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ACLU Emergency Town Meeting

Tonight's ACLU emergency town meeting was focused on restoring the rule of law. It addressed the current issues of domestic spying, torture, rendition, and secret prisons. The speakers included Congressman Michael Capuano, Prof. Mary Culnan, John Roberts, and Nancy Murray. The presentation started off with a bunch of technical difficulties as they couldn't get the speaker's microphones properly amplified. As a result there was a video which they were not able to show.

After some opening remarks by Nancy Murray they discussed 6 mythes the Bush administration is using the justify the illegal actions going on today. The full answers can be found at myths.pdf, below are notes about responses given during the meeting:

Myth #1: The NSA program on warrantless domestic spying is legal and necessary to keep us safe; FISA takes too long.

In 1978 the FISA was setup. It operates in secret but does review all requests, even through the threshold is low. Congress reviewed the possible expansion and would have said no, which is why it was done illegally. The FISA has been expanded in the past to allow longer retroactive periods from 24-72 hours, so it could maybe have been changed. The back idea is that the authority under war does not give the president inherent abilities such as those performed under the guise of the NSA. Additional information at PeterSwire.net.

Myth #2: Warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency is a "terrorist surveillance program" that has no effect on ordinary Americans.

There is no transparency in the program and no oversight. It does harm ordinary citizens. Look at the case of Senator Kennedy being added to the no-fly list. Once the information has been collected what is going to prevent "mission creep" of having the information then used for other purposes? Strict rules around the program prevent those handing over information for even telling people that their information was handed over. Lastly review of some information can't even be done in Congress since many members possibly involved don't have the necessary security clearances!

Myth #3: The United States does not use or condone torture, nor does it kidnap people and fly them to other countries to be tortured.

FOIA has unearthed 90,000 plus documents that go into detail. Details on the ACLU Torture FOIA site.

Myth #4: Detaining individual in Guantanamo and other prisons without trial is a "necessary part of protecting the American people" (George Bush, January 13, 2006).

Only 8% of the detainees in Guantanamo have ties to Al Qaeda. Less than 50% have every even been in battle/combat situation. Many Afghans were paid money for informing, many did it out of spite or self interest turning in innocent people. If the detainees are that dangerous why are some just released. American tradition is that even those that are most likely guilty should get due process.

Myth #5: The USA PATROIT Act has been fixed and its provisions are necessary to fight terrorism.

The president signed an executive order which basically said that the new reporting provisions in the updated PATRIOT Act would be ignored. People getting NSA letters are gagged from even saying that they got a letter. They may after a year appeal, but if denied it can never be mentioned. For those people that say the changes fixed it, either they didn't read it or they think you are stupid.

Myth #6: Speaking out against the administration's policies is unpatriotic and helps the enemy.

Props to Google for standing up. If they hadn't the fact that this information was requested might not have become public knowledge. This is the government trying to play the ultimate trump card; having the government to get other people to turn against you. We need leaks to get information, but new laws would make it illegal requiring jail time and million dollar fines.

At this point the meeting was opened up to comments and questions from the audience. Some of the points that came up included:

Has war been declared? A lot of the president's arguments require a state of war. Is the war on terror justification of war?

Many feel that the powers of congress are being given away by the members of congress.

"Please don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." (Capuano) This was in reference to vote counting and the various issues surrounding that.

Another good group to check out is the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). They have a new book, Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, which makes the case for impeaching President Bush for illegally spying on U.S. citizens, lying to the American people about the Iraq war, seizing undue executive power, and sending people to be tortured overseas.

A couple people mentioned that the Democrats are not providing enough mobilization or rallying points for citizens to get engaged behind.