March 2006 Newsletter

March 2006
You have probably been following the news reports on the Patriot Act renewal proceedings in the U.S. Congress; but it is easy to get confused. Essentially the Bush administration, its loyal Republican majority, and many “security Democrats” have had their way, despite some efforts to mitigate the attack on civil liberties embodied in the law. Most of the serious proposed improving amendments were in the Senate; and CCDBR focused its attention on the votes of our two U.S. Senators.

In our last mailing, we were pleased to report that both Durbin and Obama had supported the original filibuster that slowed down the Patriot Act re-authorization juggernaut. When the test votes came again, Durbin voted to uphold a filibuster but Obama disappointed us by voting the other way. Finally, on the substance of the legislation, only ten senators, led by Russ Feinbaum, stood up and voted NO. Sad to report, neither Durbin nor Obama was among these ten. Thus, for lack of political will and despite all the negative publicity surrounding the NSA (National Security Agency) illegal surveillance and Bush’s falling poll numbers, Congress handed the President most of what he asked for in the Patriot Act renewal. Only minor and cosmetic favorable changes, such as making two sections of the act renewable for just four years and protecting libraries from some invasions of their records, were adopted.

Some under-reported but disturbing provisions were actually added to the PA: (1) expanding Secret Service authority to police “special events of national significance,” including arresting of demonstrators at such events – this amendment was added to the conference report with no hearings or discussion; (2) establishing new death-penalty offenses; (3) requiring that patients buying certain prescription cold medications present I.D.s and sign forms. This last provision joins the earlier “War on Drugs” assault on privacy with that of the “War on Terror.” The “War on Pornography” (including attempts to scoop up Google search records) provides the final prong of a trident of legal “justifications” to plunge into the already moridbund corpus of 4th-amendment rights. Sometimes it seems that the only war that has been set aside is the “War on Poverty.”

In the House of Representatives, 138 members had the courage to vote against renewal of the Patriot Act. From Illinois, these Nay votes were cast by Democrats Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Danny Davis, and Jan Schakowsky. Luis Gutierrez and Lane Evans did not vote (in Evans’ case possibly because of illness.) Surprisingly, two Illinois Republicans also voted against renewal: Donald Mazullo and Timothy Johnson. In the lamentable roster of those voting Yea were Democrats Rahm Emanuel, Melissa Bean, and Dan Lipinski, joined in this cave-in by all the other Republicans in the Illinois delegation. You might want to write or call our senators and your representative to let them know what you think about these votes.

The fact that some conservative/libertarian Republicans have begun to express alarm about the erosion of civil liberties is reflected in recent Senate and House votes and in the creation under ACLU aegis of the “Liberty Coalition” of groups from both Right and Left who find common ground in their determination to defend the Bill of Rights. But this regrouping around civil liberties concerns has not been so far sufficient to check the almost daily affronts to the rights we once though secure: e.g., it now appears that there will be no serious congressional investigation of the NSA scandal with its revelations of illegal warrantless searches on a huge scale. In the same vein, Congress is moving to deny habeas corpus petition rights to Guantanamo detainees; and Bush/Gonzalez have already announced they will plough through loopholes in the McCain anti-torture law. The New York Times reports an expasion underway of the detainee gulag to include a major center in Afghanistan, far from even the very restrained prying eyes that have beheld the shameful violations of human rights at Guantanamo.

Hovering over this whole ugly picture is the chilling, unresolved Padilla case. The new Chief Justice Roberts, while he was being interviewed by Bush for his nomination to the Supreme Court, joined an Appeals Court decision against summary dismissal of the “enemy combatant” doctrine under which Bush can seize American citizens on U.S. soil and clap them away incommunicado forever. The Attorney General got Padilla’s case transferred to a civilian court; but that leaves open the question of the enemy combatant power itself. If the Supreme Court now decides to consider this claim of presidental power, how will it rule? Even a few months ago we could have been confident that the court would slap down dictatorial “Commander in Chief” authority. Now, with Alito and Roberts, can we be sure? Short of richly deserved impeachment/resignation, Bush still has as long to serve as the whole duration of the Kennedy presidency; and he may well get a chance for more Supreme Court appointments. If his party keeps control of the Senate after the November election, will it be possible to block additional extreme conservative appointees?

Some text from our recent mailing of the Frank Wilkinson obituary and Abner Mikva statement may have been cut off on the copy you received. If you notify us, we’ll send another copy.

Because we are working to upgrade our “database” of member and supporter information, there have been some delays in the usual reminders for those of you who have generously made sustainer pledges. We are bringing these records up to date and plan to resume your reminders. In the meantime, of course we need and appreciate contributions from all and sundry. Beyond monetatry donations, we are always looking for new ideas and volunteers – please contact us whenever the spirit moves you. We have to keep fighting!


Best regards,
Bob Clarke, Chairman