Sunday, March 29, 2009

Take Action: Demand Torture Investigation, NM Ends Death Penalty and More‏

ACLU Online Title

Take Action: Ask the Justice Department to Investigate Torture

New information from a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concludes that the treatment of detainees being held by American personnel constituted torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of both U.S. and international law. The ICRC report is based on harrowing accounts from detainees about the treatment to which they were subjected.

The revelations in the ICRC report confirm and expand on the details of torture and abuse that are in the more than 100,000 pages of government documents that were already made public as the result of an ACLU lawsuit.

These stunning revelations -- along with news earlier this month that the CIA destroyed 92 tapes of harsh interrogation methods -- only underscore the need for an independent prosecutor. With mounting evidence of deliberate and widespread use of torture and abuse, we deserve to have the assurance that torture will stop and never happen again.

Join the ACLU and thousands of others to demand the truth and an end to torture.

>> Take Action: Ask Attorney General Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor.

ACLU Argues Against Ideological Exclusion

Ideological Exclustion

>>Watch: The ACLU’s National Security Project director Jameel Jaffer and attorney Melissa Goodman provide some commentary after Tuesday’s oral arguments.

The ACLU was in a federal appeals court this week to present arguments in the case of Professor Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor and leading scholar of Islam who was denied entry to the United States based on his political views. The ACLU argued that the government's exclusion of Professor Ramadan is illegal and was motivated not by anything he did but by his vocal criticism of U.S. foreign policy.

Ramadan was invited to teach at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 but the U.S. government revoked his visa, citing a statute that applies to those who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorism. In January 2006, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging Professor Ramadan's exclusion from the U.S. on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center. After the ACLU filed suit, the government abandoned its claim that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, but it continues to exclude him because he made small donations to a Swiss charity that the government alleges has given money to Hamas.

In addition to the case before the court, the ACLU is calling on the Obama administration to put an end to the practice of “ideological exclusion” -- refusing visas to foreign scholars, writers, artists and activists on the basis of their political views and associations.

Ideological exclusion impoverishes academic and political debate, and sends a message that our country is more interested in silencing than engaging its critics. It also harms Americans by denying them access to speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

>> Take Action: Send a letter to the Attorney General and the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security asking them to end the policy of ideological exclusion immediately.

>> Learn more about the Ramadan case and the ACLU's separate lawsuit concerning the exclusion of South African scholar Adam Habib.

Attorney General Issues Sweeping New Freedom of Information Act Guidelines

Last week, new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines calling for a “presumption of openness” were issued by Attorney General Eric Holder. The guidelines overturn the “Ashcroft doctrine” of the Bush administration that allowed the government to withhold information requested through FOIA whenever legally possible.

The ACLU urged the Obama administration to rescind the Bush administration guidelines in its January transition document outling key civil liberties issues that need to be addressed in the new administraion. FOIA is a critical tool to improve government transparency and ensure public accountability. As a result of ACLU lawsuits brought under the FOIA, the government has released many documents that have proved invaluable to public debate and policy making, including two Justice Department memos authorizing the CIA's use of torture, records about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and FBI documents showing its improper use of surveillance tools.

“Strengthening FOIA is essential as we begin to chip away at the extreme secrecy of administrations past. By restoring the obligation of disclosure by the government, we will return to the original, open government objective of the Freedom of Information Act,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

>>Learn about how the ACLU is using FOIA to unveil the truth about torture.

Powerful Documentary Examines Rights Among the Least Powerful

"The Least of These," a compelling documentary film about the Hutto, Texas detention center that explores the role - and limits - of community and legal activism, and considers how American rights and values apply to the least powerful among us, premiered at the 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas last week.

The film, co-produced and co-directed by Clark Lyda and Jesse Lyda and produced by Marcy Garriott, chronicles the ACLU’s legal challenge to the prison-like conditions at the Texas detention center where immigrant children and their families are held.

In March 2007, the ACLU filed lawsuits on behalf of 26 immigrant children, challenging their illegal detention at the Hutto facility, a former medium-security prison that re-opened in 2006 as a family detention center, and seeking their release and improved conditions.

Prior to the litigation, the children at Hutto were required to wear prison garb and detained in small cells for 11 to 12 hours with only one hour of recreation a day. They lacked access to adequate medical, dental and mental health treatment and were denied meaningful educational opportunities. Guards frequently disciplined children by threatening to separate them permanently from their parents.

In August 2007, the attorneys representing the children reached a settlement with the federal government, and conditions at Hutto have gradually and significantly improved as a result.

"'The Least of These' shows why our government shouldn't be locking up innocent children," said Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "We hope that the film brings to the forefront the need for practical, realistic immigration policy, not draconian methods that are harming vulnerable kids."

>> Learn more about more about the ACLU’s work at Hutto.

>> Find out more about the film and issues.

>> Watch the film online now.

New Mexico Ends the Death Penalty

Last Wednesday, in a significant development in the national trend away from the death penalty, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation that replaces the death penalty with permanent imprisonment in New Mexico.

“Gov. Richardson’s decision to sign the bill abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico is a historic step and a clear sign that the United States continues to make significant progress toward eradicating capital punishment once and for all,” said John Holdridge, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “His courageous and enlightened decision should send a powerful message to other states, governors and Americans about the need to take a hard look at our error-prone, discriminatory and bankrupting system of capital punishment."

The ACLU has long held that the capital punishment system is incapable of ensuring that innocent lives are not unjustly taken. It is a system plagued by racial, economic and geographic discrimination. And it is a system that police chiefs, criminologists and statistical experts around the country agree does not deter crime.

New Mexico isn’t the only state taking another look at the death penalty. Bills to repeal, study or place a moratorium on executions have been or are being considered in eight other states: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire.

>>Learn more about the ACLU’s work to abolish the death penalty.

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