Civil Liberties Update -- August 8, 2002
Below is a round-up of some of the major civil liberties developments
of the summer:
1. Resolutions endorsing civil liberties: Nine cities and
towns around the USA (including 4 in Massachusetts -- Amherst, Cambridge,
Leverett and Northampton) have now passed resolutions in support of
the Bill of Rights. For copies of those resolutions, tips on how to
go about passing one in your town, and a list of cities and towns
that are considering similar action, check out the excellent website
of the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee: www.gjf.org/NBORDC.
2. Anti-terrorism bills in the Massachusetts legislature:
I'm happy to report that none of the bills made it into law this past
session, as the legislature's attention was taken up by budget matters.
3. Operation TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System):
This is the Justice Department's plan to recruit a million letter
carriers, truckers, utility workers and others whose jobs give them
access to private homes and train them to look for "suspicious
and potentially-terrorist-related activity." Operation TIPS would
provide a "formal way to report" that activity "through
a single and coordinated toll-free number." The Operation was
supposed to get underway this month.
David Lindorff, the author of an article in the on-line magazine Salon,
signed up for the TIPS program, heard nothing more about it, and then
called the Justice Department which gave him a phone number they said
was set up by the FBI. When he called that number he was connected
to Fox TV's "America's Most Wanted." He was told by Fox
television, "We've been asked to take the FBI's TIPS call for
them."(See the Salon
article at www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/08/06/tips).
House Majority Leader Richard Armey dealt TIPS a blow in July when
he opposed its being included in the legislation setting up the new
Homeland Security Department. But in case it is down but not out,
you might want to check out "TIPSWATCH" on the ACLU
website (www.aclu.org). The site includes a downloadable "Special
Request to my Utility Company" forms which you can mail in with
your next utility payment. The forms ask your company to pledge not
to participate in the TIPS program. The site also contains a printable
door-hanger saying "This Home's Privacy is Protected by the ACLU."
4. Court decisions. Here the news is both positive and disappointing.
On August 2 district court judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Justice
Department to release the names of the more than 1,000 people detained
following September 11th. She declared that "the first priority
of the judicial branch must be to ensure that our government always
operates within the statutory and constitutional constraints which
distinguish a democracy from a dictatorship," and the information
would help verify if the government was" operating within the
bounds of the law."
She said most of the names should be released within 14 days. A New
York Times editorial of August 6th urged the government to comply
with her ruling. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is presently hearing
a government challenge to a lower court ruling that secret hearings
are unnecessary and unconstitutional.
In Norfolk, Virginia, district court judge Robert Doumar is considering
whether the government can hold indefinitely an American citizen,
Yaser Hamdi, as an "enemy combatant" without charging him
or giving him access to a lawyer. Twice he has ordered the government
to allow a lawyer to visit Hamdi, and twice the government blocked
his order. The government has also refused to provide the judge with
documents supporting its case that Hamdi is an "enemy combatant,"
arguing that the judicial branch has no business interfering in the
conduct of war.
A federal judge has dismissed habeas corpus lawsuits brought by two
groups of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, saying that the US courts had
no jurisdiction outside the sovereign territory of the US.
5. Ashcroft asked for information on workings of USA PATRIOT Act.
On June13, 2002 F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. and John Conyers, Jr.
(the chair andranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary)
sent a letter to JohnAshcroft consisting of 50 detailed questions
about how the USA PATRIOT Actwas being implemented. Stating that this
request for information would be followed by a hearing "to allow
further public discussion of these and other issues relating to the
Department of Justice's activity in investigating terrorists or potential
terrorist attacks," they asked him to respond by July 9th (to
date, their letter is unanswered).The letter can be read at www.house.gov/judiciary/ashcroft061302.htm.
6. Call to review Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. With the new military
Northern Command due to begin operations on October 1 under its commander
General Ralph Eberhart, President Bush has requested a review of the
1878 Act that bars the military from engaging in law enforcement activities
such as policing. Over the years exceptions have been made to the
Posse Comitatus Act, as the army has participated in quelling domestic
insurrections, drug interdiction, the protection of national parks,
and the provision of training and equipment. General Eberhart was
quoted in the July 21st New York Times as saying that "my view
has been that Posse Comitatus will constantly be under review as we
mature this command, as we do our exercises, as we interact with FEMA,
FBI and those lead foreign agencies out there."
Nancy Murray Director, Bill of Rights Education Project ACLU of Massachusetts
(617) 482-3170 x 314