Posts Tagged ‘John Ashcroft’

December 2011 Patriot Award Winner: Nancy Talanian

Friday, December 16, 2011 at 10:04 am by

Nancy TalanianEach 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, as we celebrate BORDC’s tenth anniversary, we honor our founding director, Nancy Talanian.

In November 2001, the PATRIOT Act had only just been passed, and many people had barely noticed. The US was still reeling from the September 11th attacks just two months earlier, and while people spoke about unity and coming together, fear remained the dominant emotion.

Enter Nancy Talanian: a dedicated anti-war and international civil rights activist, Nancy saw parallels between regimes she had previously protested (including apartheid in South Africa and dictatorship in Nigeria) and the direction she saw our country heading. She knew concerned Americans needed to step up and raise their voices.

At the Women’s Conference for Peace, held in Northampton, MA, in November 2001, Nancy met like-minded women in a breakout session on the PATRIOT Act. Recognizing that the national policy would be enforced on a local level, she pulled together local allies to join her in drafting a municipal resolution against the PATRIOT Act for the Northampton City Council. Working with organizers in two other Western Massachusetts towns, Amherst and Leverett, Nancy led the charge as all three communities passed anti-PATRIOT Act resolutions within a ten-day period in April and May 2002. Soon, supporters began pursuing state resolutions as well.

Nancy soon realized only a national organization could provide the coordination required for this growing movement, and so she transformed the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee into a national organization. The new national BORDC created a toolkit to help activists build local campaigns. Nancy hired BORDC’s first staff person in 2003 and organized a conference that same year. People came from all across the country to learn from each other about effective ways to do national work on the local level.

But the work didn’t stop at the local level—the actions in cities and towns across the country started to make an impact in Washington. While Congress had passed the PATRIOT Act without debate or controversy only a year before, suddenly Washington was on the defensive.

Attorney General John Ashcroft went on tour to defend the PATRIOT Act, and local BORDC supporters mobilized people to protest at every stop—despite the fact that each tour stop’s location and time was only released one day in advance. More than 1,500 people showed up in Boston and 1,500 more in New York when Ashcroft visited both cities on the same day. More than 20 resolutions rejecting the PATRIOT Act passed during the course of his tour alone.

Politicians opposing the PATRIOT Act used BORDC materials to bolster their arguments. In 2006, when the PATRIOT Act was up for re-authorization, BORDC supporters held in-district meetings with members of Congress during the Independence Day recess, and 12 of those members of Congress referenced BORDC’s materials during congressional debates. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) held up a book of BORDC resolutions and read it aloud during his filibuster. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) read Idaho’s state resolution on the floor of the Senate.

While the PATRIOT Act was ultimately reauthorized that year, the final version of the legislation included changes that no member of Congress had originally thought possible. BORDC’s work on the ground shifted the national conversation. And it continued to do so: by 2007, more than 400 local resolutions and eight state resolutions had passed across the country.

After leaving BORDC in 2008, Nancy went on to found No More Guantánamos. This organization addresses years of wrongdoing by the US government by working to educate the public about the people held at Guantánamo Bay detention center. No More Guantánamos also carries forward Nancy’s powerful strategy of mobilizing local coalitions to support municipal resolutions—in this case, welcoming into their communities Guantánamo detainees who have been cleared for release. Resolutions have already passed in Massachusetts and California, and more campaigns are underway.

As we mark BORDC’s tenth anniversary, we salute Nancy Talanian and all her hard work creating a visionary organization that continues to fulfill her legacy by pushing the national conversation forward. All Americans owe her our thanks.

News Digest 10/27/10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 5:00 pm by

Supreme Court to hear Ashcroft appeal in wrongful detention suit

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 9:38 am by

John AshcroftFormer Attorney General John Ashcroft’s appeal of a lower court decision denying him immunity in a lawsuit by Abdullah al-Kidd will be heard by the Supreme Court. Al-Kidd is a US citizen that was wrongfully detained for 16 days in three different states in March 2003.

In 2005, the ACLU brought the case against Ashcroft on behalf of al-Kidd, arguing that he was improperly arrested as a material witness in the terrorism trial of Sami Omar al-Hussayen. Despite his arrest, al-Kidd was never asked for testimony or charged with a crime. Before 9/11, the material witness law was used sparingly, but the ACLU believes that Ashcroft “retooled the law into an investigative detention statute, allowing the government to arrest and detain individuals for whom it lacked probable cause to charge with a crime.”

Al-Kidd states that during his detention he was sometimes naked or shackled hand to foot. After he was released, al-Kidd was confined to travel within only four states and he had to surrender his passport and report to probation officers for over a year.

In a decision made by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in September 2009, it was ruled that the material witness law could not be used to detain or investigate people when there is no probable cause to bring criminal charges. Ashcroft was also not allowed immunity in their ruling, meaning that he could be held accountable for the wrongful detention of al-Kidd.

Since the Supreme Court will hear Ashcroft’s appeal of the ruling, Lee Gelemt, the Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney for al-Kidd, hopes they will make the right decision:

The appeals court made it very clear that former Attorney General Ashcroft could be held personally responsible if he used the material witness law to circumvent the Constitution’s longstanding rule that a suspect may not be arrested without probable cause of wrongdoing. The appeals court opinion was the right one, and the Supreme Court should uphold that decision. Government architects of policies that so clearly defy the Constitution must be held accountable to the law.

News Digest 9/27/10

Monday, September 27, 2010 at 5:00 pm by

The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty

Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm by

In her book, The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty, Laura K. Donohue (right) of Georgetown University Law Center 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.

With regards to surveillance in the US, Ms. Donohue starts at the beginning, providing a brief-but-comprehensive history of the Executive Branch’s domestic surveillance activities. Her review allows the reader to clearly see recurring patterns: gross overstepping by the Executive, challenges by the Judiciary, arguments and exceptions made for national security, and repeat. This serves to do much more than just help the reader understand historical references in contemporary academic discussions on counterterrorism. It also establishes a lengthy and damning record of the judiciary upholding the rights of privacy and restricting the Executive to its constitutionally mandated powers.  Further, it is a very effective and subtle way of showing the Executive’s tendencies to overstep its bounds and violate individual rights.


First Korematsu and Now Ashcroft v. Iqbal: The Latest Chapter in the Wartime Supreme Court’s Disregard for Claims of Discrimination

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 11:33 am by

The recently released April issue of the Buffalo Law Review featured an article by Dawinder S. Sidhu on Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that addressed post-9/11 profiling of Muslim-Americans. Read the abstract below, and see the full article at the Buffalo Law Review.

Upon his arrest in New York in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks for charges related to identity theft, Javaid Iqbal, a Muslim male, was classified as a person of “high interest” and thereafter placed in a federal prison facility housing “September 11 detainees.” Iqbal, claiming that this classification was premised on his race, religion, and national origin, and not based on any evidence tying him to terrorism, filed suit against John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller, and others. Ashcroft and Mueller moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Iqbal’s allegations were insufficient to overcome their entitlement to qualified immunity. The district court and US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed, denying the motion.


News Digest 10/21/09

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm by

Lawsuit challenges use of “material witness” statutes to justify preventive detention

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 2:40 pm by

In an interview with Law and Disorder Radio, Lee Gelent, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, updates the status of a major lawsuit directly aimed at former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s abuse of material witness statutes, but with important implications for the Obama administration’s policies on preventive detention as well.

Court Rules Ashcroft Can Be Sued

Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:57 am by

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled in favor of a Muslim American and against John Ashcroft on September 4, 2009. The final opinion stated that former Attorney General Ashcroft could not ask for immunity if the man, Abdullah al-Kidd, tried to personally sue Ashcroft for monetary damages he suffered as  a result of the post-9/11 policies under which he was arrested and detained in 2003.

The Court ruled that Ashcroft’s use of the federal material witness statute as justification for holding terror suspects on a preventative basis did not stand, because, in reality, Mr. al-Kidd was not arrested and detained to testify against a terror suspect, but to be investigated as one himself.

The entire appeal can be read in all its glory at Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft.