Tag Archives: Civil Liberties
Exterior Supreme Court

Supreme Court Happenings

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions, and more opinions expected to come down this morning, it feels like an appropriate time to recap what the nine justices have been working and opining on.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, upholding a constitutional ban on affirmative action in public university admissions in Michigan 6-2 (Justice Kagan recused herself). Interestingly, Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the conservative wing of the Court. The New York Times notes that “justices in the majority, with varying degrees of vehemence, said that policies affecting minorities that do not involve intentional discrimination should ordinarily be decided at the ballot box rather than in the courtroom.”

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Release of CIA Torture Report Reignites Important Conversation

Earlier this month, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to release parts of a 6,300 page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” – broadly considered to be torture. The committee, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), voted 11-3 to release the report (only three of the Republicans on the committee opposed its release). If you want to learn more about the story of the torture report, this is a helpful timeline.

The release of this report is crucial because it shows that the CIA’s interrogation methods did not, contrary to popular belief, provide valuable information, and that the CIA misled the government and the public on these matters. While this is an important step forward, the journey is not over. The Obama Administration still has to review the report to decide what exactly will be released, and it is possible the CIA might be in charge of deciding what or what does not get disclosed.

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Kids in Prison?

March is the Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing, organized by the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. This month is an opportunity for the faith community to address the way in which our society holds children accountable when they are convicted of crimes.

Did you know…

  • Children sentenced to life in prison are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Nearly 80% of such children reported witnessing violence in their homes.
  • The racial discrepancy of youth sentenced to life without parole is massive. African American children receive such a sentence at 10 times the rate of white children.
  • 77% of girls sentenced to life without parole say they have been sexually abused.
  • Children housed in adult prisons are eight times more likely to commit suicide; five times more likely to be sexually assaulted; two times more likely to be assaulted by staff; and 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon compared to children in juvenile facilities. Read more…

Surveilling the Landscape of Privacy Concerns

In a landmark speech this January, President Obama outlined his concerns, goals and plans for reform of the National Security Agency. A month later, there continue to be developments on the right-to-privacy front. On February 6th, the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, announced two changes the NSA metadata program. Section 215, the “bulk telephony metadata program,” will no longer exist in its current form. It will transition to a new system that addresses national security needs without keep these large amounts of information

“As a first step in that transition, the President directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to ensure that, absent a true emergency, the telephony metadata can only be queried after a judicial finding that there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.”

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Freddie Lee Pitts

Capital Punishment: New Drugs, New Questions

The death penalty is back in the news with increasing frequency —and there is, in fact, a reason. See if you can piece this together:

  • In Ohio, it took Dennis B. McGuire 25 excruciatingly painful minutes, from the time he was injected with fatal drugs to the time he was declared dead. The state used a new drug combination in its execution of Mr. McGuire, and received court approval to proceed despite defense attorneys asking for a delay, “in fear of the unused drug causing ‘air hunger,’ inflicting ‘terror and agony’ upon their client.”
  • In Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would mandate death by electrocution in many cases, while Missouri and Wyoming have flirted with reintroducing the firing squad.
  • The Supreme Court issued a last-minute, temporary stay of the execution of a Missouri inmate, Herbert Smulls, in the hours between President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday evening and the man’s scheduled execution at 12:01 Wednesday morning, following the state’s refusal to disclose where they obtained a lethal-injection drug.
  • The first four executions of 2014 are being carried out by Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Texas, respectively. Each is using a different lethal injection procedure.

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President Obama flags podium

The President’s Speech (on the NSA)

Shortly after 11am this morning, President Barack Obama addressed many of the current issues surrounding the questions of surveillance and privacy in our time. The ongoing War on Terror and the ever-changing technological landscape pose new challenges to the often-tenuous balance between national security and civil liberties.

The National Security Agency information leak by Edward Snowden last summer reignited debate on these issues and led to much outrage about the practices of the NSA, which collects metadata on the American public under the PRISM program, enshrined in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008. Digital surveillance by the NSA is authorized under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

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soldiers, Guantanamo, security

12 Years a Detainee

Tomorrow, January 11th, marks the 12th anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. At that juncture, the United States was still reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; for over a decade Guantanamo (Gitmo), has been a black mark on the reputation of the United States around the world.

Why? Because at Guantanamo, men who have been captured by the U.S. government are held, often without a trial, awaiting their fate. Many detainees participate in hunger strikes, protesting the conditions of the detention center, and their treatment. In December, the Department of Defense announced that it would no longer release the number of prisoners striking – a problematic development as those figures are important as a representation of what is happening at the center in Cuba.

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New Beginnings in a New Year

At the beginning of his first term in office, President Obama issued an Executive Order calling for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. However, five years later, the detention center is still open but after many hurdles and stalemates it seems that there is new momentum pushing for the closure of Guantanamo.

After months of deliberation, President Obama signed H.R. 3304, the National Defense Authorization Act last month. This bill, a product of long negotiations, is landmark legislation for many reasons, and perhaps the most discussed are the provisions regarding Guantanamo.

In a statement following his signing of the bill, President Obama commended Congress on Section 1035, which will streamline the transfer process of detainees from Guantanamo to a third party nation or their home country. The president criticized the two preceding sections (1033 and 1034) which extend transfer restrictions already in place. Despite divergent approaches on how to handle the detainee population and the facilities at Guantanamo, that the news came during the holiday season indicates a new commitment in 2014.

And, it looks like this commitment was confirmed as we say our last goodbyes to 2013: on Tuesday morning, the last three Uighers at Guantanamo were released and transferred to Slovakia. The three men have each spent twelve years in detention. Their transfer brings the detainee population to 155; nine men have been released since the beginning of December.

These are important and optimistic steps forward, and I hope that 2014 will be a defining year on the road to the eventual closure of Guantanamo.

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