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Orwell Watch
In this post-Sept. 11 era, we have been far too willing to toss our own Constitution out the window, especially as it applies to our own citizens and those who for some deluded reason still strive to be one of our citizens. 

In George Orwell's bleak "1984", he foretold of a time when the country is always at war with someone, though the target may shift from day to day; a time when personal liberties are a distant memory; a time when you are no longer free to associate with whomever you wish; a time when the right to speak your mind in opposition to the government is nonexistent. 

Orwell may have been 18 years late, as the courts system is circumvented, secret arrests are the order of the day, and a hush of silence falls across the table of political dialogue in this country under the blanket of "national security."

So here's my Orwell Watch, on the degradation of the Bill of Rights and news articles highlighting our continuing efforts to help the bad guys win. They say freedom was attacked on Sept. 11. I say buildings were attacked on Sept. 11; we have done an excellent job of attacking freedom every day since.

Provided I do not write about the government, religion, politics, morals, people in power, official institutions, the opera, the other theaters, or about anybody attached to anything, I am free to print anything, subject to the inspection of two or three censors.
-- Pierre Augustin de Beaumarchais, French playwright, 1772

The War on Who?

Detainees' lawyers argue for right to meet with clients
     Lawyers for 15 men accused of being Taliban or al Qaeda terrorists argued before a U.S. Appeals Court that they should have the right to meet with their clients, who are being held on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 
     Twelve Kuwaitis, two Britons and an Australian citizen who were arrested in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been detained in Guantanamo for many months in what the attorneys argued is a violation of the Geneva Convention. 
     The lawyers, who were retained by the detainees' families, said the detainees are not being allowed to see either their families or their lawyers. 
     Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement aid that because of last year's terrorist attacks, it is necessary to detain the men at Guantanamo "for their own protection and to prevent them from re-enlisting." It also facilitate intelligence gathering, he said. 
     One of the attorneys, Joe Marguilies, said that President Bush has not officially designated the 15 as members of al Qaeda or the Taliban. "These are citizens of a friendly nation. You can't presume enemy status," he said. 
    Full Story: CNN.com

Sept. 11 detainees still hidden from public
     Somewhere in the United States, as many as three dozen foreigners, most likely Muslim or Middle Eastern men, sit locked up in immigration jails after being arrested on suspicion that they have ties to or knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorists.
      They are the remnants of the largest law enforcement sweep in America in decades, the relatively few left in custody after authorities arrested more than 1,200 foreigners on immigration violations as part of the Sept. 11 terrorism probe.
     In an open courtroom here far removed from those secret cells, lawyers for the government and a coalition of advocacy groups will present their arguments about whether the identities of all the Sept. 11 detainees should be made public.
    Full Story: Newsday

No bargaining rights under homeland security compromise
     The Bush administration would have authority to strip collective bargaining rights from unionized employees in a new Homeland Security Department under a compromise proposal that has support from key Senate lawmakers.
     The compromise, which is strongly opposed by federal employee unions, won backing late Tuesday from Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), who previously had supported a union-backed version of the homeland security bill. 
     “They have capitulated, and it is unfortunate,” said Beth Moten, legislative director for with the American Federation of Government Employees. 
    Full story: GoveExec Magazine

Court Backs Open Deportation Hearings in Terror Cases
     The federal appeals court in Cincinnati declared yesterday that the Bush administration acted unlawfully in holding hundreds of deportation hearings in secret based only on the government's assertion that the people involved may have links to terrorism.
     The decision, which was laced with stinging language questioning the administration's commitment to an open democracy, is the first major appellate ruling on the government's legal tactics concerning Sept. 11.
     "Democracies die behind closed doors," wrote Judge Damon J. Keith for the unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Bush administration has sought, the panel said, to place its actions "beyond public scrutiny."
     "When the government begins closing doors," the panel continued, "it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation."
     Barbara Comstock, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the government had not decided whether to appeal.
     The case was brought by four Michigan newspapers and U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) They sought to attend deportation hearings concerning Rabih Haddad, a Muslim clergyman who had overstayed his tourist visa. 
     Mr. Haddad, a native of Lebanon and a resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., is the founder of the Global Relief Foundation, a Muslim charity whose assets were frozen after it came under federal scrutiny.
    Full Story: New York Times

Judge rules detainee's names can be withheld
    U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled Thursday that the U.S. government can keep secret, for now, the identities of people being held for possible roles in the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 
     Kessler had ruled on Aug. 2 that the U.S. Department of Justice must release the names, saying that their attorneys had not proven that disclosing the identities would hurt investigation of the attacks. The Justice Department appealed the ruling on Aug. 8, asking at the same time for a temporary stay of the  order to reveal the names.
     More than two dozen civil rights and public interest organizations filed the lawsuit in Washington, D.C., after their October 2001 FOI Act request with the Justice Department failed to produce the full list of names. The plaintiffs included the Center for National Securities Studies and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 
    In the latest ruling, Kessler said the stay is appropriate because "stays are routinely granted in FOIA cases; that disclosure of the names of the detainees and their lawyers would effectively moot any appeal; and that the Government has promised to seek expedited consideration from the Court of Appeals." She said the stay would remain in effect until a federal appeals court has ruled, which could take months.
     Source: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Land of the Free

Irony alert: or is that hypocrisy?
     The FOI Advocate, a newsletter of the National Freedom of Infformation Coalition, released a copy of a 1997 op-ed piece in the Washington Times that reveals a slight change of heard for current Attorney General John Ashcroft.
     "The Clinton administration's paranoid and prurient interest in (monitoring) international e-mail is a wholly unhealthy precedent especially given this administration's track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by those with illegal or immoral intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records or translate our international communications."
     So wrote then-Senator Ashcroft, opposing the Clinton administration's request for broadened authority to eavesdrop on high-tech communications, in his Aug. 12, 1997 op-ed piece in the Washington Times, "Welcoming Big Brother."

DOJ given expanded wiretap powers
     A special panel from the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has overturned a May decision by the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, by ruling the DOJ has broad discretion in the use of wiretaps and other surveillance techniques to track suspected terrorists and spies. 
     The secretive federal court had concluded proposals by Attorney General John Ashcroft under the new USA Patriot Act were "not reasonably designed" to safeguard the privacy of Americans. On appeal, the panel said the expanded wiretap guidelines sought by Ashcroft do not violate the Constitution.
    Full decision: U.S. Courts

Homeland Security will include new limitations
     Internet providers such as America Online could give the government more information about subscribers and police would gain new Internet wiretap powers under legislation creating the new Department of Homeland Security. 
     Amid the debate in Washington last week, provisions of the bill tucked into a section about "cyber-security enhancements" received scant attention. 
     Most of the provisions passed the House as part of separate legislation in an overwhelming 385-3 vote during the summer, but they were never considered in the Senate. 
     The bill also provides greater legal protections for Internet providers, such as AOL or Microsoft Network, to turn over information about their subscribers to government officials during computer emergencies. If companies believe "in good faith" that there is risk of death or injury to any person, they can turn over details about customers -- even their e-mails -- without a warrant. 
     Civil liberties groups, such as the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, have complained the bill's language allows Internet providers to turn over subscriber information to any government officials, not just investigators. U.S. companies have traditionally refused to act as agents for prosecutors without court-approved warrants, said Chris Hoofnagle, EPIC's legislative counsel. 
      Another part of the Homeland Security bill gives U.S. authorities new power to trace e-mails and other Internet traffic during cyber-attacks without first obtaining even perfunctory court approval. That could only happen during "an immediate threat to national security." Prosecutors would need to obtain a judge's approval within 48 hours. 
    Full Story: Washington Post

Assigned Reading on Koran in Chapel Hill Raises Hackles
     Chapel Hill's 3,500 freshmen gathered today to discuss their  summer reading assignment, which this year was a book about the Koran. 
     Just hours before the talks were to begin, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., was still considering an appeal from a conservative Christian group that had sued to stop them. Then at 10 a.m., the appellate court, upholding a district court finding from last week, ruled against the group, clearing the way for the discussions.
     In the courtroom, lawyers for the university had spent the weekend arguing that the discussions were not, as the Christian group charged, "forced Islamic indoctrination." While the court case was pending, a legislative committee in Raleigh was considering a bill, already passed by the General Assembly, that would deny financing to the university if it did not give equal time in the classroom to "all known religions."
     Today, as freshmen streamed into classrooms to start their discussions, demonstrators rallied nearby in support of academic freedom, and a few protesters argued that students should be required to read the Bible instead.
     "Post-Sept. 11, I think the academic police are falling all over themselves to uphold Islam in favorable light, which is precisely what this program was attempting to do," said Stephen M. Crampton, the chief counsel for the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy, which argued the case.
     When it was assigned in the early spring, the book, "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations," by Michael A. Sells, a professor of religion at Haverford College, caused little outrage. The book is a translation of 35 early suras, or chapters, of the Koran, accompanied by commentary and a glossary of Islamic terms. 
     In one group, students said they were excited to learn about Islam and surprised to find parallels between it and Christianity. "I thought it was going to be some off-the-wall religion," said Matt Campbell.
     Full Story: New York Times

Reporters must get crime info from state headquarters
     The New Jersey State Police are requiring the news media to contact state police headquarters in Ewing for all inquiries into crimes instead of getting reports from troopers in local barracks, according to a published report. 
     "No information is to be released except through this office under the auspices of (N.J. State Police Superintendent Joseph Santiago)," state police spokesman Sgt. Gerald Lewis told The Daily Journal in Vineland. The newspaper reported Aug. 9 that the restriction had stopped the dissemination of local crime information, including the release of weekly reports that documented incidents handled by local barracks. It also said media coordinator positions at the Bridgeton, Buena Vista Township, Bivalve and Port Norris barracks were eliminated.
     Trooper Steve Jones, a spokesman for the state police, told The Associated Press that a memo was sent throughout the agency about a month ago requiring all press calls to be directed through headquarters. But Jones said the requirement was generally a policy before and the memo simply reaffirmed it. As for the weekly crime logs and media coordinators, Jones said both have been eliminated because of a staffing shortage. 
     Gov. James E. McGreevey signed the Open Public Records Act last month, but his administration then angered news organizations by making more than 400 categories of government records exempt from the new law.
      Full Story: Associated Press, via Freedom Forum


If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.
-- George Orwell, author, 1945