Civil Freedoms Under Threat

  • Supreme Court justices blast the corrections system

    Source: Think Progress. The prisons are one of the most misunderstood institutions of government. Solitary confinement drives individuals insane. And mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea. These were the assertions of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee Monday afternoon. Asked by Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) about United States “capacity to deal with people with our current prison and jail overcrowding,” each justice gave an impassioned response in turn, calling on Congress to make things better. “In many respects, I think it’s broken,” Kennedy said of the corrections system.

  • Be careful with your face at airports

    Source: CNN. Through a program called Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, the TSA employs thousands of “behavior detection officers” who scrutinize travelers to look for signs of “mal-intent” in airport screening areas. The officers typically spend less than 30 seconds scanning an average passenger for over 90 behaviors the TSA associates with stress, fear or deception. When the officers perceive clusters of such behaviors in any given individual, they refer that person for secondary inspection and questioning. Just about everyone outside the TSA who has reviewed the SPOT program has decided that it’s unscientific and a waste of money. Despite this withering criticism, SPOT remains in place and has cost taxpayers well over $1 billion (that’s with a b) since its inception in 2007. Equally troubling is that SPOT has given rise to persistent allegations of racial and ethnic profiling — an unfortunately inevitable result when law enforcement or border agents single people out based on hasty, gut-level judgments about them.

  • Three questions you should ask when you hear about a ‘foiled terrorist plot’

    Source: Vice. Law enforcement officials of all kinds have been tripping over each other to comment on the omnipresent danger of terrorism and, in passing, to justify the sprawling and expensive security state that exists today in America. But for those cases that do involve Muslims in America, always touted with great fanfare as “disrupted terrorist plots,” there is a simple test that anyone can apply from the safety and comfort of their own home to decide if they should take what the government is dishing with a grain of salt. 1. Was there an informant or undercover agent actively involved? 2. Does the defendant suffer from any mental health issues, dysfunctions, or deficiencies? 3. Would the defendant have undertaken whatever they are accused of if not for the government’s involvement?

  • Animal rights activists will face terror charges

    Source: Defending Dissent Foundation. A federal judge in Chicago refused to dismiss charges against two animal-rights activists on March 5, rejecting their challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). The two, Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang, are accused of freeing hundreds of mink and wolves from fur farms in northern Illinois in 2012, and are being charged under AETA. The case has become a cause célèbre among animal-rights activists. They packed the courtroom in February when Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Rachel Meeropol, who is representing Johnson and Lang, argued that the charges be dismissed.

  • FBI’s culture of hostility toward whistleblowers—and how justice department permits policy of retaliation

    Source: Firedoglake. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI retaliation against whistleblowers, FBI associate deputy director Kevin Perkins declared, “We will not and do not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers in the FBI.” The astonishing remark was made as the committee chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, reported that an FBI whistleblower had recently emailed him to report retaliation. Because of a carve-out in the Whistleblower Protection Act, the FBI may exclusively set its own regulations for whistleblowers, and, unlike other executive branch agencies, employees may not report wrongdoing in their chain of command including their immediate supervisor. There are nine individuals, who the Justice Department maintains may accept complaints. They are in the Attorney General’s office, the FBI Director’s office, the Justice Department Inspector General’s office or special agents in charge (SAIC). Report to the wrong person or involve individuals not authorized to receive complaints, and the Justice Department can disqualify that employee from being granted protection from retaliation.

  • Does being an animal rights activist make you a terrorist?

    Source: BORDC. Two men, Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang, are being brought up on charges that would forever stamp them as terrorists while they are simply exercising their rights. Kevin and Tyler will appear in federal district court in Chicago. The law they are being charged under is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), prohibits any person from damaging or interfering with an animal enterprise. his definition goes against what society deems as “terrorism.” This definition of terrorism does not require a violent action. While the two men did plead guilty to having bolt and wire cutters, ski masks, and camouflage clothing in their car, they did not commit a violent crime.

  • Non-violent ‘terrorism’?

    Source: Huffington Post. In a Chicago courtroom today, I will urge a federal judge to dismiss terrorism indictments against two animal rights activists accused of freeing thousands of mink from fur farms. Tyler Lang and Kevin Johnson are charged under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). They face up to 10 years in prison. The Center for Constitutional Rights joined the defense team to continue our half-decade battle to have the AETA struck down as unconstitutional. The law punishes causing property loss (which includes lost profits) to a business that sells animals or animal products — criminalizing not only loss caused by criminal acts but also loss caused by picketing and other constitutionally-protected activity. The AETA punishes a wide swath of expression by animal rights activists if it hurts the bottom lines of corporations — a clear violation of the First Amendment.

  • Destroyed by the Espionage Act

    Source: The Intercept. Stephen Kim spoke to a reporter. Now he’s in jail. This is his story.

  • Let’s be clear: The Obama Crusades controversy is over whether it’s okay to hate Muslims

    Source: Vox. It’s easy to overcomplicate the supposed controversy over President Obama comparing ISIS to the Crusades at a national prayer breakfast this week. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” To be crystal clear: this is not a fight over the fine-grain imperfections of Obama’s historical analogy or over the implications for US foreign policy. It is a fight over whether it’s okay to hate Muslims, to apply sweeping and negative stereotypes to the one-fifth of humanity that follows a particular religion. A number of Americans, it seems, are clinging desperately to their anti-Muslim bigotry and are furious at Obama for trying to take that away from them.

  • Lone wolf terrorists are exceedingly rare, so why does everyone keep talking about them?

    Source: Tom Dispatch. “The lone wolf is the new nightmare,” wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer recently, and the conservative pundit wasn’t alone in thinking so. You could multiply such statements many times over. There’s only one problem with the rising crescendo of alarm about lone wolves: most of it simply isn’t true. There’s nothing new about the “threat” and the concept is notoriously unreliable, as well as selectively used. (These days, “lone wolf” has largely become a stand-in for “Islamic terrorist,” though the category itself is not bound to any specific ideological type.) Worst of all, its recent highlighting paves the way for the heightening of abusive and counterproductive police and national security practices, including the infiltration of minority and activist communities and elaborate sting operations that ensnare the vulnerable.