Sunday, September 21, 2008

Help Stop an Execution, Civil Liberties Abuses at the RNC, Voting Rights and More‏

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September 19 , 2008
Almost Certainly Innocent, Troy Anthony Davis Receives Another Execution Date

Troy Anthony Davis almost certainly is innocent, but that has not stopped the State of Georgia from giving him a new execution date: September 23, 2008. The State of Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole held a hearing on his case on September 12, 2008 and, despite tens of thousands of letters from ACLU supporters, denied him clemency. The Board still has discretion and can choose to hear Davis's case again.

An African-American, Davis was convicted of the murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No physical evidence links him to the crime, and he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. His conviction was based solely on the testimony of witnesses. There was no other evidence against him. And, since his trial, seven of those witnesses have recanted -- changing the story they told in court.

Some witnesses say they were coerced by police. Others have even signed affidavits implicating one of the remaining two witnesses as the actual killer. But due to an increasingly restrictive appeals process, none of this new evidence has ever been heard in court.

The case of Troy Davis highlights all that the ACLU finds problematic with the death penalty: the risk of innocent people being executed, inadequate counsel and racial and geographic disparities. It is an example of our criminal justice system’s inability to ensure that only the guilty are convicted at trial and sentenced to death.

The Troy Davis case also is an example of a less obvious problem with our criminal justice system -- that the ever-increasing number of procedural hurdles erected by courts and legislators to deny death-row inmates relief and expedite their executions has seriously eroded the system’s ability to correct its mistakes.

Troy Davis must not be executed. Act now: Write Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles and ask them to commute or stay Troy’s death sentence.

ACLU Calls for Investigation into Civil Liberties Violations at RNC

In response to reports of widespread civil liberties abuses in connection with mass arrests, police raids on private homes and the detention of several journalists during the Republican National Convention (RNC), the ACLU renewed its call for an investigation into the actions of law enforcement there.

"Attempts by law enforcement to squelch lawful political speech and stifle the press have no place in our democracy and are unacceptable," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Political conventions should be a showcase for free expression, not a venue for bullying and intimidation."

The ACLU specifically called for an investigation into possible violations of the First and Fourth Amendments, including:
  • The arrest of reporters trying to gather the news;
  • The mass arrest of hundreds of peaceful protestors;
  • The surveillance and subsequent raids on several activist groups and private homes; and
  • The confiscation by law enforcement agents of constitutionally-protected private property.
The ACLU affiliate office in Minnesota has assembled legal counsel for many of the reporters and peaceful protestors arrested at the protests and has also filed a lawsuit in federal court calling for the release of boxes of literature that were confiscated during raids.

ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Review Landmark Indefinite Detention Case

The ACLU today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Bush administration’s unchecked authority to indefinitely imprison a legal resident of the United States without charge or trial. The case was filed on behalf of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been detained in solitary confinement at a Navy brig in South Carolina since June 2003. The ACLU is asking the Court to reverse a federal appeals court decision that gave the president sweeping power to deprive individuals of their most basic constitutional rights.

“Under the Constitution, individuals in this country cannot be locked up indefinitely just because the president says so. This kind of unchecked executive authority is antithetical to America’s founding principles and the rule of law,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

Al-Marri was first arrested in December 2001 at his home in Peoria, Illinois, where he was living with his wife and children. His case was scheduled to go to trial in July 2003 but was halted when President Bush took the extraordinary step of designating al-Marri an “enemy combatant” and transferring him to a military brig in South Carolina where he was subjected to torture and other degrading treatment. Al-Marri is the only person detained as an “enemy combatant” in the mainland United States.

In 2007, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the government cannot hold individuals arrested in this country in military detention without charge. However, in July 2008, the full appeals court overturned that decision by siding with the government’s position.

The government continues to hold al-Marri indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” based upon uncorroborated allegations that he has ties to al-Qaeda. No evidence has been presented to sustain these allegations.

>> Read the ACLU's Supreme Court cert petition.

New FBI Guidelines Open Door to Further Abuse

FBI Director Robert Mueller failed to dispel unease regarding new internal FBI guidelines governing investigations when he testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees this week. The new guidelines would lower standards for beginning "assessments" (precursors to investigations), conducting surveillance and gathering evidence. It would also rewrite five types of existing guidelines: general criminal, national security, foreign intelligence, civil disorders and demonstrations.

The rewritten guidelines have been drafted in a way to give the FBI the ability to begin surveillance without factual evidence, stating that a generalized "threat" is enough to use certain techniques. Also under the new guidelines, a person's race or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation -- a move the ACLU believes will institute racial profiling as a matter of policy. The guidelines would also give the FBI the ability to use intrusive investigative techniques in advance of public demonstrations. These techniques would allow agents to conduct pre-textual (undercover) interviews, use informants and conduct physical surveillance in connection with First Amendment protected activities.

"The new guidelines offer no specifics on how the FBI will ensure that race and religion are not used improperly as proxies for suspicion, nor do they sufficiently limit the extent to which government agents can infiltrate groups exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “The Bush administration's message once again is 'trust us.' After eight years of historic civil liberties abuses, the American people know better. From the U.S. attorney purges to the abuse of national security letters, the Department of Justice and the FBI have repeatedly shown that they are incapable of policing themselves."

Both the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) have documented records of internal abuse. Recent DOJ Office of the Inspector General reports confirmed long-held suspicions of widespread and systemic abuses of the national security letter statute and the FBI's involvement in interrogations at Guantánamo Bay. With no outside oversight and with FBI agents acting autonomously, these new guidelines will likely lead to more unchecked abuse.

>> Read more and comment on this issue on the ACLU blog.

Take Action: Proposed Bush Regulations Jeopardize Women’s Health

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed regulations that could seriously undermine access to basic reproductive health services -- including birth control and abortion. Since then, more than 35,000 supporters have sent comments to HHS opposing the regulations. There’s still time to make your voice heard; the deadline for public comments is September 25. Help us reach our goal of submitting 50,000 comments.

We have less than one week to stop these new rules from being enacted. Take a stand now.

Are You a Constitution Voter?

Let the candidates running for office know that when you step into the polling booth this November, the Constitution will be the first thing on your mind. Stand with us and declare yourself a Constitution Voter.

>>Declare yourself a Constitution Voter and Get A Free Bumper Sticker!

>>Constitution Voter Materials, Signs and More!

>>Send Us Your Photo, Be the Face of Our Campaign!

>>Watch Our Constitution Day Video

With a Single Sentence, You Can Defend Freedom Now and Forever

Right now, by adding the ACLU to your will, you can leave a legacy of liberty for generations to come and defend our freedom today. Through the Legacy Challenge, simply including the ACLU in your future plans can qualify us to receive a 10% cash matching donation today from our generous challenge donor, the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust.

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Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times

On October 29, 30 and 31, Social Research, the journal of The New School for Social Research in New York City, will host “Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times” in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the University in Exile at The New School. This three-day conference will feature leading scientists, academics, and university presidents in public dialogue about the trends facing universities around the world that put academic freedom and free inquiry at risk.

This conference will look backward at the role of academic freedom and free inquiry in research universities and forward to what the future may have in store. The keynote event will be on October 30th at 6:00PM at which Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute, will talk with endangered scholars from Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Belarus, and China. More information is available at or for more information, email or call 212-229-5776 x3121.

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