activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: center for constitutional rights

watchlisting guidance sets forth inclusion criteria, evidentiary standards, and procedures for placing individuals on no-fly list

The no-fly list, a secondary watch list derived from the main terrorist watch list, is used to prevent people from boarding aircraft. It consisted of 16 names before September 11, 2001. As of early 2012, it included approximately 21,000 names.

The only requirement for labeling someone a terrorist and barring him or her from flying indefinitely is that a federal agent must believe the person poses a ‘threat’ of engaging in terrorism. The definition of terrorism is broad enough to include civil disobedience. According to today’s press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights,

The criteria for placement on the broader terrorist watchlist, which grew by nearly half a million entries in 2013 alone, are even lower. Social media postings, including, presumably, posts to Facebook and Twitter, can apparently by themselves result in placement on a watchlist, as can “travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of terrorist activity” …

after ten years, federal communications commission votes to rein in prison phone rates

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to reduce interstate phone call costs for prisoners and their families. Many civil rights groups, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Defense Center, have been pushing the FCC to lower these exorbitant rates. The FCC has been weighing the issue for approximately 10 years.

On December 26, the FCC proposed new rules to reduce the cost of interstate phone calls from inmates. The deadline for initial comments was March 25. According to the ACLU’s press release,

Previously an unregulated part of the phone industry, prison calling costs have reached as high as $20 for a 15-minute call in some states. Beginning immediately, the FCC will cap rates at 25 cents per minute [for collect calls], meaning that the cost of a 15 minute long distance call will not exceed $3.75. The FCC also banned extra fees to connect a call or use a calling card.

More than 2 million families communicate with incarcerated family members via long-distance phone calls. The proposal approved Friday caps rates at 21 cents per minute for debit and prepaid calls. It also prohibits companies from penalizing customers with hearing loss or limitation for using relay services.

former inmate daniel mcgowan’s claims against the bureau of prisons dismissed

On November 9, 2006, Daniel McGowan pled guilty to conspiracy and arson charges, with the understanding that he wouldn’t implicate or identify anyone other than himself. After traveling from the East Coast to Oregon, McGowan had acted as a lookout for two Earth Liberation Front (ELF) arsons, including when activists burned down the offices of Superior Lumber. According to a 2006 Rolling Stone article,

Daniel McGowan, the sandy-haired son of a New York cop, hopped a train to the West Coast with a backpack of his things, hoping to find out what the green anarchists could teach him about changing the world. An earnest student of political theory, McGowan had been trained in nonviolent resistance by the Ruckus Society, and when he arrived in Eugene he volunteered to put together a page in Earth First! Journal to drum up support for political prisoners.

After pleading guilty in 2006, McGowan was sentenced to seven years in prison. McGowan was subsequently transferred from the general prison population to a highly-restrictive Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illinois. On March 30, 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs, including McGowan, challenging policies and conditions at two CMUs, and the circumstances under which the CMUs were established. (Later in 2010, McGowan was transferred back into the general prison population, but in February 2011 he was transferred to the CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana.)

Today the court dismissed McGowan’s claims – that he was placed in CMUs in retaliation for protected First Amendment activity – because he was not subjected to physical harm. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) says that no federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury. The other claims in the case, challenging broad due process violations at the CMUs, will proceed.

federal judge dismisses lawsuit challenging the animal enterprise terrorism act

Yesterday U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro dismissed the lawsuit five animal rights activists filed to challenge the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which criminalizes protected First Amendment speech. Judge Tauro decided that the activists did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the 2006 law. The activists’ attorneys say they will appeal. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights press release,

The judge’s ruling was based on a narrow interpretation of the AETA as criminalizing only property destruction and threats, despite the law’s broad prohibition on causing an animal enterprise any loss of property, which is generally understood to include the loss of profit.

The AETA was first used on February 19, 2009, when four activists were charged under the law for allegedly participating in threatening demonstrations at the homes of University of California researchers who conducted tests on animals. (Full disclosure: I assisted the activists’ attorneys as support counsel.) U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte dismissed the charges on July 12, 2010; but other activists charged under the AETA have been less successful.

federal communications commission proposes new rules to rein in prison phone rates

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has said that “challenging mass incarceration requires that civil rights advocates do something they’ve long been reluctant to do: advocate on behalf of criminals.”

On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally proposed new rules that would reduce interstate phone call costs for prisoners and their families. In some states, a 15-minute call costs as much as $20. The reason prison phone rates are so high is that phone companies pay commissions (or legal kickbacks) to state government agencies for exclusive contracts at prisons, and then pass these additional costs on to inmates and their families.

Many civil rights groups, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Defense Center, have been pushing the FCC to regulate prison phone rates. According to a September 23 New York Times editorial,

The time is long past for the F.C.C. — which has been weighing this issue for nearly a decade — to break up what amount to monopolies and ensure that prisoners across the country have access to reasonably priced interstate telephone service. … Overcharging inmates is not just unfair but also counterproductive, because it discourages inmates from keeping in touch with a world where they will be expected to fit in.

Several states have already lowered such rates by barring their corrections departments from requiring commission arrangements in telephone contracts. Federal prisons apparently use a less expensive, computerized system, though the federal system also makes a profit off of prisoners and their families.

alleged whistleblower bradley manning speaks publicly for the first time since his arrest

Bradley Manning is the soldier accused of the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. He was arrested in May 2010 and held under particularly insufferable conditions from July 2010 to April 2011. In a Counterpunch article published on Tuesday, attorney Michael Ratner – President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Julian Assange’s U.S. attorney – described these conditions as:

… the nine-month period spent 23 hours a day in a six-by-eight-foot cell where he was forbidden to lie down or even lean against a wall when he was not sleeping – and when he was allowed to sleep at night, officers woke him every five minutes – and where he was subjected to daily strip searches and forced nudity. The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture has already found this amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and possibly torture.

Earlier this month, Manning offered to plead guilty to reduced charges. But the military judge on his case – Colonel Denise Lind – hasn’t formally accepted this offer, nor have government officials said whether they would continue to prosecute him for the other 15 counts he faces. These include the charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Today Manning testified regarding his mistreatment by the military. Sadly, he has already been punished far too much for, as Ratner writes, allegedly sending documents “anonymously to WikiLeaks, which published them in collaboration with The New York TimesThe Guardian and other news media for the benefit of the general public, much like the Pentagon Papers were published a generation ago.”

lawsuit against federal government regarding unjustified terrorist designation succeeds

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Treasury quietly announced that it had removed Muhammad Salah from its list of specially designated terrorists. Indeed, the Treasury Department apparently deleted five versions of Salah’s name from the list. This decision follows on the heels of a September 5 lawsuit in which the American Friends Service Committee and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee joined Salah in suing the federal government regarding the unjustified terrorist classification.

The People’s Law Office, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Georgetown Law professor David Cole, and attorneys from the law firm of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym represent the plaintiffs.

united states determined to prosecute wikileaks founder julian assange for political expression

In a Guardian article today, attorney Michael Ratner writes that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is correct to fear the worst with regard to his potential detention and prosecution by U.S. authorities. Ratner, who is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is Assange’s U.S. attorney. He cites three pieces of evidence to show that the U.S. is determined to prosecute Assange:

A grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, empanelled to investigate violations of the Espionage Act – a statute that by its very nature targets speech – has subpoenaed Twitter feeds regarding Assange and WikiLeaks. An FBI agent, testifying at whistleblower Bradley Manning’s trial, said that “founders, owners and managers” of WikiLeaks are being investigated. And then there is Assange’s 42,135-page FBI file – a compilation of curious heft if the government is “not interested” in investigating its subject.

Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London on June 19, to prevent his extradition to Sweden, and has been living there ever since. He’s not a Swedish citizen, does not reside in Sweden, and has not been charged with any crime. Indeed, a Swedish prosecutor initially dismissed the sexual assault allegations against him. Yet the prosecution later demanded that Assange be incarcerated for a police interrogation, even though police already interviewed him in August 2010.

Ecuador recently offered to allow Swedish officials to interview Assange at its embassy in London, in person or by video conference, but Ecuador’s foreign minister said in a statement released yesterday that Sweden declined. This affirms suspicions that the proceedings in Sweden are a means of subsequently extraditing Assange to the U.S., where he could be sentenced to death or life in prison.