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.
Posts Tagged ‘due process’
On Saturday, October 5, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act. The TRUST Act will limit California’s cooperation with the federal government’s “Secure Communities” program, which has led to an increase in the incarceration of immigrants.
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.
- 6/21, The Associated Press, Washington Post, Obama to meet with privacy and civil liberties board as part of response to NSA revelations
- 6/21, Wells Bennett, Lawfare, Jeff Powell on Targeted Killing and Due Process
- 6/20, Zoe Lofgren and Ron Wyden, Wired, Introducing Aaron’s Law, a Desperately Needed Reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
- 6/20, Glenn Greenwald and James Ball, Guardian (UK), The top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant
- 6/20, Scott Shane, New York Times, Documents Detail Restrictions on N.S.A. Surveillance
- 6/20, Ellen Nakashima, Barton Gellman and Greg Miller, Washington Post, New documents reveal parameters of NSA’s secret surveillance programs
- 6/20, Scott Neuman, NPR, NSA Reportedly Allowed To Keep Some Domestic Communications
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.
Though described by ICE as an initiative to remove dangerous undocumented criminals, S-Comm separates hard-working immigrant families and immerses entire communities in fear. Profiling, mistaken identity, and disproportionate pursuit of low-level perpetrators undermine trust between immigrant communities and local police. Studies indicate that the fear of deportation significantly decreases community cooperation with legitimate law enforcement investigations.
Additionally, S-Comm enables the type of prejudiced policing infamously observed in East Haven, CT.
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).
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.
[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 . . .
The language specifically includes detention under the NDAA, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, and “any other federal law.” It also, unlike Senator Feinstein’s shoddy fix to the NDAA last year, protects all persons in California regardless of citizenship status.
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.
5/10, Kevin Collier, Salon, Congress wants to let you unlock your cellphone
5/10, A.M. Gittlitz, TruthOut, Double Jeopardy: New York Activist Subpoenaed for Secret Grand Jury – Again
5/10, Max Fisher, Washington Post, Photos from Guantanamo’s force-feeding facilities
5/10, Natasha Lennard, Salon, Hidden in immigration reform, vast biometrics plan
5/10, Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, I.R.S. Apologizes to Conservative Groups Over Application Audits
5/9, Mark M. Jaycox, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Update to Email Privacy Law Must Go Further
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.
Moreover, President Obama’s seemingly newfound rhetorical opposition to indefinite detention runs counter to the policies of his administration. While he may have tried to move the prisoners to the United States, he still wanted them indefinitely detained, in violation of the Constitution and International Law. This has left even supporters of his detention policy befuddled.
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.
On April 23, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, held a hearing entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing.” The Bill of Rights Defense Committee submitted testimony to the hearing emphasizing the need for transparency, and end the unconstitutional use of drone killing. BORDC’s testimony highlighted the secrecy of the administration’s legal justification for killing through drones and the attendant impossibility of meaningful checks and balances.
Despite repeated promises of transparency tied to the targeted killing program, President Obama refused to send a witness from his administration to the hearing. Even after the hearing date was moved a week to accommodate a potential administration witness, ultimately the Senators, the witnesses and the public were left guessing about what could put them on a kill list and whether the administration had any explanation for shocking number of civilians killed by US bombings.
One witness stood out among a panel populated by an otherwise typical beltway crowd of ex-military, academics and think tank members. Farea al-Muslimi, Yemeni democracy activist who previously spent time in the US studying through State Department scholarships told the committee about the impact of a drone strike on his village in Wessab, Yemen.
al-Muslimi’s testimony exposed many of the core justifications for Obama’s killing program as fallacies. While the administration argues that it only executes people with drones when it cannot safely capture them, al-Muslimi pointed out that the ostensible target of the drone stroke on his village would have been easily detained.
My understanding is that a man named Hammed al-Radmi was the target of a drone strike. Many people in Wessab know al-Radmi, and the Yemeni government could easily have found and arrested him. Al-Radmi was well known to government officials, and even to local government—and even local government could have captured him if the U.S. had told them to do so.
al-Muslimi also drew on his experience traveling the country as a democracy activist to describe the impact of drone strikes on public opinion of American in Yemen. The drone program is operated on the theory that it makes the US safer by killing our enemies. However, al-Muslimi testified that the program has killed large numbers of civilians.
The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. I have spoken to many victims of U.S. drone strikes, like a mother in Jaar who had to identify her innocent 18-year-old son’s body through a video in a stranger’s cellphone, or the father in Shaqra who held his four- and six-year-old children as they died in his arms. Recently in Aden, I spoke with one of the tribal leaders present in 2009 at the place where the U.S. cruise missiles targeted the village of al-Majalah in Lawdar, Abyan. More than 40 civilians were killed, including four pregnant women. The tribal leader and others tried to rescue the victims, but the bodies were so decimated that it was impossible to differentiate between those of children, women and their animals. Some of these innocent people were buried in the same grave as their animals.
Moreover, he pointed out that the drone program has successfully turned people against the United States, even where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had previously failed to do so.
Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time. What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab.