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Madison: Guantanamo Prison’s 10th Anniversary Marked by Local Events

9 Jan

Madison groups are marking the tenth anniversary of the opening of the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba next week.  These local events are part of a national campaign to close Guantánamo.

TAKE ACTION TODAY: Join the ACLU in asking President Obama to keep his promise to close the prison camp by charging and trying the prisoners who are there, or sending them home.

Monday, January 9, 12 noon to 1 pm, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr Blvd and Doty St – Madison Vigil for Peace action to close Guantánamo, including street theater with orange jumpsuits.

  • Tuesday, January 10, at 7 pm in the Predolin Hall auditorium, Edgewood College – “Guantánamo, Military Tribunals and the Rule of Law,” a discussion hosted by the United Nations Association of Dane County and Witness Against Torture – Madison.  The evening begins with a screening ofThe Response,” a courtroom drama based on transcripts of the Guantanamo military tribunals.
  • Wednesday, January 11, at 7 pm at Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse, 1101 Williamson Street – Evening of action to close Guantánamo, including writing letters to policymakers and current detainees. Poetry written by detainees.

For more information, contact the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice at (608) 250-9240 or diane@wnpj.org.

The first men arrived at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on January 11, 2002.  Of the 779 people who have been detained there over the years, only six have been convicted of any crime by a military tribunal.  Most of the 171 remaining detainees were captured simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Most could leave tomorrow if the blanket ban on repatriations to Yemen were lifted.

This month also marks the third anniversary of President Obama’s Executive Order mandating the closure of the Guantánamo detention center within one year.  Not only has the President failed to carry out the Order, he has extended some of the worst aspects of the Guantánamo system by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, employing illegitimate military commissions to try some suspects, and blocking accountability for torture by refusing to conduct independent and thorough investigations, and by attempting to prevent the courts from reviewing lawsuits brought by formerly detained men.

As the tenth anniversary of Guantánamo approaches, the number of experts calling for its closure is growing. Five former U.S. Secretaries of State – including Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright and Colin Powell – concur that closing down the prison camp would be a major step towards repairing the U.S. image abroad. Even George W. Bush has said he would “like Guantánamo to end.”

Read today’s op-ed in the Capitol Times from Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison’s Congregation Shaarei Shamayim on why Gitmo must be closed.

Lakhdar Boumediene reflected in Sunday’s New York Times on that anniversary and tells the harrowing tale of the seven and a half years he spent imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. Read more on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.

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.

ACLU New York Times Ad on Obama and Military Commissions

8 Mar

The national American Civil Liberties Union published a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times calling on President Obama not to back down from his administration’s decision to prosecute the 9/11 suspects in civilian courts. The ad comes in response to news reports that the Obama administration is on the verge of reversing Attorney General Eric Holder’s November decision, turning instead to the discredited military commission system.


“We placed this ad because it’s critical that Americans know what is at stake here: nothing less than America’s commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the national ACLU. “The military commissions are seriously flawed and unprepared to handle these complex cases. If President Obama reverses his attorney general’s principled decision under political pressure, it will strike a devastating blow to American values and do serious damage to our nation’s credibility. We urge the president to do the right thing and keep these cases in federal court, where they belong.”

The ACLU also sent a letter to President Obama urging him to keep the 9/11 trials in civilian court and detailing the problems of the military commission system and its inability to provide fair, effective trials in these cases. The letter, signed by Romero, states:

“I believe that you will face few, if any, greater challenges to who we are as a nation and to our commitment to the rule of law than this question of sustaining the Attorney General’s principled decision to use federal criminal courts for these trials… The trials of the defendants alleged to have had roles in the September 11 attacks are the most important terrorism trials – and arguably the most important criminal trials – in the entire history of the nation. It would be a colossal mistake to reverse the administration’s decision to try these defendants in federal criminal court and again relegate these landmark trials to irretrievably defective military commissions.”

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.

ACLU at GITMO

12 Dec

The footage might be shaky, but the experience is equally raw. See ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero as he films himself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Anthony was at Gitmo for the military commission hearings of five detainees charged with 9/11-related crimes. The video has footage of “Camp Justice,” the multi-million dollar tent city built to house military commission observers, and the local grocery store.

“Please note that by playing this clip You Tube will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.”

The ACLU is representing some of the defendants as part of its John Adams Project. Anthony reflects on what he observed at the hearings, and talks about where the commissions are headed. Stay tuned for more updates from the front line.

National news – Bush Approved CIA’s Torture, Military Oversteps Spying Powers, and More

15 Apr

April 15, 2008

Standing Up for Justice In the Military Commissions Proceedings
No doubt we’ve been at a critical juncture since September 11. How we respond to the atrocities thrust upon us after that terrible day says everything about who we are as Americans what values we defend, how the world sees us, and how history will remember us.

The manner in which we seek justice against those accused of harming us will determine whether the United States will be seen at home and abroad as a nation of laws. We must decide whether we live the values of justice that make us proud to be Americans, or whether we will forsake those values and continue down a path of arbitrary rules and procedures more befitting those who are our enemies. Because we are a great nation, true to our founders’ vision, we must uphold our core values even in the toughest of times. The right to a speedy trial in a court of law before an objective arbiter; the right to due process; the right to rebut the evidence against you; the right not to be tortured or waterboarded, or convicted on the basis of hearsay evidence are what truly define America and our commitment to the rule of law and our founders’ aspirations.

The military commissions set up by the Bush administration for the men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay including those it suspects were involved in the September 11 attacks are not true American justice. These trials should represent who we are, what America stands for, and our commitment to due process. America does not stand for trials that rely on torture to gain confessions, or on secret evidence that a defendant cannot rebut, or on hearsay evidence.

For these reasons, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have taken on the task of assembling defense teams to be available to assist in the representation of those Guantánamo detainees who have been charged under the Military Commissions Act, subject to the detainees’ consent.

>>Read Anthony’s full statement.

>>Learn more about the project.

>>Read the press release.

Bush Admits to Top-Down Torture
In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, “I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

The ACLU is calling on Congress to demand an independent prosecutor to investigate possible violations by the Bush administration of laws including the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Act, and federal assault laws.

>>Take Action: Demand that your members of Congress reject torture by holding to account those responsible for approving and implementing these un-American policies.

>>Read more about Bush’s admission.

ACLU FOIA Lawsuit Brings Yoo Torture Memo to Light
A secret memo, declassified recently as the result of an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, asserts President Bush has unlimited power to order brutal interrogations of detainees and also refers to a radical interpretation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

The memo, authored by John Yoo of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in March 2003, cites a still-secret DOJ memo from 2001 that found that the “Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.”

The October 2001 memo was almost certainly meant to provide a legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush launched the same month the memo was issued. As a component of the Department of Defense, the NSA is a military agency.

“The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the U.S. They believe that the president should be above the law.”

The Bush administration has never argued publicly that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to military operations within the nation’s borders. The released memo publicizes this argument for the first time.

The 2003 memo cites the October 2001 memo but takes its argument even further. Relying on the earlier memo, the March 2003 memo argues that the president has authority as Commander-in-Chief to bypass not only the Fourth Amendment but the central due process guarantee of the Fifth Amendment as well.

>>Learn more about the released memo.

Unredacted Documents Confirm Lack of Oversight of Military’s Domestic Surveillance Powers
Newly unredacted documents, released as a result of an ACLU lawsuit, reveal that the Department of Defense (DoD) is using the FBI to circumvent legal limits on its own National Security Letter (NSL) power and may have overstepped its authority to obtain private and sensitive records of people within the United States without court approval.

>>Read the memo.

NSLs are secretly issued by the government to obtain access to personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions, and credit reporting agencies. In almost all cases, recipients of the NSLs are forbidden, or “gagged,” from disclosing that they have received the letters. While the FBI has broad NSL powers and compliance with FBI-issued NSLs is mandatory, the Defense Department’s NSL power is more limited in scope, and, in most cases, compliance with Defense Department demands is not mandatory.

“If the Defense Department is asking the FBI to get information it is not allowed to access on its own, there is a serious problem within both agencies,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

A newly unredacted copy of the results and recommendations of an internal program review shows that the Navy’s use of NSLs to demand domestic records has increased significantly since September 11; and contrary to prior claims by the military, its NSL use is not limited to investigating only DoD employees.

Since last year, DoD has turned over more than 1,000 pages of documents to the ACLU, including nearly 500 NSLs which show that the military may have overstepped its legal authority to obtain financial and credit records, provided misleading information to Congress, and silenced NSL recipients from speaking out about the records requests.

>>Learn more about the NSL abuses.

Don’t Let Employers Get Away With Pay Discrimination
Last May, the Supreme Court ruled in Ledbetter v. Goodyear that employees who have suffered years of pay discrimination cannot have their day in court if they don’t discover the discrimination within 180 days of their employer’s initial discriminatory pay decision.

The Ledbetter decision not only reversed years of employment law, it also ignored the realities of a workplace. Often employees don’t know what their co-workers are paid. Further, expecting that they learn that information within the first 180 days of a pay decision is unreasonable. Unless Congress intervenes, companies will be able to discriminate for years and unjustly profit from paying women, minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities, as long as it keeps the discrimination secret for a few months.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation to correct this problem, and to ensure employers do not profit from years of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability, simply because their employees were unaware of the discrimination for 180 days. The bill clarified this wage discrimination is not a one-time occurrence, but rather, that each discriminatory paycheck an employer issues represents an ongoing violation of the law.

A similar bill, the Fair Pay Restoration Act (S.1843), is now before the U.S. Senate. The time has come for the Senate to correct this wrong and let American workers keep their hard-earned dollars.

>>Take Action: Urge your Senators to support the Fair Pay Restoration Act.

Stand Up for Freedom: June 8 — 10 in Washington, D.C.
Everyday, the headlines confirm that the government’s abuses of power ignore fundamental Constitutional principles and undermine our vital system of checks and balances, weakening the hallmarks of American democracy. You cannot afford to miss this important opportunity to protect the civil liberties of all Americans.

Stand Up for Freedom and help us stop the abuse of power at the ACLU 2008 Membership Conference, June 8-10 in Washington, D.C.!

At the ACLU Membership Conference you’ll have the opportunity to hear from a variety of experts, from a wide range of backgrounds, each with an exciting and unique perspective on civil liberties. Confirmed speakers for the conference include: Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post and nationally syndicated columnist; Judy Gold, an Emmy Award winning actress and comedian; and Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter will pay tribute to the ACLU’s president, during a celebratory luncheon entitled, Our Lady Liberty: Celebrating Nadine Strossen.

>>Register or learn more about the conference.