Archive | August, 2009

ACLU Online News – national issues update

31 Aug

August 28, 2009 – ACLU Online News

Attorney General Holder Announces Appointment of Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture

On Monday, the ACLU obtained the detailed official record of the CIA’s torture program.

>>Take action and learn more.

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder made the long-awaited announcement of the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct a preliminary investigation into whether federal laws were violated during the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

Attorney General Holder said his decision to appoint a special prosecutor was in part influenced by the contents of a CIA inspector general report made public the same day as part of an ACLU lawsuit. The IG report documents in disturbing detail the level of the torture committed and the extent to which laws were broken.

As anyone who has seen the details of this appalling report can tell you, this investigation is necessary and long overdue, and Attorney General Holder should be commended for taking this important first step. However, the very limited scope of the investigation he launched is nowhere near as thorough and broad as the torture investigation America really needs.

According to early reports, prosecutor John Durham’s mandate will be limited to roughly a dozen cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors may have violated U.S. torture laws and other statutes. Moreover, Durham will conduct a ‘preliminary’ investigation meant to determine whether a full investigation is appropriate.

In addition to the long-awaited IG report, the ACLU also received more than 60 documents, dating from 2002 through 2007, in response to two ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for documents related to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody overseas. Included are memos, letters, and documents between the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the CIA about the torture and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

Collectively, the OLC documents, along with the CIA Inspector General report, further underscore the need for a full investigation into the torture of prisoners and those who authorized it.

>>Take Action: Urge Attorney General Holder to conduct a thorough investigation of the Bush torture program.

>>Learn more about the documents released on Monday.

Rendition Program to Continue Under Obama’s Watch

On Monday, the Obama administration made the disappointing announcement that it would continue the Bush administration practice rendition — the practice of kidnapping individuals suspected of terrorism and rendering them to other countries to be detained or interrogated — but that it will monitor all cases to ensure that suspects are not mistreated.

As a party to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is under an absolute obligation not to commit torture or to facilitate its occurrence. By instituting a rendition program that relies on flimsy “diplomatic assurances,” the Obama administration is turning its back on U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention.

The administration’s announcement forms part of the Justice Department’s new recommendations on the interrogation and transfer of individuals. The newly revamped rendition program would rely “on assurances from the receiving country” to prevent torture. These so-called “diplomatic assurances” — written guarantees from the receiving state that a person would not be subject to torture — are not a new concept. They were also employed by the Bush administration in the universally condemned “extraordinary rendition” program and proved singularly ineffective in preventing individuals from being tortured after transfer.

A rendition program with “diplomatic assurances” as its centerpiece will be ineffective at preventing torture. We urge the administration to uphold its absolute obligation to prevent torture. Any transfer it engages in must fully comply with domestic and international human rights law. Anything less will mark a return to the unlawful “extraordinary rendition” program.

>>Learn more about the ACLU’s work to end extraordinary rendition.

>>Learn more about the ACLU’s work to defend human rights.

ACLU Mourns Senator Edward Kennedy

The ACLU this week mourns the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy, a stalwart champion and defender of civil liberties with a record of public service marked by unending compassion and progress.

Sen. Kennedy often worked with the ACLU to defend the values and ideals inherent in the United States Constitution, fighting to ensure free speech, equality and justice for all people, particularly the disadvantaged. He consistently was the voice for the marginalized and fought in the Senate for those struggling to live free from discrimination throughout the country. Senator Kennedy’s leadership, courage, and compassion will echo throughout the halls of Congress for generations to come.

>> Learn more about Sen. Kennedy’s numerous legislative accomplishments.

Guantánamo Detainee Mohammed Jawad Returned Home To Afghanistan

ACLU client Mohammed Jawad was released from Guantánamo and returned to Afghanistan over the weekend, ending nearly seven years of illegal detention by the U.S. government.

In July, U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle granted Jawad’s habeas corpus petition and ordered the Justice Department to release him, finding there was no credible evidence to continue holding him. Judge Huvelle had previously issued a ruling throwing out Jawad’s supposed “confession” because it was the product of torture.

Two facts stood out with Jawad’s case. First, his age: he was a teenager, possibly as young as 12, when he was captured. And second, Jawad’s former lead military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, left the military commission in September 2008 because he did not believe he could ethically proceed with the case given Jawad’s mistreatment and the lack of credible evidence against him.

“While Mr. Jawad’s release is a long-awaited victory for the rule of law, there are many other detainees who are still being held illegally,” said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project and one of Jawad’s lawyers in his habeas corpus case. “We are hopeful that the government will act swiftly to close Guantánamo and handle all of the remaining detainees in a manner consistent with America’s Constitution and its values. Any detainee suspected of a crime must be charged and tried in the federal courts, which are fully capable of handling terrorism cases. After so many years, the government should have reliable, untainted evidence against any suspect it believes is guilty. If not, it has no justification to continue imprisoning him.”

>>Learn more about Jawad’s case.

Surrendering Your Fourth Amendment Rights at the Border

On Thursday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demanding records about the CBP’s policy of searching travelers’ laptops without suspicion of wrongdoing.

The lawsuit was filed to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request filed in June requesting the criteria used for selecting passengers for suspicionless searches, the number of people who have been subject to the searches, the number of devices and documents retained and the reasons for their retention.

In the policy, the CBP asserts the right to read the information on travelers’ laptops “absent individualized suspicion,” which means searching all files saved on laptops, including personal financial information, family photographs and lists of Web sites travelers have visited, without having any reason to believe a traveler has broken the law.

And after they’re done searching your laptop, they also reserve the right to search “documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices.”

This policy includes everyone crossing the border, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not.

Stay tuned for developments in this effort. In the meantime, if your laptop or electronic device has been searched at the border, let us know about it by emailing

News roundup: voting rights bill gathers momentum, update on DP registry challenge

28 Aug

A news round up from the week – good civil liberties articles and issues you don’t want to miss!

LGBT Rights
The Governor is hiring an outside council to represent the state in the challenge to the domestic partner registry. Lester Pines has represented the state before, most recently in the challenge against the Attorney General’s plan to make the Government Accountability Board purge the voter rolls before the 2008 elections.

Also, don’t get too confused as there is another challenge still pending. This one against the language of the ballot question itself. That hearing is set for November of this year.

Voting Rights
The ACLU of Wisconsin was a part of the hearings for AB 353, a bill that would restore voting rights to felons who are no longer incarcerated and are now living in our communities. The bill made the issues section of the Wisconsin State Journal and there was a supportive letter to the editor. The hearing got some media hits including on WPR headlines, a clip on the Wisconsin Radio Network site.

It’s difficult to find organizations that oppose this common sense voting rights measure. But the Attorney General made a statement against it. Read more about the issue and write your own letter to the editor of your local paper.

News roundup: tickets for cursing, public financing for judges, AG says no on DP benefits case and more

21 Aug

A news roundup from the week – good civil liberties articles and issues you don’t want to miss!

Free Speech
The Kenosha News picked up the story about a proposal to allow police to ticket the use of curse words against them.

And there was more coverage of the case of the man in Crivitz who flew his flag upside down. The flag pole got knocked down by angry residents. But then supporters helped to fix it. There was more coverage on NBC 15 and on WBAY-TV.

Fair Elections
The Impartial Justice bill got approval from the state Senate this week, making it one more step closer to becoming law. While public financing of campaigns is often controversial, the big money that influences state Supreme Court elections has made the past few competitive judicial seat races a cause for concern. If judges are to remain impartial, so should their sponsorship. See more about the issue on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign website.

Lesbian and Gay Rights
Attorney General JB Van Hollen won’t represent the state in the Wisconsin Family Action challenge to the domestic partnership registry. This just means that the governor’s office will hire its own attorneys (special council). Probably will be pricey just to prove that a partnership registry with a handful of benefits isn’t anything even substantially similar to marriage.

Racial Disparity and Public Schools
Here’s a good article that explains “open enrollment” trends in Madison area schools. Open enrollment allows students to transfer to other schools if they are dissatisfied with their district. Civil rights advocates say that open enrollment leads to greater racial segregation and an erosion of Brown v. Board of Education. A quickly increasing number of students living in poverty is cited among violence and negative peer pressure as reasons to switch.

Event: Wisconsin Books to Prisoners Book Sale
Sat. Aug. 29th 12:00 Noon – 5:00 pm Orton Park Festival – near the corner of Rutledge and Few. Wisconsin Books To Prisoners Book Sale! Drop off your donated books and look over our fine collection of reading materials! All proceeds will go towards postage to send new books to those who are eager to read within the WI prison system. WI Books to Prisoners is a project of Rainbow Bookstore. For more details contact Rainbow Books (608) 257-6050.

News roundup: ACLU weighs in on Tasers in Madison, returning prisoners and voting rights, upside-down flag case gets more press

14 Aug

Here’s a quick wrap-up of some civil liberties related news of the week…

Police Practices
ACLU of Wisconsin legal director quoted in Cap Times article on Taser use by Madison police.

Criminal Justice
Here’s a nice article in the Wisconsin State Journal about Madison-area support groups for returning prisoners. While we are working with a large coalition on important voting rights reform in Wisconsin, this is a good reminder about the barriers people face when trying to integrate back into society after incarceration.

Free Speech
We’re taking the case for the guy in Crivitz, WI who had his upside-down flag removed by police after community complaints. A Green Bay NBC-26 website shares some hostile emails between the DA and a constituent upset by the DA’s role in the flag issue. The news got a mention in On Milwaukee and on the TMJ-4 Milwaukee station website.

And the web is all atwitter about the Kenosha curse word issue. Did you catch our post earlier today? The news also gets attention on the Examiner Milwaukee blog. Share the Cap City Liberty blog post with your friends by clicking on the “share” button at the end of the section.

Kenosha considering issuing tickets for curse words

14 Aug

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is urging the Kenosha City Council to reject a patently unconstitutional ordinance proposal that would allow police to issue $118 tickets for the use of “profane, vile, filthy or obscene language” in the presence of a police officer or firefighter.

The City’s Public Safety and Welfare Committee approved the proposed modification of an already unconstitutional provision of the Kenosha disorderly conduct ordinance on Monday. The City Council will vote on the proposed ordinance on September 7, 2009.

Chris Ahmuty, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director, said, “It is astonishing that Kenosha, after all the criticism of the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates for shouting at a police officer, would even consider enacting such an obviously unenforceable ordinance.”

“This ordinance is plainly unconstitutional,” said Larry Dupuis, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal director. “As far back as 1974, the Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical ordinance that made it illegal to ‘curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police.’”

In that case, called Lewis v. City of New Orleans, the Court said ‘the freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.’

“As long as a person is not interfering with the police carrying out their duties,” said Dupuis, “the rule for officers should be the same rule we all learned in preschool: ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.’”

Simply, the government cannot prohibit the use of public profanity. In Cohen v. California in 1971, the Supreme Court overturned a disorderly conduct conviction of a man who wore a t-shirt that read “Fuck the Draft” in a courthouse. But even beyond passive but profane t-shirt protests, police can already address disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace with municipal noise ordinances, even inciting riots.

“In America, we don’t have ‘speech police’ deciding what language is appropriate,” said Dupuis.

Dupuis also pointed out that the Court in Cohen said, ‘[O]ne man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.’ After the chairperson of the committee told the Kenosha News that the proposed ordinance would allow the police to arrest someone for ‘being a knob,’ some people consider the word ‘knob’ (a slang term for penis) to be ‘vile, filthy and obscene.’ The chairperson probably wouldn’t like to spend time in the Kenosha jail for using that term.

The ACLU further urges the Council to take the opportunity presented by the proposed amendment to repeal the existing, but seldom-enforced, provision of the ordinance which forbids the use of “profane, vile, filthy or obscene language in any public place within the hearing of other persons.”

Read the full Kenosha News story with quotes from local alders and a robust comments section with many pro-free speech posts. There is also a Fox 6 story with video. This issue even made UPI’s “odd news” section.

Crivitz Police Violated Free Speech Rights and Unconstitutionally Seized Veteran’s Flag On the Fourth of July

7 Aug

The ACLU of Wisconsin Stands Up for the Right to Fly Flag Upside Down

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation announced today that it will represent Vito J. Congine, Jr., the owner of a supper club, in his dispute with the Crivitz police department over the department’s seizure of his American flag on the Fourth of July.

AP Photo/Susan Willems
According to a press release by the Board of Trustees of the Village of Crivitz defending the department’s actions, police officers setting up for the Fourth of July parade received “numerous complaints” about Mr. Congine’s flag, which was flying upside down. Mr. Congine was flying the flag upside down to protest the Village’s denial of a liquor license for his supper club after he believed he had the go ahead and had spent significant money on renovations. According to police, some of the parade-goers threatened “property damage and bodily harm to the property owner,” who was not present at the time. Rather than protect Mr. Congine’s First Amendment right to express disagreement with his local government and defend his property from would-be vandals, the police, at the direction of the Marinette County District Attorney, instead trespassed on Mr. Congine’s property and confiscated his flag.

“I have a right, like every person in this country, to express myself, especially on my own private property,” said Mr. Congine, an Iraq veteran. “I was shocked that the police would go onto my land without my permission and take my property because some people didn’t like how I was expressing myself.”

“Nothing could be more natural for free Americans than to protest when they believe that officials have treated them unfairly,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “That’s exactly what Mr. Congine was doing when he was flying his flag upside down. The U.S. flag is a symbol that belongs to all Americans, who frequently use it during demonstrations, marches and other forms of protected free speech. It is the government’s responsibility to protect such expression, not to enforce a ‘heckler’s veto’ when people get upset about free speech.”

Larry Dupuis, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal director, added, “Crivitz should spend its time and resources protecting Mr. Congine from the criminals who continue to threaten his property, not making excuses for its un-American tactics on the Fourth of July.”

More on this story can be found at the Green Bay Press Gazette (including an editorial against the criminal damage to Congine’s property), WFRV-TV’s story with video about Congine’s response to harassment, and a WLUK-TV video on community protest and support.

News roundup: fair housing victory, NIMBY on detainees, blogging on profiling and more

7 Aug

Here’s a quick wrap-up of some civil liberties related news of the week…

Fair Housing
The ACLU of Wisconsin won a court case against the city of South Milwaukee to prevent the razing of an apartment building that housed a large portion of the city’s minority population. More details to come.

Close Guantanamo
Last month, some legislators introduced a bill to reject any Gitmo detainees from being housed in Wisconsin jails. It’s a move that legislators are attempting across the country to stir debate about terrorism, even though we already have many convicted terrorists behind bars on US soil (remember the perps from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Oklahoma City fed building bombing? Even Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is in Colorado). But this week, the Obama Administration was talking about the complexity of dealing with the often-uncharged detainees and that they might try to build a courthouse/supermax combo in Michigan or Kansas.

If you haven’t already, tell President Obama to reject indefinite detention and close Guantanamo asap.

Census and Redistricting
Census folks have been out in neighborhoods to confirm addresses since the spring, but the big count won’t happen until 2010. One of the big questions will be around how the count of prisoners will be used in future redistricting of politicans’ turf. A timely op-ed from the NY Times describes why counting prisoners where they are incarcerated makes redistricting complicated and unbalanced. Our own Wisconsin state legislators will be talking about Assembly Joint Resolution 63 which would exclude the census’ prisoner count from redistricting plans. The hearing will be on September 3.

Voting Rights
Senator Russ Feingold helped to introduce legislation at the federal level to end discrimination in voting rights against people with felony convictions. This interesting article gives the perspective from the southern states and describes why this voting rights issue echoes the long history of both Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex.

Response to the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration bill has been good. A large coalition of organizations is behind it and to date we have only found two blog posts against it (one from Sen. Mary Lazich and another from the same folks who brought complaints about gay and lesbian books in the West Bend community library.

Speaking of voting, did you get a letter from the Government Accountability Board about your voter registration status? They are cleaning up their databases. See your city clerk to get your info updated.

Racial Profiling
Opinions are mixed about the new seat belt/racial data collection item the budget the Governor signed last month. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation cited the new law that would give police the power to pull drivers over for not wearing a seat belt as a reason for record-low traffic fatalities in July. However, the Milwaukee County Sheriff is blogging about how the racial profiling data collection is a tool of exploitation by “race hustlers” and that ACLU has nothing better to do than to sue police.

Sheriff Clarke might have missed the report and recommendations issued last year by the Office of Justice Assistance and the Governor’s Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. The commission included police, corrections and housing experts, judges, lawyers, academics, community and faith leaders. The report strongly recommended that “throughout the state, we must increase and improve the validity and reliability of data, e.g. collecting and making data available,” and that “appropriate state agencies should be directed to conduct a county-by-county baseline study of racial disparity using existing traffic citation and arrest data to determine (racial) disparity levels in the state.” The report is supposed to be a blueprint for effectively addressing our disproportionate minority incarceration rate in our state.

The reality is that racial profiling is one slice of the pie that makes Wisconsin one of the worst states for putting people of color behind bars. Anyone could suggest that a Governor’s commission and an OJA report is politically motivated. But disproportionate minority contact by law enforcement is a systemic problem. A systemic problem is bigger than a few racist cops. A systemic problem is bigger than one sheriff who feels politically targeted. And a systemic problem needs a systemic analysis. Buckle up drivers!

Gay and Lesbian Rights
The domestic partner registry began this week. In Dane County, 50 couples registered on the first day. County clerks had geared up for lines of couples waiting to register. While the Cap Times article says that applying for the registry has the same process as getting a marriage license, both the state Legislative Council and the ACLU of Wisconsin said that the registry does not equate marriage.

But organizations like the “Wisconsin Family Action” are still insisting that the domestic partnership provisions are “marriage-like” and have filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The ACLU of Wisconsin has committed to fighting a legal challenge to domestic partnerships in the state.

Tortured logic: video on why torture memo authors need accountability

6 Aug

This week, the ACLU debuted a video featuring actors reading from the Bush administration’s torture memos. Watch Oliver Stone, Philip Glass, Rosie Perez and others read the chilling torture memos written by Bush’s lawyers, and demand a full investigation into the Bush torture program.

View the video here.

Buttons on the video page will allow you to send it to friends via Facebook and Twitter.

You can also send the video to US Attorney General Eric Holder and ask him to have an independent prosecutor appointed to investigate and hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture policies.