Sunday, November 11, 2007

Civil Liberties News In Review - week of 11/04/07

Here are some of the stories that stood out during this past week. Check back with Cap City Liberty to catch some of the stories that made the news this week on civil liberties issues in Madison and in the state of Wisconsin.

School discipline and student rights
The Cap Times recaps the area schools’ expulsion numbers. Contact the ACLU of Wisconsin for a copy of our Freedom FAQ on student rights in School Discipline: Suspension and Expulsion.

Student Rights and Military Recruitment
Local antiwar high school students, members of Truth and Alternatives to Militarism and Education, and concerned parents attended a school board meeting this week to voice their concerns about ad space that the Army purchased and posted around area high schools sports facilities. Read the article in the Wisconsin State Journal, and watch the television coverage on NBC 15 and on Channel 3000. Word on the street is that while adult counter-recruitment activists were shown in most of the press coverage, it was the student testimony about their rights to opt-out of being targeted for military recruitment that was most inspiring.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calls out partisanship in the immigration debate. Wisconsin's U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen thinks that federal ID databases, detention camps and guns on the border will make it all better. Read the Appleton Post Cresent article for more on the bill that dems are flocking toward for militarism as immigration reform.

Surveillance Society
Caught on tape!
This week’s big news is that the Madison Metro bus company has released the surveillance tapes on the “wild ride” from earlier this year when a bus driver took off with a passenger hanging on the side mirror. Channel 27 got an interview with the driver and his lawyer in response to the tapes. Former Dane County Supervisor and blogger David Blaska weighs in. Watch the tapes and think about the pros and cons of surveillance. Does viewing the tapes change anyone’s opinions or sympathies about the situation?

Feds soften on Real ID
Despite the softening of the deadlines and rules regarding Real ID, the plan for a defacto national ID card is still flawed. Read more about the national ACLU Privacy and Technology Project.

DeForest cameras view high schools – gym locker room theft
A $72,000 federal grant is paying for 40 surveillance cameras in the DeForest school (video). The cameras are coming in handy after a rash of thefts in a gym locker room. Let’s hope that officers aren’t watching activities behind locker room doors. There’s also a newly proposed bill (PDF) would loosen spending caps for schools’ security costs and make it easier to get more cameras in the future.

Corrections funding and politics
A couple of articles last week can shed some light on the complicated ways that prison beds do or don’t get filled (State prisons may use county jails). Here in Dane County, Falk sets benchmarks to move people through the justice system more quickly, saving taxpayer money. But the raised standards are getting criticism (Courthouse standoff)

Church and State
Church-state ruling has 'quick and dramatic' impact on cases (Cap Times).

Voting Rights
The Madison City Clerk reminds us of voter registration rules in anticipation of the Presidential Preference Election on February 19. And a proposed bill would change the electoral system in Wisconsin with mixed results.

LGBT Rights
Tammy’s statement about ENDA and the sacrifice of transgender rights to its passage. Shouldn’t ENDA be spelled “E-R-A”?

Death Penalty
After the Supreme Court recently halted a Mississippi execution, there have been reactions around the country including an editorial from The Capital Times (Death to the Death Penalty) and a statement from WI Senator Russ Feingold which describe how the use of capital punishment is flawed. Despite the emotional arguments surrounding public discussions of crime, the death penalty has been proven to be unjustly applied in terms of racial and class disparities, problems with court proceedings, and wrongful convictions. No Death Penalty Wisconsin, of which the ACLU of Wisconsin was a supporting organization during the 2006 campaign to fight the pro-death penalty referendum question, also issued a statement. Currently the pro-death penalty Senate Bill 115 (PDF) is stalled in the WI State Senate. Visit the webpage for the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.

Take Action: Be an issue monitor! The ACLU of Wisconsin doesn’t have enough paid staff to watch ALL of the newspapers, television news reports, NPR stories, blog entries and other places where civil liberties issues are discussed. Be our eyes and ears for local/state news and send them to the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office. Contact the office to volunteer as an issue monitor and let us know what your area of interest is.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Close Guantanamo - Call to Action, message from Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director

Don't Wait for '08! Stop Spying, Close Guantanamo, End Torture and Restore Habeas Corpus!

ACLU attorney Jamil Dakwar is in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba serving as a human rights observer at the hearing of a Canadian citizen named Omar Ahmed Khadr. Khadr was only 15 years old when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This is his third hearing; the first two resulted in the charges against him being thrown out.

After nearly six years of disarray and uncertainty about how to prosecute the 320 remaining prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay, the U.S. government has failed to complete a single trial. As the prisoners continue to languish without being charged or tried, one thing remains crystal clear: We cannot arbitrarily detain prisoners, deny them access to lawyers, and hold them indefinitely.

It is also clear that Congress cannot continue to put off taking action, they need to close Guantánamo Bay, restore habeas corpus and repudiate torture once and for all. In the meantime, you and I cannot wait for a change in Congress or the White House to demand that our leaders fix the damage done to the Constitution, our freedoms and our most fundamental American values over the last seven years.

That’s why we’re asking ACLU members to bring the discussion about these vital issues to their friends and family by hosting a screening of the powerful documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," on or before December 10, International Human Rights Day. Sign up to host a screening.

We know for a fact that when they learn of the abuses being carried out in their name, the American people reject the use of torture and believe that our nation should uphold the rule of law. That is why the ACLU is calling on friends like you to help us educate and mobilize the public.

We won’t wait for ’08 to end torture, restore habeas corpus and close Guantánamo . We must act now. By hosting a screening of “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” you will increase awareness about the issues of torture, habeas corpus and due process. Raising awareness of these issues is essential as we fight to restore our Constitution and our most fundamental values.

All you need to host a viewing is a DVD player, a TV and guests. We’ll provide you with the tools you need to have a meaningful discussion.

To think that it has taken almost six years for Khadr's hearing to take place underscores the fact that we can’t wait for ’08 to restore the Constitution; we must act now.

I hope you’ll consider hosting a viewing of this important documentary, and help build awareness about these fundamental issues. Thank you for your involvement and for standing up for freedom and the rule of law.

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

Working to End Torture
Observing Guantánamo hearings: ACLU attorney, Jamil Dakwar, is at Guantánamo Bay to observe the hearing of Omar Ahmed Khadr. Read his comments and observations about the hearing on the ACLU blog.

Testifying before Congress: ACLU attorney, Amrit Singh, testified today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee looking into "enhanced" interrogation methods used on detainees in U.S. custody. Read more about her testimony.

Getting the facts: As a result of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, the third secret torture memo from Alberto Gonzales’ DOJ was revealed on Tuesday. Learn more about the documents and what they uncover.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Funeral protests, free speech and defending everybody

Welcome to Cap City Liberty, the blog for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin's Madison Area Office. Here you can find more information about civil liberties issues that are happening in Madison and in the state of Wisconsin. Some federal issues will be discussed here as well, but for a full account of the latest in the abuse of federal power, please visit the national ACLU's website at

I started working for the ACLU of Wisconsin as the Madison Community Advocate a little over a year ago. One of the items in my first week's welcome basket came in the form of a very angry phone call from a concerned woman who wanted to know why we were defending the Reverend Fred Phelps of the God Hates Fags dot com fame. I patiently heard her complaints and her disgust in how anyone could support such a monster as Phelps who received national attention for demonstrating at the funeral of Matthew Shepard.

Anything I would have said to explain why First Amendment rights should cover even unpopular opinions and how passing laws just to stifle the protest of one radical and his band of merry sign-bearers is unAmerican probably wouldn't have been heard through her anger. She also probably wouldn't have heard that no one in the Wisconsin offices was actually connected to Phelps' law suit and that her complaints should have been directed to another affiliate.

So it only seems fitting to bring attention to a story that aired on National Public Radio's Morning Edition last week on how the "Kansas Church (has been) Ordered to Pay $10M for Disrupting (a Military) Funeral." This story has an interview with Rodney Smolla of the Washington and Lee University School of Law who describes the implications of the funeral protests, free speech, public versus private spaces, and the time/place/manner (or in this case, volume) of a demonstration. Smolla also describes why hate speech is protected and is separate from fighting words or an invasion of privacy.

The ACLU's involvement in such cases is best summarized by Bassel El-Kasaby, a lawyer hired by the ACLU to defend Shirley Phelps-Roper (Phelps' daughter) against a charge of flag desecration, a violation of a Nebraska state law. El-Kasaby says that she doesn't agree with the spirit of her client's actions, but she will defend her right to free expression. It was in the same spirit that the Madison Area Offices and students from the UW National Lawyers Guild organized legal observers to witness the fiery confrontation between anti-racist protesters at the rally of the National Socialist Movement (nazi) members in August of 2006. Free speech and protest rights, no matter how unpopular, should be defended. Even if you don't agree with the content. (And if there is no protest, there are no bunnies.)
- S.R. Harbaugh, Community Advocate

Take Action: Be a legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin - we're looking for volunteers who are willing to be neutral observers of public protests in order to help protect the first amendment rights of demonstrators. Contact the ACLU of Wisconsin's Madison Area Office to get on our legal observer volunteer list.

Learn More: Read "Defending Everybody: A History of the American Civil Liberties Union" by Diane Garey for more information on the long history of defending the basic freedoms of people in America. You can buy a copy from the ACLU at the link above. Or watch the film "The American Civil Liberties Union," created by Florentine Films.