I am an undergraduate Political Science major enrolled in the James Madison University Washington DC Semester program. I am currently interning with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in addition to my position as a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Each month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring that person with our Patriot Award. This month we honor Sarah Nuñez from western North Carolina for her work defending civil liberties and the rights of immigrant communities.
Sarah Nuñez was one of the first activists in Asheville to help address racial profiling using BORDC’s Local Civil Rights Restoration (LCRR) model. She helped City Councilor Cecil Bothwell draft a civil liberties ordinance for Asheville, and she is a champion for coalition building, community education, and civic engagement. Sarah opens up her home for community meetings, helps organize monthly Civil Liberties Nights at Firestorm Café, and makes powerful presentations at schools, colleges, and churches to promote the principles behind the LCRR campaign.
Sarah’s passion for assisting and educating immigrant communities developed, in part, as a result of her own experience growing up in a multiethnic family in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although her father was Columbian, she had little exposure to her Latin American heritage and language. At age 20, she traveled to Columbia, where she spent nine months learning the language, culture, and rediscovering her ethnic identity.
During this time, she was struck by the vivid differences between social classes, which fostered in her an overwhelming desire to work for equality. Upon returning to the US, she became involved in a local immigrants’ rights advocacy group, El Centro, located in Hendersonville, NC. She also worked as a professor at Western Carolina University (WCU), where she spent many years mentoring students from low income, first generation American, and minority households, helping them discover their passions and encouraging them to be a positive influence in their communities. It is remarkable to see the genuine excitement that she feels in helping those who weren’t able to have the opportunities that she had growing up in America.
In addition to her work at WCU, Sarah spent several years working with the Latino Advocacy Coalition, also in Hendersonville, NC. Earlier this year she became the new executive director of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council, which has been helping communities develop mutual respect and eliminate discrimination since the 1950s.
One of the most recent efforts she helped to coordinate was the Our Voices, Our Stories art exhibit, which was displayed at UNC Asheville’s Highsmith University Union Gallery and Enka High School. The exhibit is a unique expression of the hardships that immigrant and minority families struggle to endure, as reflected in the hundreds of personal testimonies gathered from people of all backgrounds. The goal of the project was to raise awareness among the broader community, and also to create an intentional space where people could feel free to share their own experiences and know that they are not alone in their struggle. Sarah reflects, “I went through a lot in my life, but there are so many more people out there whose stories need to be heard.”
Sarah continues to work bringing people together in fun and educational ways. “Creativity is an important part of this process,” she says, “but even more important is making sure to reach out, not only to peoples’ minds, but to their hearts as well.” As the Our Voices, Our Stories exhibit illustrated, thinking outside of the box is essential when appealing to diverse audiences.
BORDC thanks Sarah for standing to defend those who do not have a voice, and we are proud to celebrate her work building the movement for constitutional rights.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
Defendants of the NDAA have repeatedly submitted this specific section as proof that the NDAA does not change the existing law protecting US citizens and legal aliens. But as Knefel points out, “existing law is part of the problem.” Most notably, there is the case of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Muslim cleric, who was killed on September 30, 2011 by a missile fired from an American drone aircraft. Although Awlaki was considered one of the most prominent English-speaking advocates of violent jihad against the United States, this strike appeared to be the first time since the 9/11 attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately targeted and killed by American forces.
His assassination was ordered by the Obama administration in 2010 despite his US citizenship, which naturally provoked lawsuits from human rights and civil liberties groups. According to The New York Times, the administration issued a secret legal memorandum that opened the door to killing a US citizen without trial. This secret memorandum remained intact despite the fact that it contradicts an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various structures of the international laws of war. Although this secret memo was tailored specifically to the case of Awlaki and does not allow for the assassination of any US citizen suspected of involvement with a terrorist organization, it does demonstrate how existing law allows for complete disregard of constitutional liberties under certain circumstances.
In short, Section 1021(e) of the NDAA offers little assurance that civil liberties will remain intact. Even if supporters of the NDAA are correct in their statements that this law only reinforces existing law, they can by no means justify the claim that it will have little or no impact on US citizens.
A recently released autopsy report of two prisoners in Guantánamo Bay casts suspicions on the supposed suicides that transpired in May 2007 and June 2009. The Department of Defense examiners reported that Abdul Rahman Al Amri was found hanging dead with his hands tied behind his back, raising questions about how he could have managed to kill himself. The second prisoner, Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Selah Al Hanashi “was found wearing standard issue detainee clothing, the undergarments from which he supposedly used to kill himself, and not the tear-proof suicide smock issued to detainees who are actively suicidal.” It is still uncertain whether or not Al Hanashi was under an active suicide watch, even though reports claim that he had been seen “repeatedly banging his head on prison walls, and had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.”
The mysterious circumstances and unanswered questions surrounding these deaths continue to feed concerns that this may not have been as open and shut as the autopsy report claimed. While several of these details were kept from the media, they were not unknown among the other prisoners. As Jeffrey Kaye of Truthout magazine reports,
In a 2010 letter to his attorney, released as part of a court filing, longtime Guantanamo hunger striker Abdul Rahman Shalabi told his attorney, “You know what happened to (Abdul Rahman Al-Amri) who was killed in camp five two years ago, hanging while his hands were tied behind his back, and he was in solitary confinement…. When the Americans released the news of his death, they said that they found him dead in his cell and he was on hunger strike and they covered up the crime.”
As Kaye goes on to discuss, the facts presented in the reports and the circumstances surrounding the case don’t seem to add up. While this information cannot disprove the suicide theory, it does provide strong evidence that warrants further investigation into the nature of these deaths.
As UN rapporteur Philip Alston noted in confidential communication concerning the equally suspicious deaths at Guantánamo in 2006:
When the State detains an individual, it is held to a heightened level of diligence in protecting that individual’s rights. As a consequence, when an individual dies in State custody, there is a presumption of State responsibility…
In order to overcome the presumption of State responsibility for a death in custody, there must be a “thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.”
It has been clear for years that the Bush administration paid little attention to international law concerning human rights in the operation of Guantánamo Bay. Though President Obama ran on claims that he would not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, he has repeatedly refused to hold torturers accountable for their crimes and has failed to follow through on his promise to close Guantánamo. And his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, demonstrates that the current administration has in fact expanded the government’s power to ignore international standards of basic human rights.
Although prisoners, by definition, are not afforded all the privileges of free citizens, they are assured certain rights by the Constitution and the moral standards of the community. These rights include prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the right to due process of law. However, recent polls from the Washington Post suggest that 70 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s decision to keep Guantánamo Bay open. Without public support, the chances for a fair, impartial investigation into the treatment of detainees seems unlikely at best.
Now three Google users have filed a class-action lawsuit in the US District Court against Google Inc. claiming that the tech giant deceived its users about what was going on when it combined privacy policies for almost 60 products into one. The plaintiffs seek financial damages accusing Google of violating the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Federal Wiretap Act, and the Stored Electronic Communications Act. In the lawsuit briefing, the plaintiffs argue that,
Contrary to Google’s previous policies, Google is now aggregating consumers’ personal information without consumers’ consent; has failed to provide a simple effective opt-out mechanism; and Google’s primary, undisclosed purpose for doing so is its own commercial advantage, private commercial gain, and financial benefit. Consumers are entitled to damages as a result.
Using the information gathered on individuals, Google can specifically target advertising to consumers, thereby increasing their own revenue. Google’s profits from advertising account for 97 percent of its net income, second only to Facebook. However, the difference between Google and Facebook is significant, since Facebook uses the information that consumers knowingly add to their profile in order to target ads. Google, on the other hand, uses information that its users unknowingly provide.
Google will know more about you than your wife does. Everything across your screens will be integrated and tracked. Google noted that it collects information you provide, data from your usage, device information and location…Google is watching you as long as you are logged in.
Last week The Guardian reported the shocking story of ex-FBI informant Craig Monteilh and his participation in undercover assignments to draw out radical Muslims as part of the FBI’s attempt to prevent terrorist attacks before they occur. The FBI “confidential informant” program often uses people with previous criminal records, such as Monteilh, coaching them on how to carry out their operations. With compensation of $11,000 a month, it’s plain to see why informants like Monteilh would jump at this opportunity.
Monteilh received a fake identity as Farouk Aziz and was instructed by his FBI handlers to visit several mosques in Southern California with high tech video and audio recording equipment, which he used to secretly record his conversations with Muslims and feed them back to the FBI. As part of his cover, Monteilh pretended to convert to Islam and then slowly began to ask questions about access to weapons, the injustice of the West, and so on. The FBI also approved Monteilh to sleep with several Muslim women recording their pillow talk if he believed it would increase the quality of information the FBI was receiving. The FBI used the information Monteilh provided to identify potential Muslims militants as well as to uncover information about individuals who could potentially be co-opted as a confidential informants. In an ironic twist, Monteilh’s comments and behaviors unnerved the Muslims in Orange County so much that they reported him to the FBI, unaware that he was working for the agency at the time. When the Islamic Center of Irvine filed a restraining order against Monteilh, the operation was a bust and the FBI had no further use for Monteilh.
The Internet is, without doubt, an increasingly important part of our everyday lives. Accordingly, when CIA Director David Petraeus announced at a summit with In-Q-Tel (a CIA venture capital firm) that the CIA is looking to expand intelligence-gathering techniques using common household appliances with wireless connectivity, red flags went up among concerned citizens all around the country.
While the CIA insists that this will not affect American citizens, several critics suggest otherwise. The CIA website states clearly that the CIA is prohibited from collecting intelligence concerning the domestic activities of US citizens unless there is an authorized intelligence purposes, such as when a person is suspected of terrorist activities. Additionally, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and the right of individuals to be secure in their own homes. However, with the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under the Bush administration in 2008, many are concerned that the requirements for obtaining a court-issued search warrant have been set at a dangerously low standard.
The modern home includes a wide variety of appliances such as laptops, smartphones, and video game systems, all of which connect to the Internet. But in addition to this, developing “smart home” technologies are making it possible for individuals to wirelessly control nearly any electronic device in a home. This sort of technology offers an entirely new way for the CIA to track and monitor individuals through a “trove of geolocation data.”
This is hardly the first time that the widespread incorporation of the Internet into our daily lives has created problems. Attempts to stop online piracy, companies asking for Facebook logins, Google’s new “spy” policies, and now the CIA expanding their intelligence gathering tools, represent just a few of the issues that have risen in the last year. Without a doubt, that the Internet is transforming the way we communicate allowing us to work and socialize with greater ease than ever before, but it also presents one of the greatest threats to our personal information and our expectation of privacy.
On March 9, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced legislation that attempts to curb concerns over the detention policies in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA). In unveiling this bill, Smith and Udall issued a joint statement explaining the chief purpose of the bill is to repeal the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA and ensure that both civil liberties and national security are protected.
Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed a similar bill last May that required individuals suspected of terrorist activity be tried in civilian courts rather than military commissions. These efforts ultimately failed, and late last year the NDAA passed giving the military the authorization to lock up alleged terrorists without trial. The new bill Smith has proposed aims to correct these mistakes by allowing alleged terrorists to be tried in federal and state courts.
In a letter Smith sent to one of his colleagues, he explains his reasons and justification for this bill. Kyung Song of The Seattle Times reports that since 9/11, “more than 400 people accused of international terrorism have been successfully convicted in U.S. federal courts, including Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, and Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber.” This stands in sharp contrast to the seven total convictions issued by military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay since its creation 10 years ago.
As Smith points out, “the criminal justice system works,” and those charged with terrorist-related activities are being prosecuted in accordance with their crimes. The NDAA creates concerns among many groups over the president’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens. While Obama stated upon signing the bill that his administration would not hold Americans in military custody without trial, that offers little assurance that future presidents would do the same. Smith’s bill makes it clear that even people suspected of terrorism are entitled to constitutional protection and corrects what is clearly a bad law.
Tim Weiner, the same writer who published a detailed history of the CIA in Legacy of Ashes, has now written a new book titled Enemies: A History of the FBI, which he introduced on NPR’s Fresh Air in February.
The book is largely based upon FBI documents that were finally released after a 26-year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents provided Weiner with a unique perspective into the mind of J. Edgar Hoover, who served as the first director of the FBI.
In the interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Weiner focused on Hoover’s increasing (borderline obsessive) concerns and paranoia over communist threats to the US during the Cold War era. This concern led Hoover to implement several programs such as unwarranted surveillance and wiretapping, detention and deportation, as well as the general harassment of anyone deemed “subversive.”
As Weiner explains, this unregulated authorization of power led to the creation of a confidential list of the FBI’s Secret Enemies. This list included several heroic civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., whom Hoover suspected was somehow connected to the Communist Party. As a result, the FBI placed wiretaps in King’s bedroom and sent him a copy of sex recordings along with an unsigned hate-letter. King ignored these attempts, but the FBI continued to try to defame him by sending those recordings to college campuses and around Washington. The FBI even tried to get King knocked off his perch as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
While most think that government surveillance, detention, and other infringements on personal liberties and privacy are more recent problems resulting from post-9/11 security concerns, Weiner’s book clearly demonstrates otherwise. In reality, these types of techniques have been long established and make up the very foundation of government agencies such as the FBI. This fact presents Americans with a very familiar decision, one which James Madison faced centuries ago when discussing the issue of factions. Obviously we cannot obliterate government agencies that help ensure national security, despite the fact that at their very core they attempt to circumvent the boundaries of the Constitution. The only feasible solution is to diminish the effects on civil liberties by limiting government’s ability to act unchecked. However, in today’s global society, this becomes an increasingly difficult task and requires constant monitoring by civil liberty advocates.
While most have never seen their PNRs, it is an important assemblage of data that determines whether or not a passenger is permitted to fly. Each individual has his or her own PNR, which are stored with millions of other passengers in CRSs. Governmental agencies then have access to these files and place restrictions on those passengers they deem to be a credible threat to national security.
These issues should each individually be enough to concern any person who uses the Internet. However, these two issues combined should raise serious questions about what kind of information Google is including in its CRS, which are then admissible as grounds for CBP and TSA to restrict individuals’ ability to travel.
It is true that as of now the only user for Google’s CRS database is Cape Air, a relatively small airline that flies to only a few destinations in the Caribbean. It is also unclear how Google will use these digital dossiers and how they will be incorporated into its CRS database. However, there is no doubt that Google will seek to expand to include other airlines in the future and as it does so, the potential for government agencies violating individual privacy rights will increase exponentially while legal measures for accountability remain virtually non-existent.
Google’s new CRS system has also raised issues among European privacy advocates who claim that the new policy violates EU law. While Cape Air has included a waiver of certain rights, it is still unclear whether this is a legitimate exception to EU policy. Either way, Google appears to have no intentions of closing their CRS program and the civil rights of individuals will continue to be an important issue.
Earlier this month Baltasar Garzón—a Spanish judge most widely recognized for his controversial advocacy for human rights—was tried by the Spanish Supreme Court in two separate cases regarding his decision to authorize illegal wiretaps (in 2009) and his decision to investigate crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War (in 2008). Garzón, who first gained worldwide attention in 1998 by authorizing the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Pinochet, was a monumental figure in holding individuals and governments accountable for their actions. His decision to hear the case against the ‘Bush Six’ regarding US torture policies in Guantánamo Bay, while controversial, helped advance international human rights law.
In the first case against him, Garzón authorized the use of wiretaps on conversations held between prisoners and their lawyers. The detainees in question were accused of paying off politicians to obtain lucrative government contracts. Such wiretaps are permitted in cases involving terrorist threats, but it is ambiguous whether they may be applied to non-terror cases. The Guardianreported that “Garzón argued during the trial that he had ordered the wiretaps because he thought the lawyers were being given instructions by the detainees to launder money.” In the end, he was convicted of this charge and barred from serving in the judiciary for 11 years and required to pay a fine of €2,500 (roughly $3, 360).
In the second case (reported by The Daily Beast), Garzón authorized the exhumation of several unmarked gravesites created during and after the Spanish Civil War, which raised concerns among a right-wing association known as Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) and the modern-day Fascist party (also the only legal political party during the Franco regime). These groups argued that Garzón’s decision to investigate these gravesites was in violation of the country’s 1977 Amnesty Law that cleared members of the regime from prosecution. Garzón argued that these “disappearances” were not protected under the law and issued a statement saying:
The Spanish justice system cannot shut its eyes to such serious events that continue to affect people today…It needs to confront these acts and provide legal protection to victims. They have a fundamental right to the truth, to justice, and to redress. But many people in [Spain] still don’t understand this.
Garzón was acquitted of the charges in the second case but the damage has already been done. Garzón is unlikely to ever return to the courts and many have viewed this as a major loss for human rights activism.