Within hours of taking office, President Obama issued memos and executive orders signaling his commitment to an open and transparent government, to ending torture, and to shutting down Guantanamo and reviewing cases of Guantanamo detainees as well as Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (held for 5 years on a Navy Brig in South Carolina).Those are good first steps.Now he needs to implement these policies, and that is the tough part.Already there is significant pushback against closing Guantanamo and even stopping torture.DDF has joined the 100 Days Campaign to keep pressure on the Obama administration on these critical issues.We sent you an alert earlier this week, and encourage you to make your two phone calls if you haven't already!
We call on the Obama Administration to immediately release the 17 Chinese Uighurs who have been cleared of all charges and ordered to be released by a Federal Judged.The 17 men remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo. See the full alert here.
CALL PRESIDENT OBAMA AND ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER AND TELL THEM:
Senators Cardin and Mikulski Commit to Fighting Police Spying
A group of Maryland activists asked DDF to arrange meetings with members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation to discuss the Maryland State Police spy scandal.The group included activists who know they were targets of police spying (because their files have been released) and many others who can only wonder if the police have been spying on them.Our demands for members of Congress include getting their help to uncover the truth about the extent of the spying and whether information about the activists was entered into any federal databases; and to ask congress to take steps to ensure that spying on political activists will not happen again.
Senators Cardin and Mikulski, who have already spoken out against the spying, agreed to meet with us last week.The meeting was hugely successful.Senator Mikulski spoke passionately to our group -- some of whom have been arrested while occupying her office during anti-war protests -- praising us for working in the best tradition of American non-violent political and social change.The Senators agreed to pursue different avenues to uncover the role of federal police and intelligence agencies in the scandal, and to call for an investigation into whether what they called "horrible abuse of police powers" has occurred in other jurisdictions. They left the door open to taking additional steps, and we encouraged them to look at federal regulations, such as the new FBI guidelines, that are loosening restrictions on police and intelligence agencies.Legislators in Maryland have introduced a strong bill, which could serve as model legislation for other states and localities, and even Congress.
The Maryland Senators are well-positioned to provide leadership on this issue, Senator Cardin is on the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Mikulski is on the Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Committee, where she chairs the sub-committee that must approve the FBI's budget.They have asked us to seek out stories of police agency abuse of First Amendment rights from around the country.
Please contact DDF at email@example.com or 202-529-4225 with any stories of suspected spying or other interference with the exercise of First Amendment rights by local, state or federal police or intelligence agencies.
Holder Confirmed as Attorney General
On February 2, the Senate voted 75-21 to confirm Eric Holder as Attorney General.We're looking forward to some major changes in the Justice Department, but based on the answers he gave to Senators during the confirmation process, we aren't anticipating a free ride on all our issues.My purpose here is not to give a complete rundown of the Holder confirmation hearing, or to predict what kind of AG he will be, but to highlight a few things that came out during his testimony that are relevant to our work.
On the positive side, Holder did state unequivocally during his hearing that "waterboarding is torture".He also says he is firmly committed to transparency and open government.He promised to review the policies that have kept secret the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos that provided the Bush administration with the legal opinions to rationalize torture, warrantless wiretaps and preventive detention.He says he will make those secret memos public "to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns". You can find a list of those memos catalogued here: http://www.propublica.org/special/missing-memos
I was disappointed to hear his positive response to a question from Senator Kyl (R-AZ) regarding the new rules (which DDF opposed) to collect DNA samples of innocent people to add to the national criminal DNA database.Holder promised Kyl that he would support the new regulations and seek the additional resources needed to implement them.This is disappointing because there is a provision in the new rules that allows the AG to waive implementation in some cases.But that would have been too easy!
His responses on wiretaps and privacy were troubling, but he left himself wiggle room.There are three FISA amendments that will sunset at the end of 2009, but Mr. Holder testified he would probably support renewing them.The amendments allow roving wiretaps and expand the scope of documents that can be sought under FISA. These expiring provisions (all opposed by DDF) will be a major focus of our advocacy work over the next year. More information about the three provisions due to sunset is available at www.defendingdissent.org.
Holder promised Senator Feingold that he would review the new FBI guidelines, but bought himself time by saying that he wants to see how the guidelines work in practice before making any changes.This puts the burden on advocacy groups to find instances of FBI abuses under the new guidelines.
In his response on the guidelines, Holder affirmed a new mission for the FBI, saying "the FBI's changing its mission, going from a pure investigative agency to one that deals with national security matters".He did not elaborate on that one.
Due Process for Immigrants
On January 7, Attorney General Mukasey issued a ruling (which has the force of law) that immigrants do not have the right to a new deportation hearing if their legal counsel was incompetent or fraudulent.The basis of his ruling was that immigrants just don't have a right to counsel.When questioned by Feingold about this decision, Holder responded, "The Constitution guarantees due process of law to those who are the subjects of deportation proceeding."He intends to reexamine the decision.
State Secrets: al-Haramain, Bush and Obama
During his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Holder promised to reexamine cases involving the state secrets doctrine. Next week, court dates are set for two important cases involving the doctrine.
We've been following the al-Haramain case for years because it challenges the constitutionality of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap program, and it challenges the administration's use of the state secrets privilege.The Obama Justice Department has until Feb. 13 to decide if it wants to continue the Bush administration's legal strategy in the case.
Al-Haramain is the now-defunct Islamic foundation that learned it was being illegally wiretapped when the Treasury Department accidently released a document to the foundation in 2004.The Bush administration has been arguing that the top secret document cannot be admitted into court and the lawsuit should be dropped on the basis of the state secrets privilege.On Jan. 5 the judge rejected the administration's use of the state secrets doctrine and ruled that the lawsuit will go forward and the document could be used as evidence.On Inauguration eve (at 10:56 p.m.) lawyers for the Bush administration filed a last minute appeal asking the Judge to suspend his order to allow the case to proceed.The DOJ has to file a new brief by Feb. 13; presumably a decision on using the state secrets privilege to stop the case will have to be made by then.
Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan is an extra-ordinary rendition case. Jeppesen is the company accused of knowingly flying people to a foreign country where they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the subject of the lawsuit (extraordinary rendition) was a state secret (in spite of it being widely reported in the press). The case is scheduled for argument on Monday (Feb. 9).
RNC Cases go to Court
As expected, the City of St. Paul is having trouble finding evidence against many of the hundreds arrested at the Republican National Convention.Over 40% of the arrests have been dropped by the city without filing of any formal charges.So far, the city is not doing well with the cases it has brought to court.
The first RNC protestor case to reach trial ended on Jan. 23 with the Judge throwing out all charges.Seven people were arrested on Sept. 1, 2008 and charged with Obstructing Legal Process for blocking an intersection.The City of St. Paul presented its case to the judge, who decided that even without hearing from the defense there was insufficient evidence to convict.The seven protestors were represented by Jordon Kusher of the National Lawyers Guild, who commented "This was the City of St. Paul's showcase trial - the first RNC case to go to trial…Unfortunately for the City, however, it showcased how police had no basis for the vast majority of arrests made during the RNC."
The trial of David McKay has been closely watched by activists around the country.The case against him rests on testimony of Brandon Darby, a nationally known organizer turned police informer.McKay's trial ended in a mistrial on Feb. 2 when the jury could not reach a verdict.It seems that the jury was hesitant to trust the government informant, believing that Darby may haveentrapped McKay by urging him to make Molotov cocktails during the RNC (McKay admitted to making the explosives, but said it was Darby's idea and that he did not intend to use them).A new trial is set for March, but McKay, who has been in jail since Sept. 3 has been released on bail.
RNC8 get new trial date
The most serious charges are against the 'RNC8," who are charged with several counts of felony under Minnesota's Patriot Act.The judge in that case recently recused himself (no explanation given) and a new judge was assigned.The next hearing in this case is scheduled for Feb. 11.Updates and news can be found at http://rnc8.org.
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