Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Score one for the good guys

Originally posted by ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose, on Boston.com's "On Liberty" blog.

Great breaking news! Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has been granted a visa after initially being denied entry into the United States to begin a fellowship at the prestigious Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Like dozens of journalists, writers, poets and activitists before him (see my recent post on this), Morris was turned away because of something he wrote -- namely, his reporting on the Colombian civil war. Such bans are knowns as called "ideological exclusion," and they have a long and sad history of being used to silence dissent in our nation.

Kudos to the many free speech groups that banned together to advocate for Morris' entry into the U.S. and to the State Department officials who decided to lift their ban on Morris' entry into the U.S.

Wouldn't it be great if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would announce that the State Department was abandoning the practice of ideological exclusion as antithetical to a democracy? It would be a historic wedding present for Chelsea, Marc and the rest of the nation: the gift of free exchange of ideas.

And if you are on the Vineyard this week, don't miss: "An Evening Without" performance, at which such free speech defenders as Anthony Lewis and others will read from the works of the excluded throughout American history.

Why ideological exclusion violates the rights of us all

Originally posted by ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose, on Boston.com.

Defenders of free speech around the world are outraged over the U.S. State Department's denial of a visa to Colombian Journalist Hollman Morris. Morris was scheduled to participate in the prestigious Nieman Foundation journalism program at Harvard University starting this fall, until the U.S. State Department decided to exclude him from our shores.

Morris is a highly acclaimed television producer, who has reported extensively on the long and complex civil war in Colombia. In particular, he has exposed both the impact of war on its victims and abuses by the Colombian government's intelligence services-- undoubtedly upsetting Colombian government officials. Morris also is the recipient of the Human Rights Defender Award from Human Rights Watch for his war coverage.

The State Department won't say why Morris is being kept out, but Morris reportedly was told by local consular officials that he was being denied a visa under the "terrorist activities" section of the Patriot Act.

A Boston Globe editorial, "Reporting is Not Terrorism," rightly calls for the State Department to grant Mr. Morris a waiver that would permit him to enter the United States. Meanwhile, free speech groups, including the ACLU, American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center, as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Open Society Institute, and others have sent letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to grant a visa.

Beyond that, it's time for the State Department to end "ideological exclusions" -- the practice of keeping out of our country authors, journalists and scholars based on their political speech and peaceful associations.

Ideological exclusion endangers journalists worldwide, according to Nieman Foundation Curator, Robert Giles: "It would represent a major recasting of press freedom doctrine if journalists, by establishing contacts with so-called terrorist organizations in the process of gathering news, open themselves to accusations of terrorist activities and the possibility of being barred from travel to the United States."

But there is another victim of the State Department's practice of ideological exclusion: the American people.

We -- as Americans -- have a First Amendment right to hear what Morris and other notable thinkers from around the world have to say and to engage with them in face-to-face dialogues. When our government excludes journalists, scholars, authors and poets from our country, the First Amendment rights of the American people also are violated.

Sadly, ideological exclusion has been used by virtually every administration in recent U.S. history to keep the Americans from engaging with people who view our nation from the perspective of distant shores. The list of people who have been excluded from the United States based on their ideology is a veritable "who's who" of famous authors, scholars, poets, journalists, and dissidents.

Ideological exclusion was codified in modern times during the Red Scare. In 1952, Congress passed the McCarran-Walter Act, permitting the government to use vague accusations of communism to exclude such notables as Canadian prime minister-to-be Pierre Trudeau, British writer Graham Greene and British silent-screen comedian Charlie Chaplin.

In subsequent years, famous novelists Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Doris Lessing were excluded, as was environmentalist and humor writer Farley Mowat of Canada. Poets, playwrights and Nobel Laureates also have been among the excluded, notably Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda and Italian playwright and Nobel Laureate Dario Fo.

In the 1990s, "terrorism" replaced "communism" as the primary basis for ideological exclusion. It was on this basis, for example, that Nelson Mandela was excluded from the United States (until an embarrassed Congress quietly passed legislation taking him off a terrorist list so that he could come to the United States after his release from Robben Island prison).

Soon thereafter, Congress resurrected the practice of excluding people on the basis of their ideas and associations as part of the USA Patriot Act. Although nominally directed at terrorism -- just as the Cold War laws had been directed at communism -- provisions of the Patriot Act effectively permit our government to use immigration laws and ever-expanding terrorism watch lists as instruments of censorship.

One of the more amusing responses to ideological exclusion came when the government denied award-winning British novelist Ian McEwan (author of the best-selling book and movie, "Atonement") entry into the country in 2004. After obtaining a waiver, McEwan began his remarks to an audience of 2,500 people in Seattle by thanking the Department of Homeland Security "for protecting the American public from British novelists."

Musicians also have been targeted for exclusion. In 2004, Yusuf Islam (known to most of us as "Cat Stevens") was turned away from a recording session with Dolly Parton. Two years later, London-based hip-Hop artist, M.I.A., was denied a visa to work with American music producers on her next album -- someone in the government didn't like the lyrics in her songs.

Increasingly, our government has targeted academics for exclusion -- a practice that should be of particular concern to those of us who live in a city that is home to some of the world's greatest institutions of higher learning. In June 2005, the government excluded Dora Maria Tellez -- a Nicaraguan historian and former leader of the Sandanista Revolution -- who had been appointed as the Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies at Harvard.

The government also denied a visa to South African sociology professor Adam Habib, who was invited to address a number of academic institutions in Boston and elsewhere, but was denied a visa after participating in anti-war protests and speaking out against torture and indefinite detention. Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan, who had been appointed to a professorship at Notre Dame, similarly was turned away by the State Department after he published remarks critical of U.S. foreign policy.

Fortunately, legal challenges by the ACLU on behalf of both Professor Habib and Professor Ramadan led to the issuance of a waiver by the State Department, thus permitting them to enter and engage in academic exchanges here in the U.S.

Professor Habib recently spoke at Harvard Law School, saying, "I've always been opposed to terrorism, even when I was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa….We have to recognize that criticism is the lifeblood of a democracy. When the United States as a great power undermines academic freedom, civil liberties, and its own Constitution, it has ripple effects across the globe."

The State Department should move quickly to issue a visa waiver for Hollman Morris so that he can begin his Nieman fellowship in August. And then the Obama administration and Congress should abandon the anti-democratic practice of ideological exclusion altogether.

Transparency on Afghan war is good for democracy

Originally posted by ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director, Carol Rose, on Boston.com.

The release of thousands of pages of defense department reports on the U.S. war in Afghanistan is good for democracy and for our nation.

Not since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon papers on the failing war in Vietnam have we witnessed the importance of transparency in forcing our democracy to engage in an honest and public debate about a war that is costing billions in tax dollars and incalculable loss of human life.

So far, Obama administration officials haven't been foolish enough to try to block the publication of the Afghanistan war documents or threaten prosecution of Wikileaks or The New York Times, as Nixon did in the Pentagon paper case. Nonetheless, Obama administration officials sound remarkably similar to their counterparts in the Nixon administration when they assert that release of the documents will hurt the war effort

This is nonsense. In the first place, Wikileaks and the other news outlets went to extraordinary lengths to expunge the papers of information that would endanger our troops or even Afghan informants. In contrast to the Pentagon papers case, this leak involves no high level military secrets.

Moreover, there is nothing in the released papers that isn't already known to the Afghans, U.S. troops, or anyone who has spent any time in that part of the world.

Having lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, for a number of years in the 1990s, I can attest personally that we knew even then that the Pakistani secret Inter-Services Intelligence agency -- ISI -- was manipulating Afghan alliances behind the scenes to ensure that India stayed out, Afghanistan stayed down, and American money kept flowing. It was common knowledge then, as now, that the U.S. government knew this and nonetheless covertly funneled money to the ISI.

What was obvious to those of us on the ground in Peshawar and Kabul became widely known in America years later when Hollywood released the movie, Charlie Wilson's War, which portrayed the double-dealing and factional infighting that characterizes that part of the world -- and the naïve American officials who try to navigate the ever-shifting alliances along the Af-Pak border.

Winning wars in Afghanistan is hard to do. Indeed, both the British and Soviets foundered in their war efforts in that part of the world. Some say their empires collapsed in the trying.

As for the reports that the war in Afghanistan is going badly, you can get the same information from many returning veterans. Most Afghans would tell you the same thing. I'm deeply skeptical that the Afghans will ever let a foreigner -- or even a nearby Afghan neighbor or relative -- assert central government control over theirs lives. They have never done so in their history and I can't see it changing now.

The only people for whom the release of these low-secret military reports is news is the American people -- those of us who are underwriting this effort with our hard-earned tax dollars and who are sending young people and loved ones to die in our name.

Transparency is always important in a democracy, but particularly so in a time of war. Among other things, it forces us to publicly ask embarrasing questions that we might otherwise avoid, such as "Is this war winnable?" and, if not, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Calling all Governors: stop spying on ordinary Americans!

The following was written by "On Liberty" blogger and ACLUM Executive Director, Carol Rose.

When the National Governor's Association convenes in Boston today, freedom-loving governors of all political stripes have one issue around which they all should agree, namely, the need to stop unchecked government spying on ordinary Americans.

The Governors can do this during a scheduled session on so-called "fusion centers." These are massive government data-hubs, funded by the federal government and housed in local police departments, which are designed to facilitate the gathering and sharing of information on people -- ostensibly to stop terrorism.

If only it were that simple. At last count, the 72 federally-funded fusion centers around the country (including two in Massachusetts) seem to focus less on catching terrorists and more on tracking people engaged in such "suspicious" activities as opposing abortion, supporting third-party candidates (such as Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and Cynthia McKinney), defending the environment, and calling for an end to war.

To make matters worse, these "fusion centers" are funded by federal Homeland Security tax dollars but operated by local cops -- a classic case of "Little Brother" doing the watching on behalf of Big Brother.

States also are left to decide what -- if any -- independent oversight is put in place to protect individuals against unwarranted government intrusion into our private lives. Like most states, Massachusetts has yet to adopt fusion center oversight legislation (a good bill died in the Public Safety committee this session).

Of course, government surveillance is not a new threat to democracy. What is new is thecombination of 21st Century technology and the post-9/11 zeal for anything that carries the label "homeland security."

Meanwhile, reports of domestic government surveillance of protected First Amendment Activity pile up from around the nation.

Here are just a few of the many examples of recent government surveillance of protected First Amendment Activity:

A May 7, 2008 report prepared for the Department of Homeland Security entitled "Universal Adversary Dynamic Threat Assessment" labeled environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, the Humane Society and the Audubon Society as "mainstream organizations with known or possible links to eco-terrorism." Yikes! Has anyone mentioned this to the nice people over at Drumlin Farms?

In Maryland, staffers at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, whose work focuses on "clean energy" technologies, were surprised to find themselves incorrectly included on a "suspected terrorist" list at their local fusion center. The Maryland State Police reportedly used undercover officers to infiltrate and spy on the Climate Action Network, as well as non-violent peace activists, anti-death penalty groups, and members of Amnesty International. Identifying information, as well as blatantly incorrect information, about these activists was entered into the local fusion center and other government databases,with labels such as "Terrorism - anti-government," according to documents obtained through an ACLU public records request.

In California, animal rights rallies, environmental demonstrations, anti-war protests, student protests against military recruiting on campus, labor union organizing, and demonstrations against police brutality have all found their way into government databasesat the California Anti-Terrorism Center, the California Office of Homeland Security and the LA County Terrorist Early Warning Center (LACTEW).

Domestic spying on Americans also targets conservatives and libertarians. In Missouri, a report on the "modern militia movement" was leaked from the Missouri Information Analysis Center, the state’s fusion center. It stated that militia members are "usually supporters" of presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr, and instructed the Missouri police to be on the look out for people displaying bumper stickers and paraphernalia associated with the Constitutional, Campaign for Liberty, and Libertarian parties.

Supporters of third-party candidates also were the focus of the Texas fusion center, where a "Prevention Awareness Bulletin" leaked from a state fusion center flagged former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark for surveillance, as well as groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, ANSWER and the International Action Center.

In Virginia, meanwhile, a document leaked from the Virginia Fusion Center cited various historically Black colleges and universities that were seen as potential "radicalization nodes" for terrorists. The Nation of Islam, New Black Panther Party and Earth First! are among the33 groups listed as potential terrorist threats.

Sometimes, local surveillance seems downright silly. In New York, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted surveillance on protests planned by the War Resisters League near New York City recruiting stations. Documents from the DOD Talon database warned that the League was advocating "Gandhian nonviolence" with protests that included a "church service for peace" and a "vigil with coffins."

In Georgia, vegetarian activists were targeted for surveillance, according to fusion center documents obtained by the ACLU. Caitlin Childs, a vegetarian activist, was arrested after a peaceful protest outside the Honey Baked Ham store in Dekalb County for writing down the license plate number of the car belonging to a federal agent who had been photographing the day-long demonstration.

Here in Massachusetts, a scathing audit released by the Massachusetts state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci, found that police from communities across the state have repeatedly tapped into the state's criminal records system to improperly access information on celebrities and high-profile citizens, such as actor Matt Damon, singer James Taylor and football star Tom Brady. The year-long review depicted a system accessed by users "without any apparent work-related justification." You have to admit, those famous folks really are fun to watch -- even if they're not terrorists!

If government spying targets activists of all political stripes, then Americans of all political stripes have common ground to speak out against fusion centers and domestic surveillance. Both the ACLU and the Tea Party have come out in opposition to fusion centers after multiple instances of government surveillance of protected political activity.

So have a few idealists:

"I am one of thousands of young people in this country who have dedicated their lives to protecting our environment," said Josh Tolkin, former field director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who was wrongly labeled a "potential domestic terrorist" while he was organizing a coalition of doctors and nurses to focus on the impact of air pollution on pregnant women.

"Democracy is worth fighting for," says Tolkin in response to his false listing in a state fusion center. "I urge everyone to vote on Nov. 4."

Let's hope our leaders are listening.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dissent is Patriotic on Independence Day

The following was written by "On Liberty" blogger and ACLUM Executive Director, Carol Rose.

This weekend we celebrate America’s tradition of public dissent as an act of patriotism.

The Declaration of Independence was a public airing of grievances against the British crown, notably taxation without representation. It was penned in 1776 by a "Committee of Five" – notably, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman.

Jefferson and his gang are heroes now. But at the time, they were reviled by many as radicals, free-thinkers, trouble-makers or worse. In fact, when the actual vote to ratify the Declaration took place, a bunch of delegates to the Continental Congress either voted against it or simply didn’t show up.

I’m proud to say that the Massachusetts delegation was the first to vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence – thus making our Commonwealth once again first in the nation when it comes to freedom. And I’m thankful that the tradition of public dissent continues today.

In the last week alone, I’ve heard of three separate instances here in Massachusetts in which citizens exercised their right to free speech and, in so doing, showed themselves to be modern-day patriots.

The first involves a teenager and his mother who questioned mall cops for selectively harassing kids wearing rock band t-shirts in a shopping mall. The second involves two high school teachers who dared hold up "End War" signs at a mandatory school assembly while school officials dressed in combat fatigues were on stage. The third began when a high school student sought to have the Pledge of Allegiance broadcast daily into every classroom on a school intercom and right-minded school administrators responded not by silencing the student but, instead, by offering to host a voluntary pledge in the gym each morning for those who wish to partake in the oath.

Each of these cases shows the critical role that free speech continues to play in ensuring freedom in 2010 America. The people involved deserve to be known as "True Patriots."

Our first True Patriot award goes to Richard and Cindy Gould of Hyannis. Their exercise of free speech started in the Cape Cod Mall when Richard, age 18, bought a t-shirt at the mall that featured a musical act, the "Insane Clown Posse," which depicts an abstract silhouette with a hatchet – pretty mild stuff as rock band t-shirts go. After making his purchase, Richard donned his new t-shirt and walked through the mall.

Within minutes, a mall security guard -- in what can only be thought of as a classic Paul-Blart-mall-cop moment --demanded that Gould either turn the t-shirt inside out or be expelled from the mall. The mall cop then accompanied Gould to the bathroom, then stood and watched as Gould turned his shirt inside out.

Mall officials said they were concerned that the t-shirt might be a gang symbol. Of course, that didn’t stop them from selling the t-shirt to the teenager in the first place!

But the story gets better. Gould’s mom, Cindy, filed a complaint with the mall managers and then donned the t-shirt herself, paraded around the mall, and found out that she wasn’t hassled at all. Apparently, mall cops think it is perfectly fine to sell the t-shirts to teenagers and then watch as they strip down in the bathroom, but don’t dare take on their angry mothers.

My favorite line from this story came from Barnstable police Sgt. Sean Sweeney, who was quoted as saying, "It's not like there's that kind of gang around here. ... We do have a lot of clowns, though." No kidding!

Our second True Patriot Award goes to two teachers from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, history teacher Marybeth Verani and English teacher Adeline Koscher, who weredisciplined by school officials for silently holding up a sign that said "End War" during a mandatory school assembly to salute students entering the military after graduation.

The teachers silently stood at the back of bleachers and held up their "End War" sign only during the portion of the assembly when a school-based police officer and an assistant principal (dressed in military fatigues) were on stage praising students for joining the military. Once the school officials finished their public speeches, the two teachers also sat down and took their sign down while the students were honored. There was no disruption, the teachers were silent, and they didn’t block anyone’s view.

Nonetheless, the teachers were punished for their expressive conduct by being placed on administrative leave and unpaid suspension. It seems pretty clear that this was content-based punishment: do you think the teachers would face similar discipline if they had held up a "Support Our Troops" sign? Of course not.

Some wooden-headed types have suggested that the teachers are unpatriotic. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you agree or not that an "End War" message actually does support our troops (and I know a lot of military families who think the current war in Afghanistan is bad for our troops) there is nothing more patriotic or more American than public dissent – and shame on anyone who says otherwise. Verani and Koscher are True Patriots.

Our final True Patriot award goes to the town of Arlington, and notably the High School Principal Charles Skidmore, who found a way to protect both free speech and religious liberty when high school student, Sean Harrington, asked that the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag be broadcast on the school intercom each morning. Harrington has every right to lobby for a flag pledge. But Arlington school committee officials correctly considered the danger of putting undue pressure on students whose religious or personal views prevent them from taking oaths to a flag.

In the end, Arlington High School principal, Skidmore, wins the True Patriot award becausehe offered to lead a voluntary recitation of the pledge in the school’s auditorium each morning – thus ensuring both freedom of speech for Harrington and others who wish to take the public oath and the right of other students to be free from compelled government speech. In so doing, Skidmore showed a deeper patriotism than can be found in cloth symbols and mandatory assemblies: he upheld the principle of individual liberty.

The Declaration of Independence in 1776 launched an important American tradition: public dissent as an act of patriotism. Thanks to these and other modern-day patriots, the tradition lives on.