Civil Rights

Civil Rights Round Up

Aside from election results that strongly advanced a civil rights agenda that I find more than palatable, a few interesting things occurred over the past week or so in the civil rights arena:

  • Germany War Crimes Lawsuit to be Filed Against Rumsfeld:  The Center for Constitutional Rights, an New York organization, announced that it "will be filing a new case charging him with war crimes under Germany's universal jurisdiction law together with the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the Republican Attorneys Association (RAV) and others next week. CCR attorneys called on his successor to close Guantánamo and put an end to the unlawful torture and detention of thousands in the so-called war on terror."
  • Domestic Surveillance Bill Likely to Stall in Congress:  The Democratic Congress is unlikely to vote to allow domestic warrantless surveillance.  From the article,   "(M)onitoring communications of suspected terrorists is essential but...'it needs to be done lawfully and with adequate checks and balances to prevent abuses of Americans' rights and Americans' privacy.'"  Doth mine ears deceive me?  I'm guess I'm just not quite used to this..this..concern for civil rights. It still feels like I'm in bizarro world.  But, it's a nice, sunny, enlightened world--far better than the dark, dreary, depressing one from which we emerged just a few days ago.    

Civil Rights Round Up

As promised--a civil rights round up.  The following are some interesting civil rights news stories as of late:

  • Big Brother is Watching--California School Kids?:  You betcha!  And, it makes perfect sense.  I mean, who knows what those unpredictable, volatile little kids are up to?   And, I'm not buying the explanation "It'll speed up cafeteria lines".  If a less invasive and equally efficient method (that doesn't include obtaining the fingerprints of the school kids) is available, such as the PIN number method used in the Santa Barbara School District, then why not use it?
  • Big Brother is watching--Britain?--It seems that Big Brother is an awfully busy guy.  He's watching California school kids and all of Britain.  According to a recent report, every person in Britain "is caught on camera about 300 times each day."  And, despite the vehement objections of civil rights groups, the government is forging ahead with plans to implement biometric identity cards.  In light of the NYPD's recent deployment of 500 video surveillance cameras and the Rochester police department's intent to purchase 30 cameras for high crime areas, is the US far behind?
  • Bush Administration Seeks to Block Detainee's Access to Civilian Lawyer: The DOJ argues that to allow access to him would result in the disclosure of secret interrogation techniques.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a Habeas Corpus petition on his behalf.
  • Does the Department of Immigration Illegally Profile Muslims?--The Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee thinks so and recently filed a FOIA lawsuit  in the D.C. federal district court alleging that the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement illegally used information from governmental databases to track the movements of Muslim visitors, immigrants, and students.  The group alleged that the government intentionally increased Muslim arrests prior to the 2004 election.  Why am I not surprised by that allegation?

Civil Rights Round Up

A  number of interesting things have occurred in the civil rights arena as of late, so let's get to it:

  • Terror Teens! A teenager was recently taken out of class and questioned by Secret Service Agents for posting on line threats against the president.  From this article:
  • Upset by the war in Iraq, Julia Wilson vented her frustrations with President Bush last spring on her Web page on MySpace.com. She posted a picture of the president, scrawled "Kill Bush" across the top and drew a dagger stabbing his outstretched hand. She later replaced her page on the social-networking site after learning in her eighth-grade history class that such threats are a federal offense...It was too late... Federal authorities had found the page and placed Wilson on their checklist. They finally reached her this week in her molecular biology class...The 14-year-old freshman was taken out of class Wednesday and questioned for about 15 minutes by two Secret Service agents. The incident has upset her parents, who said the agents should have included them when they questioned their daughter.

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Ridiculous.  If they seriously believed that she was a credible threat, they wouldn't have waited nearly 6 months to investigate.  And, there was absolutely no need to pull her out of class in order to question her.  That served no point other than to unnecessarily  embarrass her.

  • They're watching all the peace-loving terrorists.  As reported in this article:

Internal military documents released Thursday provided new details about the Defense Department’s collection of information on demonstrations nationwide last year by students, Quakers and others opposed to the Iraq war...The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show, for instance, that military officials labeled as “potential terrorist activity” events like a “Stop the War Now” rally in Akron, Ohio, in March 2005.
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It's quite reassuring to know that governmental resources continue to be wasted on spying on peace rallies.

  • 5 years later--he's still incarcerated--As reported here, Ali Partovi still remains in custody, more than 5 years after the 9/11 attacks:

(A)ccording to the Department of Homeland Security, he is the last to be held of about 1,200 Arab and Muslim men swept up by authorities in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks...There has been no full accounting of all of these individuals. Nor has a promised federal policy to protect against unrestricted sweeps been produced.
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The article concludes with these words: "And so he remains, a curious remnant of a desperate time."  I'm not so sure I'd call Mr. Partovi's situation "curious."  I'm more inclined to describe it as a travesty of justice.  But, hey, that's just my opinion.

  • And, of course, this round up wouldn't be complete without mention of Bush's signing of the Military Commissions Act, as reported here.  A travesty indeed.

Civil Rights Round Up

There were a number of interesting civil rights developments over the past week:

  • At issue in the case was the ACLU's challenge to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, which radically expanded the FBI's power to demand records and personal belongings of innocent people living in the United States, and gagged recipients from disclosing the demands to anyone. The national ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed the case in July 2003 on behalf of advocacy and community groups from across the country whose members and clients believed they were the targets of investigations because of their ethnicity, religion and political associations...In her ruling issued on Monday, Judge Denise Page Hood rejected the government's motion to dismiss the case and granted the ACLU 30 days to decide whether to file an amended complaint in light of changes to the law. (Hat Tip:  Talk Left.)
  • Federal Court Permits Domestic Spying to Continue, Pending an Appeal:
    • The Bush administration can continue its warrantless surveillance program while it appeals a judge's ruling that the program is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday....The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave little explanation for the decision. In the three-paragraph ruling, judges said that they balanced the likelihood an appeal would succeed, the potential damage to both sides and the public interest.
  • Second Circuit Hears Arguments in Detainee Lawsuit Against Ashcroft:
    • In sharp questioning, a three-judge panel yesterday challenged arguments by federal officials seeking dismissal of a Pakistani man’s suit charging that because of his religion, race or national origin, he, like others, was held for months after 9/11 in abusive solitary confinement before being cleared of links to terrorism and deported....From the start of yesterday’s two-hour hearing, one of the judges, Jon O. Newman, showed particular impatience with the narrow legal defenses offered by the defendants in the case, which lawyers for Mr. Iqbal say seeks accountability for what they call serious constitutional violations by the nation’s highest law enforcement officials. It is the first case of its kind to reach the appellate level.

Civil Rights Round Up

Here are some civil rights issues of interest from the past week:

  • House Approves Warrantless Wiretap Law:  Yesterday, the House voted to approve a Bill that authorized, under certain conditions, the warrantless wiretapping  of telephone calls and emails between those in the US and those in other countries.  The Bill provides that the president would be authorized to conduct the wiretaps if he: 1) notifies the House and Senate intelligence committees and congressional leaders, 2) believes an attack is imminent and later explains the reason and names the individuals and groups involved, and 3) renews his certification every 90 days.
  • Federal Judge Rules Bush Cannot Continue SurVeillance While Appeal is Pending: "A U.S. judge ruled against the Bush administration's bid to continue its terrorist surveillance while appealing her decision that the program is unlawful. The judge gave the government a week to ask a higher court to let the eavesdropping go forward."

Civil Rights Round Up

Here are some civil rights issues that have arisen over the last week that I found to be interesting enough to highlight:

  • Gonzales Urges Congress to Require Retention of Customer Internet Records: As reported here, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged Congress to require internet service providers to keep copies of customer records for longer periods of time for use in child pornography investigations.  Once again privacy takes the back burner.
  • DOJ Seeks Dismissal of Oregon NSA Surveillance Lawsuit: As reported here, the US Department of Justice asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court's ruling  which denied the DOJ's motion to dismiss an Islamic Foundation's lawsuit against the federal government.  The lawsuit alleges that the NSA secret surveillance of communications between the Foundation and its attorneys was illegal.  Once again, the DOJ has asserted the State Secrets privilege as the basis for its motion to dismiss.
  • CIA Officers Refuse to Interrogate Prisoners:  As reported here, it has been alleged that due to concerns by CIA officers regarding the legality of interrogation techniques, the Bush Administration shut down its CIA prisons and transferred prisoners to Guantanamo Bay.  This allegations was hotly disputed by the Administration as well a CIA spokesman.  If true, it's yet another example of this Adminstration's attempts to skirt legal and constitutional protections. 

Civil Rights Round Up

Here are some civil rights issues of interest that I've come across over the last week or so:

  • Student loan data provided to FBI's anti-terror program by US Department of Education:  As reported in the New York Times, under an anti-terror program called "Project Strikeback",  the Education Department compared names sent to it by the FBI to 14 million records contained in its student aid database and after matching the records, which may have included addresses, Social Security numbers and income figures,forwarded them to the FBI.
  • DOJ filed motion in federal court seeking stay of prior court order requiring it to halt domestic surveillance:  As reported here, on September 1, the Department of Justice filed a motion in federal court requesting that the court delay the enforcement of its prior order, arguing that the order was overly broad because it called for an end to the entire program, rather than limiting the ruling to the particular plaintiffs in the case before the court.
  • Bush admits CIA runs secret prisons:  As reported here, the president recently admitted that the CIA conducts tough interrogations overseas in secret prisons.  "The administration had refused until now to acknowledge the existence of CIA prisons. Bush said he was going public because the United States has largely completed questioning the suspects, and also because the CIA program had been jeopardized by the Supreme Court ruling."   It makes you wonder what other clandestine, and possibly illegal activities are being carried out by this administration. Apparently, we won't find out until the Supreme Court decides that it (whatever "it" is) is illegal.

Civil Rights Round Up

A number of interesting civil rights issues caught my eye recently:

  • First, as reported here, the DOJ filed a complaint in federal court this week against Verizon Communications and the Maine Public Utilities Commission seeking an injunction preventing the latter from demanding that the former provide a sworn statement attesting to its prior assertion that it had not turned over consumer phone records to the NSA.  In its complaint, the DOJ argued that if Verizon complies with the demand for a sworn statement, national security could be negatively affected.  Me thinks the DOJ doth protest too much.  If records weren't turned over, then why should the DOJ care about this? 
  • Second, as reported here, an interesting First Amendment issue was raised in a case where the home and business of a New Yorker who provides satellite broadcasts to his customers was raided by federal agents--because he allegedly provided broadcasts that included the Hezbollah station Al Manar (along with other broadcasts, such as Christian evangelists).  (Hat tip:  Talk Left).  Mr. Iqbal is now in custody and held on $250,000 bail based on allegations that he provided material support for terrorism.  Can one really "support terrorism" simply by virtue of broadcasting programming that is readily available in much of the world?   Yet another story that makes me wonder if we live in China, where the government censors the information that reaches its citizens, or America, pre-9/11, where the First Amendment allowed for the free dissemination of information and ideas.
  • Finally, as reported here, a Muslim physician, also an American, was removed from a U.S. flight earlier this week based upon allegations of suspicious behavior--provided by an allegedly drunk fellow passenger.  (Hat tip:  Kevin M.D.) The suspicious behavior?   Flying while Muslim and reciting his evening prayers:

"The whole situation is just really frustrating," Farooq said. "It makes you uneasy, because you realize you have to essentially watch every single thing you say and do, and it's worse for people who are of colour, who are identifiable as a minority"...

When flight personnel were alerted, the 27-year-old radiology resident and two colleagues — a man and a woman — were taken off their flight. They had been returning from a conference in San Francisco.

Farooq said that even officials from the Transportation Security Administration soon realized the flight crew had overreacted, but by the time that conclusion had been reached the trio were forced to stay in Denver for the night and catch a flight the next day — at their own expense.


Judge Rules NSA Secret Wiretaps Unconstitutional

In the first decision on this issue thus far, a federal court judge ordered the Bush administration to put stop the NSA domestic wiretap program.  From this Reuters article:

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor said the wiretaps under a five-year-old "Terrorist Surveillance Program" violated freedom of speech, protections against unreasonable searches and a constitutional check on the power of the presidency.

"There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution," Taylor said in a 44-page ruling.

The National Security Agency program has been widely criticized by civil rights activists and raised concern among lawmakers, including some in President George W. Bush's own Republican Party, who say he may have overstepped his powers.

Finally, some good news.


A Special Need, Indeed, Part 2

One of my first posts on this blog was regarding a New York federal district court decision that allowed the random searches of the belongings of subway patrons based on the special needs doctrine.  As I'd explained in my earlier post:

The judge based his decision on the "special needs" doctrine, which was originally intended to support searches in situations that were beyond the need for normal law enforcement.  Historically, if the special needs doctrine applied, searches could be conducted based upon less than probable cause, but only in certain carefully chosen regulatory (as opposed to law enforcement) contexts, as long as the purpose of the search did not include apprehension of one guilty of criminal conduct.  The situations in which the doctrine has been held to apply have been expanded by the courts in recent years.

I'm extremely disappointed to report that that decision has been upheld by the Second Circuit, in a decision which can be found here.  In upholding the lower court's decision, the Court stated:

(T)he special needs doctrine may apply where, as here, the subject of a search possesses a full privacy expectation. Further, we hold that preventing a terrorist attack on the subway is a "special" need within the meaning of the doctrine. Finally, we hold that the search program is reasonable because it serves a paramount government interest and, under the circumstances, is narrowly tailored and sufficiently effective.

I think we're headed down a slippery slope here--all in the name of "terrorism".  Talk about judicial activism!  The definition of "special need" is being rapidly expanded by the courts, and soon, virtually any governmental intrusion that's alleged to be necessary to combat "terrorism" will be constitutionally permissible, regardless of how ineffective or invasive that it is. 

This certainly doesn't feel like the America that I know and love.