Last week, the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project SALAM (Support And Legal Advocacy for Muslims) released a 175-page study of the government’s prosecution strategy in domestic terrorism cases. The study, Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution, reveals that the era of J. Edgar Hoover may be less far removed from the Bureau’s operations than most observers realize. The introduction explains that:
[T]he war on terror has been largely a charade designed to make the American public believe that a terrorist army is loose in the U.S., when the truth is that most of the people convicted of terrorism-related crimes posed no danger to the U.S. and were entrapped by a preventive strategy known as preemptive prosecution.
This week, they will host a press conference to discuss their discoveries on on Thursday, June 12 at 11 a.m. in New York City at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Anyone interested is invited to attend.
Civil asset forfeiture sounds like a a dry legal term, but it has a deeper impact on people’s lives and our justice system than you might expect. It’s a practice that threatens property rights, rewards discriminatory policing, and has interesting and unexpected connections with the violations of constitutional rights that have come to define the “war on terror.” Civil asset forfeiture refers to the process of law enforcement seizing property — like cars, money, or houses — suspected of being involved in, or paid for by, illicit activities. This occurs without a charge or conviction because bizarrely, civil forfeiture law names the property itself as the defendant in the lawsuit, rendering the owner’s innocence irrelevant. It is difficult if not impossible to challenge civil asset forfeiture, and police disproportionately apply this practice to poor people, immigrants, and people of color who are already disempowered by the legal system.
Secure Communities, begun in 2008 as a pilot program and expanded under President Obama, requires local and state police to submit fingerprints of anyone arrested to a federal database to check the person’s immigration status. If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deems a person potentially deportable, it issues a “detainer request ,” requesting local police to detain him or her for up to forty-eight hours for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to take custody. Secure Communities has been part of a larger effort by ICE, since its creation in 2003, to remove all “deportable” residents. ICE contracts with state and county prisons throughout the United States to detain immigrants for potential deportation. This has caused a surge in the population of incarcerated immigrants, as the total number of immigrant detainees held per year rose from about 204,000 in 2001 to a record 429,000 in 2011. (more…)
In a historic triumph for human rights and civil liberties, Connecticut unanimously passed the first statewide policy to counter the profoundly flawed Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. Under the Trust and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act, Connecticut’s immigrant communities can remain intact, enjoy protection from prejudiced policing, and participate in upholding peace in their communities. Furthermore, Connecticut now assumes a leadership role in immigration reform and resisting pervasive state surveillance.
S-Comm essentially transforms state and local law enforcement into automated immigration checkpoints. Upon arrest, a detained persons’ fingerprints and criminal background, if any, are shared with federal agencies to cross-check against Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) immigration database.
If the feds find an ‘individual of interest’, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sends local police a detainer request to hold that individual while ICE determines whether or not to initiate deportation proceedings.
This week, the California State Assembly voted nearly unanimously to approve Assembly Bill 351 (AB351). The final tally was 71 in favor and 1 opposing. The law is the most recent in a string of state laws opposing indefinite military detention as allowed by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Art Persyko, an activist with the San Francisco 99% Coalition who put in tireless work to support AB 351, stated:
This is very exciting news for those of us in the SF 99% Coalition and our local allies who’ve been working to oppose the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA for the past year or so. It’s great to see the California legislature stepping up and standing up for the civil liberties of everyone who lives in our state. With this vote for AB 351, and with our diverse statewide coalition of allies, I am now confident that we can get this bill through the Senate and onto the Governor’s desk for his signature.
The bill was pared down significantly from its original language, but the essential operative clauses were left in place. They added to the Penal Code the following language:
[N]o agency of the State of California, no political subdivision of this state, no employee of an agency, or a political subdivision, of this state acting in his or her official capacity, and no member of the California National Guard on official state duty shall knowingly aid an agency of the Armed Forces of the United States in any investigation, prosecution, or detention of a person within California . . .
President Obama’s speech yesterday, presenting his vision of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, included welcome rhetoric about the importance of constitutional principles, including Due Process and rights to dissent. It may represent the high watermark for civil liberties since his inauguration five years ago.
It is disappointing, given his thoughtful words, that he ignored so many inconvenient truths. From extrajudicial assassination to free speech and freedom of the press, from the need to address root causes of terrorism to partnership with American Muslims, the president promoted important principles but papered over reality.
The reaction by Republican senators was even worse. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) foolishly suggested that “The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” and suggested doubling down on many of the same failed Bush-era policies from which President Obama finally signaled long overdue independence yesterday.
Due Process: Gitmo
The president forcefully spoke about the need to close Guantánamo Bay, and also lifted his moratorium on releasing Yemeni detainees whom the government has cleared for release, despite the clamor among conservative lawmakers who prefer to indefinitely detain anyone accused of terror without trial.
Yet the president’s words reflected important principles that his own administration has routinely violated. Col. Morris D. Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo who resigned his position to challenge torture (and serves on the BORDC advisory board), agreed that “It’s great rhetoric. But now is the reality going to live up to the rhetoric?”
The president criticized restrictions on resettling detainees cleared for release imposed by Congress early in his administration. But he has the authority to resettle those detainees through a separate process, if he were willing to certify the release of particular individuals—which he has avoided in order to avoid the political risk.
Due Process: Drone strikes
President Obama also pledged more congressional oversight of drone strikes, responding to sustained controversy and reiterating a promise from his State of the Union address in January that he has yet to fill.
As critical issues eluded corporate media over the past month, BORDC staff continued to open dialogue on developments concerning civil liberties. Recent themes include the Obama Administration’s inaction towards realizing rights-based campaign promises, and the erosion of law in a national security state.
On Wednesday, April 24, Communications Specialist Samantha Peetros appeared on Bread and Roses to discuss the local lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombings. Examining the friction between knowledge of one’s rights and genuine safety concerns, Samantha explains:
it was an overwhelming experience to see…the National Guard….. At the same time there is that sense of comfort, and it’s hard to deal with those conflicting thoughts. But I’m also very aware of what this could mean for civil liberties…”
Samantha also raised questions regarding possible outcomes if the public chose not to cooperate with state and federal agents during the Boston lockdown.
On Monday, May 6, Legal Fellow Michael Figura appeared on Connecticut’s Counterpoint Radio to discuss the ongoing hunger strike in the Guantánamo Bay. Michael explains the dire situation facing many unjustly and indefinitely detained men at the detention camp:
Over half of them have been cleared for release by the United States Government…yet they’re still held there. Many of these men have been held there 10-11 years now.
This austere, peaceful protest staged by over one-hundred men, which has prompted further human rights violations by our government, draws greater scrutiny to the globally infamous injustices inside Guantánamo Bay. However, while the Obama Administration chants its chorus of closure, an end to Guantánamo remains unseen.
Also on May 6, Executive Director Shahid Buttar appeared on the NextNewsNetwork to discuss the Obama Administration’s policies including extrajudicial assassination of US citizens and dragnet surveillance. Shahid follows this commentary with a compelling discussion of the consistent evasion of judicial review by presidents from both political parties, and Congress’ abdication of its constitutional responsibilities. He suggests (at 11:15) that the rule of law no longer exists in the United States, before observing a disturbing double standard between mass incarceration for minor crimes, and the continuing prestige — and public paychecks — for war criminals such as John Yoo and federal appellate judge Jay Bybee.
Stay with us for the latest BORDC press hits and coverage of issues that impact the liberties and lives of all Americans.
For a comprehensive view of BORDC’s latest news coverage, and to find out how to reach staff for comment, and more, view our online press resources.
As the hunger strike at Guantánamo has widened to include all of the men held there, President Obama recently announced that he would renew a push on Congress to close the prison and examine his administrative options. However, the implication that Congress is preventing the closure of Guantánamo is at best disingenuous.
Obama has the power to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo right now. The president himself has placed a uniform ban on transferring any prisoners to Yemen, a collective punishment policy that he could reverse immediately. He could also release prisoners by issuing a certification through the Department of Defense and State that the administration has steps to assure the secure release and monitoring of the prisoners.
The Guantánamo hunger strike can only be ended by the administration taking meaningful steps to close the prison. Those steps can begin immediately by releasing the 86 men who have been cleared for release by the government itself. The remaining men should either be given a speedy and fair trial or released as well.
The men at Guantánamo are resolute to peacefully protest through a hunger strike until they receive justice. One of them, Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi put it this way:
I do not want to kill myself. My religion prohibits suicide. But I will not eat or drink until I die, if necessary, to protest the injustice of this place. We want to get out of this place. It is as though this government wishes to smother us in this injustice, to kill us slowly here, indirectly, without trying us or executing us.
Currently, 21 of the men, including Mr. al-Alwi, are bring force-fed in violation of medical ethics. The force-feeding process is brutal, as was described by one prisoner in an New York Times op-ed and can constitute torture, if undertaken as a form of punishment.
As the hunger strike continues, people across the world are pushing for the closure of Guantánamo and an end to indefinite detention. A change.org petition started by a former Guantánamo prosecutor, calling for the prison’s closure, has gained over 100,000 signers in less that two days. From May 17-19, people of conscience will stand together to demand that President Obama close the United States’ forever prison.