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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.
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."
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