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ACLU Report Finds Paul Ryan Light Years Away from Civil Liberties – news from

17 Aug

The following blog post was taken from an August 11 post on  ACLU Liberty Watch, a website of the ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 campaign being run by the American Civil Liberties Union. Visit to learn more about the ACLU’s civil libertarian take on all of the news surrounding the Presidential election campaigns. 

In response to Mitt Romney’s announcement of his vice presidential pick of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the American Civil Liberties Union Liberty Watch 2012 campaign released a brief report that reveals an appalling civil liberties record for Ryan.

The report finds that Ryan, the congressman representing Wisconsin’s 1st District, holds almost uniformly harmful views on five key civil liberties issues including a humane immigration policy, LGBT equality, reproductive rights, torture and indefinite detention and fair voting access. The report is based on the white paper released by ACLU Liberty Watch 2012, which can be viewed here.

The report was also cited in a recent opinion piece in The Nation where writer Ben Adler called Rep. Ryan out for not really following Ayn Rand’s philosophies on freedom when it came to his staunchly social conservative agenda.

“Paul Ryan may end up a heartbeat away from the presidency but he’ll be light years from civil liberties,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “Paired with Romney’s already-abysmal record on civil liberties, Ryan’s positions only take this ticket further from the vision of our founding fathers.”  Romero also issued a statement about how Vice Presidential hopeful Ryan would have a plan to unravel civil liberties.

The report found that Ryan held anti-civil liberties positions across all five issue areas.  Below are some highlights from the report.

On immigration, Ryan voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, a bill that authorized the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. On LGBT equality, he voted against repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In 2011, Ryan voted to reinstate the D.C. abortion ban and the Global Gag Rule, defund Planned Parenthood, and eliminate funding for Title X family planning programs. In addition, he believes discriminatory voter ID laws are important and improve integrity in elections.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s positions:  These positions were taken from the candidate’s public statements, published positions and actions taken as an elected official, including his most recent voting records, where applicable.
On Immigration:
  • Believes efforts should be focused on border security and that pursuing the DREAM Act at this time would be a “serious mistake” (2012).
  • Voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, a bill that authorized the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border (2006).
On LGBT Equality:
  • Voted against repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (2011).
  • Supports the 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin constitution banning marriage equality (2006).
  • Voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment (2004, 2006).
On Reproductive Freedom:
  • Voted to reinstate the D.C. abortion ban and the Global Gag Rule, defund Planned Parenthood, and eliminate funding for Title X family planning programs (2011). 
  • Cosponsored a bill that exempted any employer from providing contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health care and opposed the Obama administration’s compromise to require insurance companies to cover contraception (2011).  
  • Cosponsored and voted to pass the Protect Life Act (2011). 
  • Cosponsored and voted to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (May 2011). 
  • Voted to prohibit federal funding for abortion care training in health care centers. (May 2011) 
On Torture and Indefinite Detention Policy:
  • Voted against defense legislation that authorizes the president to send the military anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial (2011).
On Voting Rights:
  • Believes discriminatory voter ID laws are important and improve integrity in elections (2012).

ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 is the voice for the Constitution in the this year’s presidential election. Follow Liberty Watch on Twitter: @ACLULW, or ‘Like’ the Facebook page:

We Must Now Reclaim Our Liberties: Ten Years After 9/11

10 Sep

Ten years after the horrific events of September 11, 2001 the American people are right to remember and honor those who died in at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.  The ten-year mark of the 9/11 attacks also importantly provides an opportunity to reflect on the turbulent decade behind us, and to recommit ourselves to values that define our nation, including justice, due process, and the rule of law.

Nearly ten years ago on September 23, 2001, I wrote in the Journal Sentinel, “Americans, in and out of the Congress, will have to evaluate carefully, ‘anti-terrorism’ proposals that may have an impact on the civil liberties that protect our freedom.”   Much of the government’s response to the attacks against us was done without proper deliberation.  Much of the government’s response was initiated without the benefit of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation and report.  It is no wonder that we are still facing challenges, despite a “global war on terrorism” that seems to be an everywhere and forever war.

The records of the Bush and the Obama administrations reveal many actions that have undermined our ability to remain safe and free.  Congress has done no better.  Some in Congress are attempting to undermine the Constitution by giving the president a blank check for a worldwide, endless war.  This would be a clear abdication of Congress’s role in our system of checks and balances – the Constitution clearly gives only Congress the power to declare war.

Targeted killings in the name of our security continue without any way for us to know whether people our government kills are truly a threat to our country. Prisoners who have never had a trial are still held at Guantanamo.  Although evidence of torture and death at U.S.-run detention facilities like Abu Ghraib, Bagram and CIA “black sites” exists, no single victim of torture has had a day in court due to the “states secrets” privilege and immunity doctrines our government invokes to defend itself from being held accountable for these human rights abuses.

And, we need not look overseas to see how American freedoms are threatened in ways that may not make us safer, much less safe.

At the Mitchell Field, you get to choose between full-body scanners that reveal near-naked outlines of our bodies or an offensive pat-down by TSA workers. Phone companies are willing to hand over your call records to the government without warrants or suspicion of criminal activity of individuals. Taking pictures of landmarks is enough to make you the subject of a “suspicious activity report” in a terrorist behavior data base. Surveillance by the government has tracked racial minorities, religious groups, peace protesters, college students and journalists.

Government policies that target groups by race, ethnicity or religion are counterproductive and make us less safe.  Experienced intelligence and law-enforcement officials agree that profiling based on race, religion and ideology is ineffective, inefficient, and counter-productive.

This anniversary is a fitting time to remember and stirs deep emotion and concern among our fellow Americans.   This is entirely legitimate and to be expected ten years into a war. But, despite the passing of a decade and the changing of leadership in the White House and Congress, we continue to allow the fear of terrorism to cloud our political discourse.   We must have the courage to affirm what makes  America great.  What I wrote in 2001 is still valid: “Freedom is more than just a goal; it is the bulwark of our democracy and the spirit that lifts individuals and families in countless ways.  It makes us safer and stronger.”

– Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director, ACLU of Wisconsin

Read the report: A Call to Courage – Reclaiming Our Liberty Ten Years After 9/11 from the national American Civil Liberties Union

This opinion piece was also featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Crossroads on Sunday, September 11, 2011.

Closing Guantánamo: A Deadline Missed

22 Jan

Today an important deadline was missed. One of the most shameful chapters of American history was to have been brought to a close with the shuttering of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. President Obama’s executive order to close the prison within a year (PDF), made on his second full day in office, was a bold act that signaled a strong commitment to breaking away from the unlawful policies of the Bush administration.

Sadly, the prison is still open. President Obama has recently reaffirmed his commitment to closing the facility, and that is encouraging. Yet, at the same time, it is worrisome that when Guantánamo finally does close, it appears that some of its most shameful policies will continue on U.S. soil, potentially reducing the closure to a symbolic gesture.

The administration has admittedly run into significant obstacles to closing the prison. Congress, awash in fear-mongering and claims of “Not in my backyard,” helped turn Guantánamo into a political football by blocking transfers of detainees cleared for release to the U.S. and launching a failed attempt to block the Justice Department from prosecuting detainees in federal court. But the administration is also to blame, as it has essentially discouraged other countries from accepting detainees by refusing to accept any into the U.S., fought the release of cleared detainees even up to the Supreme Court, and declared recently that it won’t release detainees to Yemen. The notion that Americans are made safer by continuing to detain prisoners who have been deemed appropriate for release simply because they come from certain countries will only serve to inflame those who believe that the U.S. has lost respect for the rule of law.

It is vital that the failure to meet the closure deadline does not give in to a sense of inertia or inevitability that the prison will be open for a long time to come. But it is also just as important that when Guantánamo is finally closed, it is closed right. That means that along with closing the facility, we must also put an end to its illegal policies like indefinite detention. Unfortunately, the latest indications from Washington don’t bode well.

Last month, the Obama administration announced its intention to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for the purpose of holding some of the detainees currently remaining at Guantánamo. However, all indications are that some of the detainees who would be sent to the Thomson prison would be held under a policy, unchanged from the Bush administration, of indefinite detention without charge or trial. The Obama administration may have inherited the problems of Guantánamo from the Bush years, but by continuing the prison’s lawless policies on U.S. soil, it would take undisputed ownership of them.

In deciding how to handle detainees, the administration should conduct a thorough review of each case. Detainees against whom there is no credible evidence should be repatriated back to their home countries or resettled elsewhere where they won’t be tortured. Detainees against whom there is evidence of terrorist activity should be tried in federal courts. The American criminal justice system is more than capable of trying terrorism suspects while protecting both sensitive security evidence and fundamental rights. The federal courts have successfully prosecuted more than over 200 terrorism cases, including those of “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel-Rahman for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussoui for conspiring in the 9/11 attacks.

No one disputes that the government has the right, under the laws of war, to detain prisoners captured on the battlefield until the end of hostilities. But the Bush and Obama administrations have defined their powers to do so far too broadly. They have used such authority to pick up and detain prisoners from around the globe who they deem engaged in the “war on terror,” essentially defining the “war zone” as the entire globe. Moreover, the “war on terror” will never come to a public, decisive end, so the duration of the war is essentially forever, opening up the possibility that America would detain individuals for the rest of their lives without giving them their due process rights. But even for those detainees at Guantánamo for whom the laws of war would ordinarily apply, the unique situation demands that they be charged or released after so many years of imprisonment without the protections of domestic and international law.

Guantánamo must close, and when it finally does, celebration will be in order. But the illegal policies embodied by the prison must disappear along with it. This moment in time presents a crucial opportunity to turn the page on the tragic policies of the past and firmly reclaim our moral authority. Continuing the failed policies of Guantánamo, on U.S. soil or elsewhere, would be an error of historic proportions.

Cross-posted from the ACLU’s Blog of Rights to Daily Kos and Huffington Post.

Please join the ACLU today and help us continue the fight for accountability in government and an end to abuses of power.

Action alert: don’t let Defense bill undermine effort to close Guantanamo, end torture and detention

20 Jul

This week, the mammoth Defense Department Authorization bill is on the Senate floor.

This must-pass legislation could easily become a vehicle for amendments to stop the closing of Guantánamo Bay, undermine efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the Bush torture program, and — most troubling of all — promote a new system of indefinite detention without charge or trial. In fact, the bill already has language that would allow the Guantánamo military commissions to continue to convict people based on coerced confessions.

Email your senators and tell them not to let the Defense Department Authorization bill become a vehicle for undermining civil liberties.

Your voice and that of hundreds of thousands of other ACLU activists are being heard in Washington. After months and months of pressure and newer, more disturbing revelations, Attorney General Holder is close to appointing a special prosecutor to investigate torture. And we have allies in the White House and in Congress who are committed to cleaning up the mess left by the Bush administration.

There are also some dangerous proposals being considered — including indefinite detention without charge or trial. That is why it is so critical for you to contact to your senators today and ask them to:

– Support the President’s commitment to shutdown Guantánamo by January 2010.

– End Guantánamo military commissions, and charge and try any alleged terrorists in federal criminal courts.

– Totally reject indefinite detention without charge and without trial. Nothing could be more un-American than giving the federal government the power to imprison people indefinitely without charge or trial.

Please help the ACLU create a drumbeat letting Congress and the White House know that Americans want them to move forward. Congress should not codify and expand Bush Administration policies.

Email your senators and tell them not to let the Defense Department Authorization bill become a vehicle for undermining civil liberties.

With critical civil liberties issues about to hit the Senate floor, we have to be as vocal as possible. Please take a moment right now to contact your senators. And please stay alert to fast-moving events in the days ahead.

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union

P.S. The news last weekend that Attorney General Eric Holder is actively considering launching a torture investigation is encouraging. It is because of the hard work of ACLU attorneys and advocates and the voices of activists like you that we are at this point. We’ll be counting on you to make sure he follows through — and to insist that an investigation is as thorough and far-reaching as it needs to be. Please donate or become a member today.

Demand that America Holds Those Who Authorized Torture Accountable

30 Jun

Call Congress Today! It’s time to remind our elected officials that we need them to close Guantanamo, end military commissions, reject indefinite detention and demand accountability for torture policies.

There are lots of details on Obama’s consideration of renewing policies of indefinite detention in this ProPublica/Washington Post article.

They especially need a reminder that we have not forgotten about why military commissions compromise fairness in our justice system. President Obama should not fail his intentions to restore America by allowing for “due process light.”

Increasingly press reports indicate the Obama administration is not only planning to revive the failed military commissions system to try detainees, but will also continue the Bush administration’s policies of holding detainees indefinitely without charge. These disappointing actions on the part of the Obama administration serve as a reminder that no matter which party controls the White House or Congress we must remain ever-vigilant and engaged in our fight to protect freedom and justice.

This is why the ACLU and scores of coalition partners are mobilizing activists to demand that America returns to the rule of law and holds those who authorized torture accountable.

You can do this today by calling your member of Congress and letting your legislators know that it’s time…

…to close Guantanamo
…end the military commissions permanently
…reject indefinite detention
…demand accountability

Our Call Alert allows you to look up and call your members of Congress and helps us to track the outcome of the call. It also allows you to tell you friends about the alert to help generate even more calls. To participate, visit our action website today. Tell your legislators to:

# Close Guantanamo. The president has announced his intention to close the prison by January 2010. Congress should work with the President to ensure the prison is closed and the individuals held there are charged and prosecuted or repatriated.

# End military commissions permanently. These kangaroo courts didn’t work under the Bush administration and cosmetic changes in the Obama administration won’t work either. The system is fatally flawed. Federal courts can provide a true measure of justice, while respecting the rule of law and upholding American values.

# Reject indefinite detention. As Americans, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our Constitution and core values demand that we prosecute crime where evidence exists and release individuals where evidence of wrongdoing is lacking or non-existent mere suspicion is not enough to deny anyone due process. We must hold true to our values and reject any attempt to give any president the ability to detain people indefinitely without charge.

# Support the appointment of an independent prosecutor. As more and more evidence comes to light about the treatment and interrogation of detainees, the evidence demands a thorough investigation of the abuse, the architects of that abuse and prosecution of any crimes that were committed. Just as important, the American people deserve a full and fair accounting of what took place to ensure torture never happens in our name again.

For more information on how the ACLU is working to keep America Safe and Free, visit our national website.

News update: detention for immigrants an affront to justice, government spying and secrets update, and more

20 Mar

Voting Rights
Remember – you have until Monday to update your registration with the Statewide Voter Registration Database. With one of the biggest voter turnouts in recent history in November, this might not apply to you. But if you’ve moved since the last time you voted, contact your city clerk to make sure you’re ready to vote in the spring elections.

Immigration update: the other detainees
A recent AP article was written after a Freedom of Information Act letter was filed with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to get a snapshot of who was being detained in US immigrant jails.

The article points out that:
– the US has 32,000 people in detention for civil (not criminal) immigration violations
– 18,690 of those people have no other criminal conviction record; 400 of these people have been behind bars for more than a year. No convictions. Detained for over a year.
– 10,000 had been behind bars for over 31 days. Could you imagine being jailed for speeding and being behind bars for a month?
– 58% of immigrants went through their immigration hearings without an attorney
– electronic monitoring is cheaper than detention
– electronic monitoring is as effective as detention for people to show up to their hearings: 95-99%

The government is imprisoning immigrants without many of the rights criminals receive: no court-appointed attorney for indigent defendants, no standard habeas corpus, no protection from double jeopardy, no guarantee of a speedy trial. Anti-immigrant rhetoric says they are being detained because they broke the law. The bottom line is that we don’t even treat our citizen criminals this badly. On US soil, our laws and the Constitution should be for everyone. Read more about the ACLU’s work on immigrant rights.

Prisoner’s Rights and Rachel Maddow
Did anyone notice that Rachel Maddow’s speech at the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Bill of Rights Celebration got a shout out on the national ACLU Blog of Rights? Her story about her work with the ACLU and human rights in the prison system was just one of the fun tidbits she shared at the event. See the full video of her speech on the ACLU of Wisconsin You Tube channel.

Safe and Free: Rolling back the Ashcroft Doctrine and the Patriot Act
For those who are exhausted with frustration over how often the Bush administration said “no comment” when asked about their policies regarding torture, Guantanamo detainees and other human rights issues in the past eight years, the “Ashcroft Doctrine” may finally be challenged. Congress has introduced a state’s secrets bill that would restore appropriate limits to what the federal government can say is to be kept under wraps. Keeping America both safe and free requires a balance between power and transparency in our government: the Ashcroft Doctrine put that out of balance. Take action to thank Wisconsin Rep. Petri for his leadership on this bill.

While you’re at it, you can give a “boo” to Rep. Sensenbrenner for his support to renew the Patriot Act. The ACLU continues to fight to roll back or reform the Patriot Act which has allowed greater government interference in individual privacy rights.

Death Penalty
Thanks Senator Russ Feingold for reintroducing the bill to abolish the federal death penalty. The ACLU has been involved in fighting the death penalty in Wisconsin and across the country due to its ineffectiveness and disproportionate racial impact.

ACLU Online update – national news

5 Feb

February 1 , 2008

Congress Must Stand Up to Bush’s Protect America Act

Tell Congress: Stand Up to Bush’s Scare Tactics!

With the deadline for renewing the FISA-gutting “Protect America Act” looming, President Bush once again resorted to fear-mongering during Monday’s State of the Union address when he claimed that the “flow of vital intelligence” would be disrupted without an extension. Congress, in turn, extended the Protect America Act through Friday, February 15.

Is this 15-day extension a victory for civil liberties? If Congress uses the extension wisely, it gives more time to make real changes that protect the rule of law and bring spying in line with the Constitution. It could also be a prelude to another Congressional cave-in, but not if we have anything to say about it.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Senate will be finalizing and voting on its spying bill. The ACLU, its hundreds of thousands of members and millions of Americans who believe in the rule of law and want their privacy protected are calling on the Senate to stand up to President Bush’s fear-mongering.

The ACLU will remain unwavering in our demands. Tell the Senate to stand up to President Bush on telecom immunity and reject massive, untargeted surveillance without a warrant.

>> Take action: Tell your senators to oppose any bill with telecom immunity or warrantless spying on Americans.

>> Get the Facts: Debunking Bush’s Fear-Mongering

Federal Judge Orders CIA and Defense Department to Produce Torture Documents

As a result of an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the government to produce documents related to the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas to determine for himself if they should be made public.

“Given the evidence of widespread and systemic abuse of prisoners, it is entirely appropriate for the judge to view these documents for himself instead of taking the government’s word for why they should be kept secret,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU.

The documents the judge will view include:
– Department of Defense documents relating to the deaths of prisoners; allegations of prisoner abuse; and interrogations that deviate from those permitted by the current Army Field Manual;

– A September 17, 2001 CIA Presidential Directive setting up secret CIA detention centers abroad;

– CIA documents gathered by the agency’s Inspector General in the course of investigations into unlawful and improper conduct by CIA personnel; and

– Documents discussing the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program.

The judge is still considering the ACLU’s motion to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying thousands of hours of videotape depicting the abusive interrogations of two detainees in its custody. The ACLU charges that by destroying the tapes, the CIA violated a September 2004 court order requiring the agency to produce or identify records that fell within the scope of its FOIA request.

>> Read more about the ACLU’s FOIA request.

ACLU Asks Federal Appeals Court to Lift Ban on Renowned Scholar

The ACLU recently appealed a ruling to challenge the government’s exclusion of Tariq Ramadan, a renowned Swiss scholar, from the U.S. The ACLU believes that the government’s stated reason for barring the scholar is a pretext and that Ramadan, a leading European academic, remains banned from the country because of his political viewpoints.

“The Bush administration has barred Professor Ramadan from the U.S. for more than three years now — first by alleging without basis that he endorsed terrorism, then saying that it would take years to consider his visa application, and now pointing to charitable donations that were entirely legal at the time they were made,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project.

The government originally revoked Ramadan’s visa in 2004 based on the so-called “ideological exclusion” provision of the Patriot Act, a provision that applies to individuals who have “endorsed or espoused” terrorism, because he made small donations to a Swiss charity that provides aid to the Palestinians. This revocation prevented Ramadan from taking up a tenured teaching post at the University of Notre Dame. The government later abandoned its claim when it could not produce any evidence that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism. On the contrary, Ramadan has been a consistent and vocal critic of terrorism and those who use it.

>> Read more about the Ramadan case, the history of ideological exclusion at:

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ACLU Asks Federal Court to Block Use of Unfair Voting Technology in Ohio

The ACLU filed a motion this week asking federal Judge Kathleen O’Malley of the Northern District of Ohio to prevent the Ohio Secretary of State and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections from using balloting technology that does not give notice to voters of problems with their ballot. The motion follows a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on January 17 challenging the constitutionality of this technology.

“Every voter who goes to the polls must have the opportunity to verify his or her ballot is free from errors,” said ACLU Voting Rights Project attorney Meredith Bell-Platts. “The evidence is overwhelming that when voters do not have access to technology that notifies them of ballot errors, many more ballots are left uncounted.”

Recently, the Ohio Secretary of State Brunner and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections opted to implement ballots that do not provide notice of problems with votes. Cuyahoga County, which contains Columbus and surrounding areas, is the only county in Ohio whose current process does not allow notice to voters of problems with their ballot.

On January 22, the Ohio Association of Election Officials, a non-partisan organization representing Ohio’s elections officials, voted unanimously against the sweeping changes Brunner has proposed, particularly emphasizing that counties should not adopt any voting technology that prevents voters from verifying their ballots are filled out correctly.

>> Read about the case.

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