointing out that “torture is illegal because it is wrong,” but since the law outlines the boundaries of privacy and therefore when it is necessary to overstep those boundaries, “surveillance is wrong because it is illegal.”

Going beyond the debates in the media, this book provides a philosophical analysis of the lawfulness and morality of torture and surveillance. Bringing to the table a strong background in political history, law, and philosophy, the authors offer a unique perspective on these timely issues.

Civilian or Combatant? A Challenge for the 21st Century by Anicée Van Engeland (2011)

Anicée Van Engeland’s Civilian or Combatant? A Challenge for the 21st Century is the latest in a series of books discussing terrorism and global justice. The book brings international human rights to the forefront of a dialogue on war and violence. Van Engeland goes into great detail to address what defines a civilian and what in turn defines a combatant, delving into international law and the consequences that haunt prisoners of war, soldiers without uniform, and, above all, unarmed civilians.

The post-9/11 world has introduced an entirely new kind of warfare, one in which civilians have become targets and active participants in war are no longer easy to identify. The problems presented by terrorists who align themselves with no military, civilians who become party to military activity, and soldiers hindered by illness and other limitations are very real, as is the conundrum they present to modern international law. Describing the practice and slow evolution of the mechanics of warfare, Van Engeland’s book serves primarily as a translation for those previously unfamiliar with international humanitarian law.

Identifying the issues confronting advocates for civilian rights, she discusses genocide, rape, and other violations of human rights in war, before concluding that while the laws set down by the Geneva Conventions serve as the basis for humanitarian law, they can do only so much to distinguish a civilian from a combatant. Though Van Engeland may offer only a basic presentation of the issues concerning civilians in war, she nevertheless covers the issue thoroughly.

The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty by Laura K. Donohue (2008)

This book does an excellent job of reviewing and analyzing national security policies in the United States and United Kingdom following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  The book offers insightful background for anyone interested in civil liberties. Read more.

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer (2008)

This book lays out the roles that Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisor, David Addington, played in setting administration policies for capturing and interrogating detainees. It is a beautifully written, well-researched must-read for anyone who wants to understand how the U.S. slipped from a nation that played an essential role in the adoption of the Geneva Conventions to a nation known to violate those conventions, how the administration’s secret adoption of torture as a policy contributed false evidence of an Iraq connection to the terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda to justify attacking Iraq, and much more.

Sadly, it is a story of power that silenced or incapacitated the many members of government, the military, and the intelligence community who knew better but were powerless to do the right thing for the U.S. and for the world. Hopefully the book’s revelations will move our country and the next administration toward higher ground.

Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by David Swanson (2009)

This book offers a roadmap for how America got to where we are today, and how we can undo the rapid expansion of executive power begun under the Bush administration. Swanson himself is an organizer: the co-founder of the anti-war After Downing Street Coalition and a leader of the campaign for President Bush’s impeachment, he has long written about the demise of democracy in the United States and strategies for its restoration. Daybreak lays out the problems our country faces in clear, readable terms and offers solutions in the same practical manner.

Swanson reminds us of how US democracy is supposed to function. He offers a lengthy discussion of the powers of Congress and the Judiciary, and how, both through the Bush administration’s actions and through the dysfunction and negligence of Congress, the Executive Branch has become the only branch empowered to take on the duties of governance. He argues that putting faith in President Obama to solve our country’s problems—or even pressuring Obama to do so—misses the point. We need to restore our checks and balances by pressuring Congress to exercise their authority and remembering our own power as citizens. The book ends with a “to do” list enumerating demands to place on Congress and suggestions for informing ourselves and organizing for accountability.

Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism by David Cole (2003)

Enemy Combatant by Moazzam Begg and Victoria Brittain (2006)

Detained at Guantánamo Bay for three and a half years, no charges were ever brought against him, and no apologies were made for denying him his freedom. Begg traveled from his native England to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the late 1990s as part of his self-discovery, and was caught up in the driftnet of men taken prisoner by the United States after September 11. Begg was first taken to Camp Rhino prison in Kandahar, and later transferred to Guantánamo. Left behind were his wife, three children and an aging father who fought for Begg’s release. Victoria Brittain, who used some of the correspondence between Begg and his father in her play Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, co-wrote the book with Begg. Brittain elicited from Begg a personal story which reveals much about the huge gulf being created by the Bush Administration to excuse many U.S. behaviors in the "war on terrorism." Begg puts a human face on the many innocent people who have been falsely accused of being "the worst of the worst." Read the February 25, 2006 Guardian article about the book.

For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire by James Yee (2005)

This book tells the gripping personal story of a converted Muslim, West Point graduate and former Muslim Chaplain at Guantánamo Bay. Yee provides a rare, firsthand glimpse of the treatment that Guantánamo Bay detainees received while he was stationed there for ten months. Yee describes his arrest in September 2003, two days after receiving a glowing evaluation that recommended his immediate promotion, and his treatment during 76 days in solitary confinement. Yee was charged with espionage and threatened with the death penalty. Eventually all charges against Yee were dropped, and he left the Army with an honorable discharge, but without an apology from the Army for the harm caused to Yee’s personal and professional life.

Founders v. Bush: A Comparison in Quotations of the Policies and Politics of the Founding Fathers and George W. Bush by Steve Coffman (2007)

One can tell much about the character of a society's political culture by analyzing its elites' political rhetoric. So suggests Steve Coffman's independently produced book, Founders V. Bush. Coffman offers a scathing indictment of the current administration through startling juxtapositions between what Bush officials have said about key topics in American political debate and what the “Founding Fathers” said about them. Unlike many other Bush quote books, the focus is not on today's executive officials’ loss of proficiency with the English language. Coffman's lesson is more serious -- that they have lost their commitment to the constitutional principles that are supposed to bind our country together. In Coffman's book, it is as though the spirit of Thomas Paine were returned from the Eighteenth Century to retort, “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.”

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America by Christopher M. Finan (2007)

This book is a fascinating journey through denials of free speech, courageous fights, defeats and victories from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, woven together by a master storyteller. Nearly a century of laws and policies from the Espionage Act to the PATRIOT Act test the mettle of a cast of hundreds, from Roger Baldwin to Bernie Sanders and countless unsung heroes and villains, who virtually come to life in honest portraiture to replay their historic roles in the endless struggle for free speech.

Getting Away with Torture by Christopher Pyle (2009)

This book offers a comprehensive look into the Bush administration’s “war on terror” policies, which not only permitted, but actively encouraged, what a world consensus recognizes as war crimes. Pyle examines the source of those policies in the convoluted legal logic hand-crafted for Vice President Dick Cheney by the Department of Justice. He also examines the legislative, judicial, military, and political histories enabling such policies, either through willful ignorance or outright collusion. Finally, Pyle outlines steps that must be taken to restore the rule of law, while acknowledging the many institutional, political, and cultural obstacles to such restoration.

Perhaps most significantly, Pyle offers a direct refutation of the argument that our government’s war crimes were the “isolated excesses” of a “few bad apples,” as was argued during the Abu Ghraib scandal. Rather, the crimes at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Air Force Base, and elsewhere were the predictable and unavoidable result of policies and legal opinions created at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Pyle shows how Bush administration officials consciously, with intent and purpose, crafted a set of policies which would lead to the crimes we have already seen, and those we are learning more about every day.

Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program by Stephen Grey (2006)

This book details the beginnings of the CIA, its rapid expansion, and its ultimate collusion with foreign governments accused of torture and obtaining false confessions. Examined in great depth is the growth of the CIA’s rendition program in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Sources for much of the information included in the book were released victims of the program including Maher Arar, Binyam Mohamed, Osama Nasr, and Khaled el Masri, as well as government officials from the U.S. and abroad. Frightening details emerge of how prisoners were tortured upon arrival at their ultimate destinations such as the infamous prison known as “the grave,” containing cells roughly the size of coffins. Information also surfaces about the complacency of U.S. allies in aiding in rendition of individuals to countries known for their torture of prisoners.

Green is the New Red by Will Potter (2011)

In Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, Will Potter examines how domestic counter-terrorism efforts have criminalized environmental activism.

Green is the New RedPotter demonstrates how the broad definition of terrorism—and profound legal penalties it carries—has been applied to animal rights activists and environmentalists. Some groups, like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF), have widely promoted vandalism and property destruction, but have actively avoided the risk of causing physical injury to anyone. Yet, driven by the corporate lobbies of so-called animal enterprises, Congress enacted the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to criminalize non-violent activism once protected by the First Amendment.

Potter, an animal rights activist himself, traces his personal history with members of these groups as they went from student activists to non-violent dissidents to convicted terrorists. According to Potter, the word “eco-terrorist” was coined to politicize counter-terrorism and silence dissent. Potter notes that the definition of terrorism is not consistent: it is routinely applied to environmentalists who burn down buildings and cause property damage without physically harming anyone, while individuals motivated by political ideology who kill an innocent victim by flying a plane into an IRS building, assassinate a doctor during church services, and murder dozens of schoolchildren at a summer camp are not described or treated as terrorists.

Potter ends his book by comparing historical attempts to marginalize groups that threaten the United States’ cultural framework. During and preceding the Cold War, communists, anarchists, and a number of other political groups were targeted and labeled as threats because of their “fringe” ideologies. Today, the “green” environmental activist has taken the place of the communist, described as the antithesis of everything America stands for—at least in the eyes of big business. Green is the New Red is a fascinating book that helps shed some light on how counter-terrorism efforts have eroded constitutional rights and continue to threaten democracy in America.

Guantánamo: What the World Should Know by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray (2004)

In this book, political journalist Ellen Ray interviews Michael Ratner, a human rights lawyer and the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the U.S. Supreme Court case, Rasul v. Bush. Ratner clearly explains the laws pertaining to Guantánamo and gives a vivid picture of what is actually happening to the detainees.

How Would a Patriot Act? by Glenn Greenwald (2006)

In this book, constitutional law attorney Glenn Greenwald discusses the myriad abuses of power by the Bush administration and the underhanded diversion tactics used to advance its dishonest political agenda. It demonstrates how his becoming aware of the facts transformed him into a more politically conscious and active citizen. Greenwald raises the red flag, advising people that if they’re not concerned yet, they should be.

Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World by Maureen Webb (2007)

Canadian human rights attorney and author Maureen Webb’s book begins at a rally for Maher Arar, where she and her children first encountered Maher Arar’s wife Monia Mazigh and their two young children. Her story sets forth clearly what happened to Arar during his custody with the CIA and later with his interrogators and torturers in Syria, and how a chance encounter with a “person of interest” led to his so-called “extraordinary rendition.” Throughout the book, Webb masterfully presents the concept of preemption; the laws and policies in the US, Canada, and elsewhere that allow global surveillance, giant data-mining programs, and interrelationships among government data, data aggregators such as ChoicePoint and Lexis-Nexis, and telecommunication and commercial records; the use of “risk assessment” in conjunction with those data; and what it means to our democracy.

The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days by Karen Greenberg (2009)

This book provides an excellent and engaging analysis of Guantánamo Bay’s transformation after 9/11. The book centers around General Michael Lehnert, the man initially selected to run the renovated detention facility. Though the book does not justify or apologize for Guantánamo’s abuses, it provides insight into the mentalities of the guards and the leadership. Greenberg reminds us that after September 11, 2001, the military, like the rest of America, was scared. She reminds us that Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, and others higher in the chain of command were responsible for orchestrating policies of lawlessness and torture.

General Lehnert is portrayed as a hero, the man who aims to understand rather than simply punish the detainees, who insists on following the Geneva Conventions in spite of Rumsfeld’s contention that they do not apply, and who treats the detention center more like a refugee camp. The Least Worst Place allows us to watch Guantánamo’s chilling evolution unfold as, one step at a time, the highest-level officials of the Bush administration carefully calculate Guantánamo’s tragic course, keeping the media, the public, and even the general in the dark. Greenberg skillfully interweaves her text with quotes from news articles, memos, and interviews, giving the book a narrative quality without fictionalizing the events. Pages of endnotes offer accessible sources of often disturbing accounts and provide Greenberg’s text with academic credibility. The Least Worst Place is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about the early days of Guantánamo, a story the public has not heard until now.

Less Safe, Less Free by David Cole and Jules Lobel (2007)

This book critiques the Bush administration’s policies of preemption and preventive arrests and demonstrates how and why the policies are not making the U.S. and the world safer, but, in fact, less safe. The authors investigate the facts behind the administration’s rhetoric about its anti-terrorism record and its use of coercive interrogations to “save lives.” They quote law enforcement experts’ criticisms of the administration’s approaches. They also compare the drawbacks of the Bush administration’s approach to those of other governments that have dealt with terrorist attacks, such as the U.K., and offer an alternative strategy that would increase our safety and restore freedoms.

Military Tribunals & Presidential Power: American Revolution to the War on Terrorism by Louis Fisher (2005)

This book traces the history of U.S. military justice, critiques specific military tribunals, and points to their potential danger to open government.

No Greater Threat: America after September 11 and the Rise of a National Security State by C. William Michaels (2005)

This book is now available in a second revised edition. Michaels provides a comprehensive review and analysis of the USA PATRIOT Act, as well as a description of the "12 common characteristics of a national security state," which he believes the United States is coming close to fulfilling. The new edition includes updates, expanded commentary and examinations of various anti-terrorism developments since 2002.

No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society by Robert O'Harrow (2005)

We recommend the Washington Post book review from February 20, 2005.

Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism by Geoffrey R. Stone (2004)

Stone chronicles the history of free speech infringements during times of war in this new book, providing detailed accounts of each period of war or national crisis. He highlights legislation that affected the very notion of free speech, and evaluates America's history of pinning basic freedoms against national security.

Rethinking the PATRIOT Act: Keeping America Safe and Free by Stephen J. Schulhofer (2005)

This book explores the positive and negative effects of the law and concludes that many of its powers are too broad, threatening liberty and privacy, wasting effort, misdirecting resources, and misusing legitimately acquired information for illegitimate purposes. The author, who is a Law Professor at New York University Law School and former director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice at the University of Chicago, concludes the report by recommending changes that would address the secrecy and lack of accountability resulting from the PATRIOT Act. The report is a part of The Century Foundation’s Homeland Security Project.

Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties by Nancy Chang (2002)

The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi (2007)

In 2003, an American soldier, Jessica Lynch, was wounded in battle in Iraq. Initially, her story was manipulated by the US government to demonize Iraqis and dramatize American heroism. The government story of a Black Hawk helicopter rescue paints a classic picture of a heroic male and a damsel in distress. The "rescue" was unnecessary, however, and the story of heroism was false.

In her 2007 book, The Terror Dream, Susan Faludi takes us back to the earliest days of American colonialism to underline similarities with the terror wars of today. She reveals undercurrents of a strategy in use since that time: The government whips up fear of an enemy from whose clutches, it says, we must rescue helpless women. Both the enemy and the helpless woman are false constructs, built to support unbridled power. It's that unbridled power that has been used in recent years to undermine the Constitution, start pre-emptive wars, indefinitely imprison and torture Arab and Muslim men, and spy on all of us through wiretapping and email interception.

Faludi writes, "...first we conquered, then we made up a fiction of defiled womanhood to rationalize it." It's a striking comparison to the so-called Global War on Terror where government-generated fear of Islam and Muslims is used to justify conquering countries rich in oil resources. Metropolitan Books, 2007.

Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security by David Cole and James Dempsey (2006)

Fully revised and updated in 2006, with a new foreword by Nancy Talanian, BORDC's founding director, and Kit Gage, a member of BORDC's board of directors.

Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil by James Bovard (2003)

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest and William Arkin (2011)

Top Secret America, by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dana Priest and William Arkin, stands in stark contrast to Hollywood’s often glamorous look at espionage and covert operations. Their exposé of America’s intelligence operations throws open the doors on a multi-billion dollar government labyrinth nestled in nooks and crannies throughout the nation. From the opening pages, it is apparent that fighting the so-called “war on terror” has been an inefficient and duplicative waste of resources.

Following the devastation of 9/11, Congress wrote the Executive Branch a blank check that led to, among other things, “wasteful duplication . . . cultivated by [a] bureaucratic instinct that bigger is always better.” From the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to local law enforcement and private contractors, the sheer volume of agencies and acronyms is staggering.

One of the points of emphasis for Priest and Arkin is that this unprecedented growth in the defense and intelligence communities has operated to produce redundancy, disorganization, and incredible waste. Newly recruited “analysts” are given broad autonomy but insufficient training, resulting in overlap and confusion.

Who holds this brave new world’s operatives accountable? Not the military, and certainly not the American people, but rather our politicians (in the case of government agencies), and in the case of private contractors, shareholders.

The book also sheds light on previously secret activities that should give every American pause. Perhaps the most frightening revelation is that our government, the one that we pay for with our tax dollars, is perfecting technology that would make it possible to peer into private homes with high-resolution data imaging. The goal is to be able to keep tabs on and map people everywhere.

For example, a man taking pictures of a ferry is surveilled for hours and the information collected is sent to a database where it is stored, likely forever. The justification for such surveillance is that law enforcement does not necessarily know whether the “suspect” is plotting an attack or whether he is simply interested in ferries. Information is retained because, as several high-level government officials indicated, dots cannot be connected and patterns cannot be detected unless everything is saved.

Secretary of State Janet Napolitano testified earlier this year that we are not safer from threat of a terrorist attack. For nearly a decade, intelligence analysts and operatives focused on threats from abroad. But not anymore: the shift to looking at homegrown terrorism has only increased the amount of government intrusion in our lives.

States and local law enforcement are increasingly involved in fighting the “war on terror,” but since terrorism is so rare, the tools allocated for detecting and preventing terrorists are overwhelmingly used to fight ordinary crime. This leads to abuses, such as a story the authors recount involving the Memphis police. Officers pulled over a woman who was operating a vehicle that fit the description of one they were looking for. Once police realized that she was not the person they were looking for, the woman, who was African American, received a bogus ticket.

Priest and Arkin have uncovered an underground and hidden world where billions of dollars are spent to keep us safe, but no one is monitoring the results. Those charged with our security see America as a battleground where civil liberties must take a back seat to the so-called “war on terror.” And, in the case of ubiquitous private contractors, their duty is to corporate shareholders, not the public.

This is an extremely important piece of non-fiction, written by highly respected journalists following two years of intense investigations. Especially given the budget debate, in which both parties talk of reigning in spending, Priest and Arkin explain the vast waste expended on a war that exists completely in the shadows, free from oversight. Couple with voluminous evidence of rampant civil liberties abuses, the picture that emerges is one of a government severely out of control.

Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali (2007)

This winner of the American Political Science Association’s 2008 award for Best Human Rights Book is now available in paperback. Rejali, professor of political science at Reed College and internationally recognized expert on modern torture, details the evolution of global torture techniques from the 19th century, through the Battle of Algiers, to contemporary abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. He also examines myths and realities regarding pain; the reliability of information obtained by torture; the impact of torture on the psychology of professional interrogators; and the profoundly destructive consequences that historically befell democracies permitting torture as a means of interrogation.

Most disturbing is Rejali’s finding that while dictatorships have tortured with impunity, it is the democracies—with righteously declared commitments to human rights—that have pioneered and perfected the stealthy, “clean” methods of torture that leave no marks: by electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions. Rejali’s horrific conclusion is that:

Stealth torture appears to be a perverse effect of the growing robustness of international monitoring. By creating conditions in which observers could monitor specific behaviors, the observers changed the behavior they sought to document. When monitors exposed torture to public censure through careful documentation, torturers responded by investing in less visible and harder to document techniques.

Rejali devotes an entire chapter to “Why Governments Don’t Learn,” offering the insight that the undocumented nature of stealth torture prevents the sort of study and reflection on outcomes that other military and police actions routinely receive. Finally, Rejali declares:

Leaders of dictatorships sign on to the Geneva Conventions only out of prudential fear of what other states might do to their state. Leaders of democracies sign on to them not simply to restrain other states from torture, but to restrain themselves as well. They know that all human beings are capable of authorizing and performing torture. Respecting the rights of others is not coded into our DNA, but must constantly be reinforced by institutional checks and balances. As America’s founders would have told us, we are our own worst enemies, and corruption arose in our democracy not because we failed to defeat others, but because we failed to restrain ourselves.

Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror by Mark Danner (2004)

This book contains a brief narrative about torture and how a democracy confronts or fails to confront its use, along with photographs, sworn statements of Abu Ghraib detainees, documents, and reports.

The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, edited by Marjorie Cohn (2011)

Law professor Marjorie Cohn's newest anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, guides the reader through some of the most troubling and dark annals of US history. Her compilation features chapters from a wide range of professions, with contributions from lawyers, political scientists, and historians, including Sister Dianna Ortiz, Richard Falk, and Philippe Sands, among others. Each section of the book details a different aspect of US involvement in torture.

The anthology begins with several chapters detailing the history of American utilization of torture in the 20th century, beginning with the Central Intelligence Agency's queries into different interrogation techniques. Professor Cohn compares the CIA and KGB, which pursued strikingly similar tactics of extracting intelligence from human sources. The majority of Cohn's book focuses on US involvement in Latin America, with the training of right-wing military leaders as well as current American techniques of extraordinary rendition and aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects. Chapters often detail the actual acts of torture and the ramifications of these actions on a personal and wider political scale.

The United States and Torture explores torture in historical, philosophical, and legal contexts. The chapters flow smoothly, with the 14 sections contributing to a cohesive and insightful whole. Cohn and the contributors to the book effectively explore torture and criticize all of the administrations that have used these practices, Democrat and Republican alike.

The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance by Nat Hentoff (2004)

This book, published in 2003 in hardcover, has been updated and expanded in a new paperback edition.

The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights by Elaine Cassel (2004)

In her newest book, Elaine Cassel quickly lays out the laws and policy changes that affect civil liberties, illustrating each with stories of real people or groups who have been affected and of the popular resistance. She clearly articulates the Bill of Rights issues at stake, the major affects of legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security Act, various court cases and detentions, and action taken by groups working to defend the rights and freedoms of Americans. Each chapter is devoted to a specific issue, and the glossary provides a useful list of resources to keep the reader up to date on events surrounding civil liberties as they unfold in the future.

We Dissent, edited by Michael Avery

This book is a collection of eight "dissents" from critical Supreme Court decisions that subverted civil liberties. The dissents, written not by Supreme Court Justices but by preeminent figures in constitutional law, shed light on the significant damage done to fundamental rights and liberties during Chief Justice William Rehnquist's tenure on the Supreme Court.

In her dissent to Chavez v. Martinez, Professor Marjorie Cohn, current president of the National Lawyers Guild, challenges the Court's ruling that coercive interrogation does not violate one's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination nor one's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process unless the evidence obtained is presented in a criminal proceeding. Cohn contends that coercive interrogation does, in and of itself, violate a person's constitutional rights. Further, she argues that international treaties signed by the United States, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, constitute the "supreme law of the land" as stated in Article VI of the Constitution and must be applied in domestic courts as well as international ones - an assertion the Court itself did not make in its decision. As the introduction to Cohn's dissent points out, "[t]his omission was particularly grievous given the significance of torture issues in connection with the so-called War on Terror."

Each of the essays in We Dissent provides critical insight into what must be done to restore the full rights guaranteed in the Constitution. There is, sadly, much work ahead.

We Will Be Heard: Voices in the Struggle for Constitutional Rights Past and Present by Bud and Ruth Schultz (2008)

The photographs convey as much as the words in Bud and Ruth Schultz's latest book, We Will Be Heard. In the eyes of Maher Arar, whose arresting portrait fills the cover, we can see not only his betrayed ideals and the depth of his suffering, but also the wearying awareness and acceptance of the need to continue the struggle for his basic civil rights year after year. Apparently because his name was on a "terrorist lookout list," Arar was detained by FBI and Immigration and Naturalization agents at JFK airport on September 26, 2002, after a vacation in Tunisia. Although he had absolutely no terrorist connections, his ordeal lasted over a year and included "extraordinary rendition" to Syria for brutal imprisonment and torture.

Some of the people in this book may be familiar to us, but most are near-unknowns who, like Maher Arar, were overtaken by events that at first seemed outlandish and incredible, but turned out to be devastatingly real. For many, the result of their struggles has been a lifelong commitment to civil rights: American born Fred Korematsu, who refused to comply with the U.S.’s Japanese internment order in 1941, filed an amicus brief on behalf of Guantánamo detainees more than sixty years later in 2003.

The photographs alone make this book worth owning, but the self-portraits in each of the featured individuals’ words—one for each year from 1916 to 2005—create an inspiring witness to those who continue to hold this country to its highest ideals.

You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression by Matthew Rothschild (2007)

This book is a collection of 82 stories of people whose freedoms, lives and careers have been touched, altered, or destroyed in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

The book's first chapter, "The Edifice of Repression," lays out the changes in laws and policies that have brought about the current era. Many stories will be familiar to those who have followed The Progressive's "McCarthyism Watch" series, which Rothschild, the magazine's editor, began in 2002. The stories reveal patterns of abuse that have become commonplace since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, including violations of First Amendment rights, privacy rights, due process, and basic human rights. Demonstrating how rights violations have gone beyond federal policy, Rothschild includes stories involving school administrators and local governments, as well as repression on campuses, in malls, and in workplaces. The broad picture reminds us how deeply our society has been affected.

View a list of recommended books compiled by Sue Lyon.


And Justice for All

This documentary and accompanying discussion guide by Seattle filmmaker Sandi Cioffi is now available for purchase through Hate Free Zone Washington. It explores U.S. responses to September 11, their impact on immigrants, civil and human rights, and our character as a people. To purchase a copy of this important video, email Copies are $15 each.

Better This World

Better This World is the story of Bradley Crowder and David McKay, who were accused of intending to firebomb the 2008 Republican National Convention, is a dramatic tale of idealism, loyalty, crime and betrayal. Better This World follows the radicalization of these boyhood friends from Midland, Texas, under the tutelage of revolutionary activist Brandon Darby. The results: eight homemade bombs, multiple domestic terrorism charges and a high-stakes entrapment defense hinging on the actions of a controversial FBI informant. Better This World goes to the heart of the war on terror and its impact on civil liberties and political dissent in post-9/11 America.

Cafe America

This video captures a satirical play, performed by the Sarasota Alliance for Voter Education (SAVE), that lampoons the so-called "USA PATRIOT Act," depicting an extreme example of its worst excesses. To order a copy in VHS or DVD, or for more information, email SAVE. You can also download the full script and consider putting on your own play!

The Cost of Freedom — Civil Liberties, Security and the USA PATRIOT Act

This one-hour public television documentary by Iowa Public Television and The Duncan Group is currently showing nationwide. It looks at the history of civil liberties in America as well as the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. For more information and to order copies, visit (DVD is $19.95 plus shipping; video is $14.95 plus shipping). Ask your PBS station to broadcast the documentary.

The FBI Unbound: How National Security Letters Violate Our Privacy

FBI Unbound, by filmmaker Matt Ehling and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. This 26-minute DVD explores the repercussions of the FBI's power to demand hundreds of thousands of Americans' private records without any oversight by a court or by Congress within the broader context of increasing unwarranted government spying and surveillance.

The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees by Bernadine Mellis is the story of the case of Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. After a pipe bomb exploded in 1990 under Bari’s car seat, maiming her and injuring Cherney, the FBI ignored logic, leads, and evidence that could have led to the perpetrators and instead charged Bari and Cherney with the crime. In 2004, Mellis filmed, directed, and narrated the vibrant story of Bari, fellow activists, and Mellis' father, Dennis Cunningham, the lead attorney for Bari and Cherney as her Master’s thesis from Temple University. The award-winning, 57-minute documentary is available for purchase or rental from Bullfrog Films, with a special price for activists.

The Freedom Files

This series of short videos by the American Civil Liberties Union focuses on a variety of threats to our liberties, including the PATRIOT Act, REAL ID, immigrant rights, and racial profiling. Beyond the Patriot Act and Stop the Abuse of Power are two that portray post-9/11 Bill of Rights violations.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

This documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Rory Kennedy looks beyond the headlines to investigate the psychological and political context in which torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison occurred. How did torture become an accepted practice at Abu Ghraib? Did U.S. government policies make it possible? How much damage has the aftermath of Abu Ghraib had on America's credibility as a defender of freedom and human rights around the world?

Intent: Searching for Meaning in the Constitution

This film, made by Matt Ehling of ETS Pictures, probes issues such as warrantless wiretapping to conduct a modern study of the U.S. Constitution. Ehling is also a member of the Minnesota Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Others of his films include Taking Liberties, which examines the impact of four decades of national security on the Bill of Rights; Urban Warrior, about the militarization of local police; and Security and the Constitution, about the debate between national security and civil liberties.

The Most Dangerous Man in America

The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Story of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is an Oscar® nominated documentary about the courage it takes for a man to stand up against his government to do what is right and what is necessary. Daniel Ellsberg turned his back on his job, his high-level government security clearance, and his personal freedom in order to end the Vietnam war. Daniel Ellsberg copied and distributed the Pentagon Papers, which proved that the American government had been lying to its people for close to a decade about the details of the Vietnam war and the atrocities that were really occurring.

Persons of Interest

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, more than 5,000 Arab or Muslim immigrants were taken into custody by the U.S. Justice Department and held indefinitely on the grounds of national security. This documentary consists of a series of intimate encounters with 12 detainees and family members, in a bare room that functions variously as interrogation room, prison cell and home. In these encounters, detainees share their stories, show photographs, read letters written in jail, re-enact their prison experience -- even sing. For more information, visit First Run Icarus Films.

Ransacking Liberty: A Special Report on the NSA and the Phone Companies

In this 12-minute video, attorney and filmmaker Sanford Lewis outlines the known facts about the program and interviews BORDC Advisory Board member Christopher H. Pyle about what the program means for our democracy. Pyle, who blew the whistle on the FBI's Counterintelligence Program known as COINTELPRO, gives a historic perspective to the issue as well as evidence that the program is being used to prevent the media from talking with government whistleblowers, an application with troubling implications for a democracy.

Reading Your Rights

This documentary on the Colorado Supreme Court case in which the Tattered Cover Book Store fought to protect reader privacy is now available for purchase on VHS and DVD. It was produced by The Just Media Fund and is being distributed by the American Booksellers for Freedom of Expression.

The Road to Guantánamo

Michael Winterbottom's documentary/drama, The Road to Guantánamo, available on DVD, focuses on the "Tipton Three," three British men of Pakistani descent who travel to Afghanistan and find themselves caught up in the turmoil resulting from American retaliation after 9/11. The men are captured and sent to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they are imprisoned for two years, interrogated, tortured and forced to submit to blatantly wrong confessions to being terrorists. The film played at several international film festivals before being released to theaters on a limited basis in the U.S. (95 minutes; rated R).

State Secrets: 9-11 and Civil Liberties

This documentary by Matt Ehling, which highlights civil libertarian concerns regarding the PATRIOT Act, changes to FBI investigative guidelines, the Bush administration's "enemy combatant" policy, and other post 9-11 security policies, is now available for community education efforts. The program provides a succinct analysis of these controversial powers, and reveals the historical back-story to these initiatives. Interviewees include Nancy Chang and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Law), Jonathan Turley (George Washington University), Tim Lynch (the CATO Institute), Elisa Massimino (Human Rights Now), Nat Hentoff (the Village Voice) and others. A transcript of this program, as well as more information, is available at To purchase your own copy ($10), or borrow a copy ($4), send a check or money order to ETS Pictures, 2395 University Avenue West, Suite 312, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114.

Unconstitutional: The War on Civil Liberties

This hour-long Robert Greenwald presentation is sponsored by the ACLU. It immediately grabs viewers with real-life stories of people affected by the Act and other administration policies and practices, from immigrants to protestors. It also explains how the USA PATRIOT Act was passed without markup or debate, and without having been read. It uses the resolution movement to illustrate public opposition, including an interview with Arcata (CA) city councilor Dave Meserve and footage of the 2002 vote of the Eugene City Council.

Undivided: 3 Communities, 1 Struggle

The film Undivided presents a fresh perspective on the issue of immigration. The 30 minute documentary invites viewers into three very different communities located in Tucson, Arizona; Washington, DC; and Oakland, California. Following the personal narratives of three youth, the film exposes how immigration policies are transforming our communities and how youth are paving the way for an era of creative resistance.


The FBI is spying on you and other peaceful Americans, rather than doing its job and ensuring public safety. The PATRIOT Act and other laws enable these growing abuses. This six-minute video includes interviews with experts, including former FBI agents, about the devastating privacy violations the government is committing against law-abiding Americans. Join the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and raise your voice to restore your rights and preserve democracy in America.

USA vs Al-Arian

USA vs Al-Arian by Line Halvorsen is a documentary film about the US government prosecution of Palestinian activist and former university professor Sami Al-Arian. Norwegian filmmaker Line Halvorsen followed the 2005 trial of Al-Arian using archival footage, interviews with Al-Arian, and extensive experiential footage of Al-Arian’s wife and children. The film is an inside look at a real family facing the political persecution of one of its members and the roller-coaster of anguish they go through—from the elation of Al-Arian being found not guilty to despair because the government continues to imprison him even after he made a plea bargain in order to return to his family. If you weren’t convinced before that the Bush Administration’s brand of justice is requiring innocent people to prove their innocence, this film will convince you that the presumption of innocence is no longer present in the US system of justice—at least not for lightening-rod individuals like Al-Arian. A Norweigan clip is available on YouTube.

Washington, You're Fired!

This video calls Americans to challenge government erosions of constitutional protections. The documentary, written, produced and directed by William Lewis, and co-written and produced by Keith Abel, includes interviews with constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley and many others. Each video segment begins with the effects on constitutional rights of new laws and policies such as the USA PATRIOT Act, the REAL ID Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the NSA wiretapping program, and concludes with action steps and images of Americans taking action. The video urges viewers to log on to and pass a local resolution to defend the Bill of Rights. The video's message is clear: If you want your constitutional rights, organize. Bridge Stone Media Group, 2008. (Note: The video says that the Maine legislature passed the first statewide resolution, but actually, Maine's resolution was the fourth. Hawai'i's was the first.)

Online Videos


  • The Bill of Rights and the USA PATRIOT Act, a play/street theater piece created by the Freedom Rousers. Read the script.
  • Café America, a short satirical play about the erosion of civil liberties. Read the script, or purchase a video or DVD of the Sarasota Alliance for Voter Education's performance.
  • Guantánamo: ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom,’ a play created from spoken evidence and letters from British detainees to their families. Learn more about the play and readings that are happening across the country.

Other Resources

Literature, Booklets, Presentations, and Analyses
Links to Other Web Sites