August 2006 Newsletter

3 August 2006
In the struggle to preserve basic liberties, there have since 9/11 been many losses and a few victories, however limited and fragile. In the latter category we may count the Supreme Court decision in the case of Ramdan v. Rumsfeld, a 5 to 3 decision written mainly by Justice Stevens. The court finally struck back at Bush’s efforts to establish an executive tyranny by denying the President power to set up “military commissions” which lack the most elementary procedural rights for detainees. Stevens wrote that the U.S. government is bound by the Geneva conventions and that the code of military justice does not permit such kangaroo courts.
But as usual we must not celebrate prematurely for several reasons: (1) Justice Roberts did not participate in the decision but would have voted to uphold the President, (2) the Kennedy “swing vote” could swing the other way later, (3) Stevens himself is approaching ninety and might leave the bench before Bush is out of office, (4) already Bush’s obsequious minions in Congress are pushing legislative proposals to “overrule” the court, even if that would make the U.S. the only country in the world to renounce the Geneva convention protections.

Likewise, Congress is considering bills that would remove any doubts about the President’s power to use the National Security Agency as a master-eavesdropper without warrants, making a mockery of the 4th amendment. Instead of stopping the electronic eavesdropping, the Bush administration is hounding the New York Times for finally fulfilling its journalistic duty by letting us know what the President had illegally ordered the NSA to do!

Another positive step was the American Bar Association’s denunciation of Bush’s abuse of “signing statements” (800 of them) whereby he avoids the pain of applying his constitutional veto authority and simply announces he will not enforce the law; e.g., his statement attached to the McCain anti-torture bill essentially saying that he will continue to authorize torture as he sees fit. That the very staid and mainstream ABA was driven to take such a public position is a measure of the constitutional crisis we face.

Locally, after almost twenty years of strenuous efforts (including those of CCDBR advisory board member Larry Kennon) on behalf of victims of police torture in Chicago, the “Burge report” was finally made public. But the report concluded that no prosecutions of brutal police involved are possible because of the statute of limitations. It barely offered a slap on the wrist to key figures (such as Mayor Daley) responsible for failing to intervene against these most flagrant violations of the 5th amendment and other fundamental rights of suspects.

This year’s “Taste of Chicago” offered a bitter taste of repression on July 2 when police arrested six leafleters and a legal observer (CCDBR board member Don Goldhamer) for not carrying out their informational leafleting on military recruitment far enough from the Army promotional booth in a designated “free speech zone.” The CCDBR board has expressed its alarm and concern at the apparent claim of the City of Chicago that it can confine the exercise of bedrock 1st-Amendment assembly and expression rights to designated “zones” in the most public of spaces such as Grant Park. We are seeking to coordinate with like-minded organizations a response to this threat.

Frank Wilkinson devoted his life to defense of the Bill of Rights and knew well that in this battle victories are never permanent. Save the date of October 29, 2006, when CCDBR will commemorate Frank’s unique contributions to the mission we have all undertaken to maintain.

As always, we will be grateful for your financial help to augment our limited resources.


Bob Clarke, Chairman