3 Reasons the Guantánamo Military Commissions Need the Senate Torture Report

August 12th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Marcellene Hearn, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project

On August 1, President Obama acknowledged again that "We tortured some folks." Last week, one of those people, Abd al-Rahim Hussayn al-Nashiri, was back in the courtroom in the Guantánamo military commissions, where he faces the death penalty for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole.

While the CIA's torture program is now shuttered, its consequences still reverberate in Washington and at the commissions. As the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee fight over the spy agency's redactions to the Senate torture report summary, here are three key ways in which release of information in the report could impact the transparency and fairness of al-Nashiri's military commission trial.

  1. Defense lawyers, the judge, and the public may get a more complete picture of the CIA's torture of al-Nashiri and its impact on him and his case.

Currently, the government claims that details of al-Nashiri's torture are classified. This means the government seeks to limit the information his defense lawyers may obtain, share with their client, and submit to the judge in adversarial briefing on matters that could help determine whether al-Nashiri lives or dies. The government's classification claims also severely limit what information becomes public about the CIA's torture of al-Nashiri and its impact on him.

For example, although a judge in this case previously ordered the prosecution to provide defense counsel detailed information about al-Nashiri's treatment in CIA black sites, the prosecution wants to provide its own summaries of that information rather than original documents, which are the best evidence of what happened. Public release of detailed information in the Senate report would mean justifications for government-created summaries might fall away, defense lawyers could more effectively represent their client, and the commission trials would be more transparent.

Relatedly, release of the Senate report could mean that witnesses would be able to testify more fully about torture and its impact. In April, defense expert Dr. Sondra Crosby's testimony was considerably hobbled during a hearing on whether the case should be halted until al-Nashiri gets medical treatment. Crosby testified that al-Nashiri was subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual torture that caused chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. But she couldn't say anything about the specific instances of abuse that caused his mental trauma because that's classified, leaving Col. Vance Spath, a judge newly appointed to the case, with potentially incomplete facts upon which to base his ruling.

The release of the Senate report could change all of this and put crucial information in front of Judge Spath, the members of the military commission panel who will ultimately decide al-Nashiri's fate, and the public.

  1. Statements that may be the fruit of coercion are less likely to be admitted as evidence.

The prosecution has indicated that it will seek to use at trial statements al-Nashiri made to interrogators after he was brought to Guantánamo. Presumably, under the prosecution's view, the CIA's torture of al-Nashiri had stopped by then, so these statements aren't barred as impermissible coerced evidence. The information in the torture report may further detail, however, the extent and cruelty of the CIA's torture. It could strengthen his defense counsel's likely argument that the government's conduct was so outrageous – and had such a long-lasting effect – that all of al-Nashiri's statements must be excluded from trial.

  1. Al-Nashiri may get medical care for the consequences of torture.

The defense has asked Judge Spath to stop the proceedings until al-Nashiri obtains treatment for PTSD, and it has also asked for an MRI to determine if he sustained a traumatic brain injury from torture. The prosecution opposes both requests. While Judge Spath could rule without further evidence, the narrative of torture in the Senate torture report would surely frame public perception of the government's arguments and the judge's rulings. With more information in the public domain, the government would likely have a harder time arguing against additional diagnosis and medical care for the consequences of the torture to which it subjected this capital defendant.

There's an old adage about justice – it not only has to be done; it has to be seen to be done. While there are still multiple defects in the commission system, there can be no justice, or anything remotely approximating it, if crucial, devastating elements of al-Nashiri's story remain secret. Prompt release of the Senate torture report would help serve justice.

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2+2=5? Why South Carolina’s Creationism Compromise Doesn’t Add Up

August 11th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Carrie Ellen Sager, PFRB Legal Fellow, ACLU

Politicians in South Carolina don't have a great track record with science. Earlier this year, creationists in the state legislature tried to derail an 8-year-old girl's request to make the woolly mammoth the state fossil. They demanded the resolution also declare that the wooly mammoth was "created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field."

The creationists ultimately lost that battle, but not before South Carolina was subjected to weeks of embarrassing media coverage.

Then, in June, when it was time to adopt new science education standards, a state senator pushed to require students to "[c]onstruct scientific arguments that seem to support and scientific arguments that seem to discredit Darwinian Natural Selection."

The assignment would have been unusually short since there are no legitimate scientific arguments that discredit evolution, or "Darwinian Natural Selection," as creationists are fond of calling it. Within the scientific community, there is no debate about the validity of evolution any more than there is a debate about the validity of gravity. Fortunately, the proposed amendment failed.

Never quitters, South Carolina creationists are at it again.

On Wednesday, the state board of education is set to consider a "compromise" amendment to the science standards. The proposed amendment is essentially an evolution disclaimer that would require schools to teach that evolution "is continually open to and subject to experimental and observational testing" and that "all theories may change as new scientific information is obtained."

This may not sound like a big deal – scientific theories, unlike creationism, are constantly being revised as we acquire new information – but singling out evolution for this disclaimer is actually part of a long creationist tradition of portraying evolution as "only a theory" – i.e. unreliable and not fact. After the Supreme Court ruled that schools couldn't teach creationism, creationists turned to attacking evolution instead. If students reject evolution, the creationist logic says, the only alternative is creationism.

The thing is, in science there's no such thing as "only a theory." Unlike the popular definition of theory – a guess or conjecture – scientific theories are well-supported explanations for parts of the natural world. And evolution is a cornerstone of science, undisputed by any legitimate biologist. That's why the ACLU has written a letter to the South Carolina Board of Education urging it to reject this effort to inject religion into the science curriculum by falsely undermining evolution.

Spreading misinformation isn't a compromise, it's a capitulation, and students in South Carolina deserve better. If a group of people wanted to teach 2+2=6, we wouldn't compromise by teaching that 2+2=5. Undermining evolution by denying its validity will leave South Carolina students ill-prepared for college and for scientific careers. And, more importantly, it violates the First Amendment.

There can be no compromise when it comes to enforcing our constitutional rights. The Board must reject this amendment.

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Are We Getting Fooled on Surveillance Reform?

August 7th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide, Washington Markup
By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

This piece originally appeared on the Monkey Cage blog at washingtonpost.com.

Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a revamped national security surveillance reform bill called the USA Freedom Act. Most privacy and civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, support the legislation. While not perfect, it would create meaningful checks on spying by the National Security Agency and other parts of the intelligence community.

Last week on this site Professor H.L. Pohlman argued in a post entitled "Might Get Fooled Again?" that civil liberties groups have "overlooked" a key provision that renders the bill "a continuation of the intelligence community's efforts to at best confuse—and at worst, mislead—the American people . . . through the clever use of legalese."

Professor Pohlman is referring to the creation of a new surveillance authority in the bill that would allow the government to seek phone records as they are created, known as prospective collection. The bill would permit government applicants to secure an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the FISC) for the production of records "on a daily basis" created "before, on, or after" the date of the application, but only in terrorism cases and only if they meet a higher legal standard than currently exists.

The professor is concerned that the government could simply seek records on an ongoing basis other than "daily"—like weekly or monthly—under the more lenient standard currently housed in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the collection of "tangible things" that are "relevant" to an intelligence or terrorism investigation.

Given the government's record of stretching surveillance laws to their outer limit and beyond, Prof. Pohlman is absolutely right to be concerned. And there are certainly ambiguities in the language, which we've been saying for a while. But even with the issue the professor raises, the bill would still present an important step toward reform. And it's worth digging into the weeds a bit to see why.

First, while the professor has certainly identified something we'd like to see addressed in the final text, it's not clear the scenario he envisions is the only possible outcome.

Now it is true that the more lenient legal standard in Section 215 has been interpreted by the FISC to permit prospective collection in the phone records program revealed by Edward Snowden. But as detailed by thePrivacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the plain language of Section 215 of the Patriot Act—the provision that would be modified by the USA Freedom Act —precludes such a reading (see pages 81 to 87 of this report). The FISC was only able to engage in such shoddy legal reasoning because its deliberations are secret, and it only hears the government's side of the argument. The USA Freedom Act includes new transparency provisions to limit such secrecy and would create "special advocates" who, in some circumstances, would be able to argue against attempts to stretch the law.

Additionally, courts are under an obligation to read statutes—even statutes that are clear on their face, which this is not—to avoid absurd results. By any measure, it would be deeply absurd to create a stricter new regime for prospective daily collection, but to maintain a lenient standard for ongoing minute-to-minute or second-to-second collection. And the bill's affirmative grant of limited prospective collection authority strongly suggests congressional disagreement with the FISC's earlier, expansive legal interpretation.

Second, even if the government does seek phone records prospectively under "tangible things" authority, the bill includes safeguards to prohibit "bulk" collection and limit "bulky" collection, such as all call records for a city or state. The USA Freedom Act would require the government to present a phone number, name, account number or other specific search term before getting the records—an important protection that does not exist under current law. If government attorneys were to try to seek records based on a broader search term—say all Fedex tracking numbers on a given day—the government would have to subsequently go through all of the information collected, piece by piece, and destroy any irrelevant data. The costs imposed by this new process would create an incentive to use Section 215 judiciously.

Finally, as a practical matter, the government is unlikely to seek broad collection authority under the "tangible things" provision. If it uses the new and more limited authority under the USA Freedom Act, the government can get records on all of the individuals in contact with the target and then all of the individuals in contact with those individuals. In the parlance of the FISC, the government can go two "hops" out from the target phone, which it would not be able to do under "tangible things" authority.

Should the bill be tightened to address this and other potential concerns? Absolutely. But it continues to present both an important step forward in reforming these expansive surveillance authorities and a platform on which to build future reform efforts. The concern raised by the professor is a valid one and his careful eye is much appreciated. But, even in the worst case, the bill improves matters—and that's a rare bird in today's Washington.

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Numbers Tell the Story of Our Government’s Watchlisting Binge

August 6th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Hugh Handeyside, Staff Attorney, ACLU, National Security Project

The government is adding people to its already bloated watchlisting system at breakneck pace, and it's still hungry for more. That's the unavoidable conclusion from documents published yesterday in The Intercept.

Those documents vindicate our concerns and warnings about a massive, virtually standardless government watchlisting scheme that ensnares innocent people and encourages racial and religious profiling.

The documents confirm what we have long suspected: It doesn't take much to get yourself on a terrorist watchlist. The government's recently leaked Watchlisting Guidance starts with a poorly defined "reasonable suspicion" standard and then subjects it to so many exceptions and caveats as to render it virtually toothless. The unsurprising result, as is clear from these documents, is a set of watchlists experiencing explosive growth.

Here are some of the numbers that stood out for us (unless otherwise indicated, as of August 2013):

  • 1,000,000: The number of people in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). TIDE is the government's central repository of classified information that serves as the basis for various watchlists, including the master watchlist, or Terrorist Screening Database. The National Counterterrorism Center has acknowledged that as of August 1, 2014, TIDE held 1.1 million names – roughly the combined population of Wyoming and Vermont. The documents show that when the government includes people in TIDE, it seeks out and adds to the secret database information, such as photos from state DMVs, and biometric data, like fingerprints, facial images, and DNA strands.
  • 680,000: The number of people in TIDE who have also been placed on the master watchlist, which is shared with other federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, and at least 22 foreign governments. Inclusion on the master watchlist can have myriad consequences, including an inability to travel by air or sea, invasive screening at airports, denial of a U.S. visa or permission to enter the United States, or detention and questioning by U.S. or foreign authorities.
  • 280,000: The number of people on the master watchlist who have "no recognized terrorist group affiliation" – a troubling but unsurprising reflection of how loose and exception ridden the standard is for inclusion on the watchlist. People can be listed as "suspected" terrorists not because of any wrongdoing but because of unwitting associations with someone else the government deems suspect.
  • 20,800: The number of U.S. persons (citizens and lawful permanent residents) in TIDE.
  • 1,175 percent: The growth in the number of people on the No Fly List between 2009 and August 2013, when there were 47,000 people on the No Fly List.
  • 900: The number of TIDE records added or "enhanced" each day.
  • 60: The number of TIDE records deleted each day.

Here's another number to keep in mind, even though it's not referenced in the documents: 98,153. That is the population of Dearborn, Michigan, which is at the center of one of the largest communities of Arab Americans in the country. According to the leaked documents, Dearborn has more watchlisted individuals than any other U.S. city except for New York – more than Chicago (population 2.7 million), Houston (2.1 million), and San Diego (1.3 million).

We already knew that the FBI has long engaged in suspicionless assessments and ethnic "mapping" of the Arab-American community in Michigan. Now we also know that the government's watchlisting of that community is disproportionate in the extreme. In short, the government's use of watchlists is unfair, unsupported, and discriminatory.

Of course, it is impossible to quantify the stigma and loss of liberty experienced by individuals who are wrongly or mistakenly watchlisted. The plaintiffs in our No Fly List case, for instance, have been suffering the consequences of their placement on the list for years. The impact on their personal and professional lives has been devastating.

A federal judge has already agreed that the government's failure to provide our clients with a meaningful way to clear their names is unconstitutional. We will be back in court on Tuesday, arguing that there is an immediate need for a fair process.

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Border Crisis Prompting New Xenophobic Drumbeat for an Old Disgrace—Detention Camps

August 6th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Carl Takei, ACLU National Prison Project

This piece originally appeared at The National Journal.

Seventy-two years ago, U.S. military officials labeled Japanese-Americans "an enemy race." Because they were Japanese-Americans, the government locked members of my family—along with many other men, women, and children—in prison camps behind barbed wire.

That family history makes it especially painful for me to watch our country marching refuge-seeking Central American children and families down a similarly shameful path. Too often, the United States violates its principles in response to the vocal racism and xenophobia of some and the silence of too many who watch it happen.

The federal government's World War II decision to incarcerate Japanese-American families was fueled by decades of racist agitation against Japanese immigration. When the war came, some white Americans saw it as a chance to take back a country they felt was being overrun by an alien race. As farmer Austin Anson told The Saturday Evening Post in 1942, "We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons.... We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work and they stayed to take over."

Others were quite clear about what they wanted to happen to these "Japs" once arrested. In early 1942, Nevada Gov. Edward Carville wrote to military authorities that while he was willing to accept construction of a Japanese-American concentration camp in his state, "I do not desire that Nevada be made a dumping ground for enemy aliens to be going anywhere they might see fit to travel."

Today, a similar xenophobic drumbeat is sounding against the Central American families and children seeking refuge in the United States. Rush Limbaugh recently called the children "illegal alien invasion forces." Ann Coulter accused immigration-reform advocates of "working feverishly to turn the country into Mexico." Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., a physician, asserted that the families and children fleeing violence south of the U.S. border pose "grave public health threats" to Americans. And during the now-infamous bus-blocking protest in Murrieta, Calif., one man waved a sign reading: "Murrieta is not a dumping ground for the federal government."

Of course, history never repeats itself in exactly the same way. The Japanese-Americans incarcerated during World War II were generally long-term residents and U.S. citizens. In contrast, the latest targets of this country's special blend of racism and xenophobia are new arrivals—particularly women and girls—fleeing horrific violence in Central America. According to the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, violent deaths of women in Honduras increased 263.4 percent between 2005 and 2013. And asylum requests from Honduran, El Salvadoran, and Guatemalan nationals have increased 712 percent in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize since 2008, according to the U.N.'s refugee agency.

In Central America, gangs act with impunity. To take just one example: Ms. L, a preteen, was dragged from her home and raped by more than a dozen gang members, according to the Jesuit ministries in Honduras who work in partnership with groups assisting girls victimized by violence. After reporting the gang rape to the police, her family began to receive death threats. When a shelter declined to take Ms. L in because it could not protect her or any of the other shelter residents from gang violence, she fled the country.

Central American families need to have their claims for asylum or other legal immigrant statuses carefully evaluated in fair hearings, with counsel, before immigration judges. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a lawsuit arguing that every child should receive legal representation in these hearings. Instead, growing numbers of women and children—many of whom have fled real threats of violence, sexual assault, or even death—are being locked in remote detention facilities, far from immigration attorneys, and rushed through the process. This often happens without these women and children ever receiving a chance to tell their stories to an asylum officer or a judge.

Their detention is unnecessary. People across the political spectrum have begun to express the view that alternatives to detention are more humane and effective, and far less costly.

Yet, just as the Roosevelt administration used the language of "military necessity" to accommodate the demands of anti-Japanese racists on the West Coast, Obama administration officials have requested funding for a massive increase in "family detention" of Central American parents and children. The Obama administration did so not because these young women and children pose a risk to public safety, or because such mass detention is necessary to ensure particular individuals show up for their immigration court hearings. Instead, the current administration did this to "send a message" to other Central Americans. As Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put it during a recent detention-facility tour, the existence of detention centers reserved for families with children "represents proof that indeed we will send people back" to the countries they are trying to escape.

That is a shameful message indeed—and one that future generations will rightly condemn. To stay on the right side of history, the Obama administration must halt its expansion of family detention.

This piece was originally published by The National Journal magazine online at The Next America's Perspectives page. The Next America project explores the political, social and cultural implications of the nation's ongoing and massive demographic shifts.

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Happy Anniversary, CIA! 12 Years of Lawlessness!

August 6th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

Wow. Twelve years. The time has flown by. Seems like just yesterday that the Justice Department sent over its torture memos to then-CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, ramping up a CIA torture program that horribly abused more than a hundred men, killing a few of them. No one at the CIA was ever even charged with a crime. Some agents, in fact, got job promotions.

Those initial August 2002 memos were soon followed by a flood of legal opinions designed to prop up a clearly criminal torture program.

Old history? Hardly. The torture memos were just the start of a string of scandals that has resulted in no meaningful reform of or accountability for an agency that seems to be getting a blank check – to this day. The CIA, with the backing or orders of the White House, ran a worldwide network of secret prisons where it tortured men with barbaric techniques (some inspired by the TV show 24); kidnapped people from European streets; and then reportedly lied to Congress, the White House, and the Justice Department about it.

The lawlessness continued, even after horrified Americans found out what was happening. More legal memos were written to try to keep torturing, even after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)  convinced Congress to pass yet another law to stop it. Top CIA officials ordered evidence — videotapes of men being subjected to simulated drowning — destroyed before investigators could view them.

On his second day in office, President Obama ordered the CIA to close its secret prisons, banned the CIA from all but short-term transitory detention, and put the CIA under the same interrogation rules that apply to the military.

But did that stop the lawlessness? Not really. With President Obama promising to "look forwards, not backwards," CIA officials, and all Bush officials, dodged any criminal indictments, were protected from lawsuits by courts that deferred to CIA secrecy and immunity claims, and did whatever they could to get in the way of Senate investigators.

The lawlessness remains because the Constitution's system of checks and balances is broken. The president, Congress, and the courts seem unwilling or unable to hold the CIA accountable.

Incredibly, more than 200 CIA employees who were involved in the torture program are today still employed at the CIA. The acting general counsel of the CIA until this past March was the very same person who had been one of the CIA's top torture lawyers a decade ago. And in something more reminiscent of organized crime than good government, current CIA leadership met this spring with Bush-era CIA leadership to brainstorm how to undermine a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's use of torture.

The lawlessness seems to be coming to a head this year. The CIA's internal watchdog, its inspector general, just gave a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee that found that the CIA spied on the computers used by the Senate committee to investigate the CIA torture program. CIA officials created a false online identity, tracked the Senate staff's queries, and manipulated the Senate staff's files. The CIA then falsely accused the Senate staff of wrongdoing by filing a criminal referral with the Justice Department that was based on false information.

When the CIA spying was initially discovered last winter, CIA Director John Brennan publicly blasted anyone criticizing the CIA. But the CIA inspector general is now essentially saying that CIA officials spied on Congress and then lied about it.

How can the Constitution's system of checks and balances work if the CIA spies on the computers used by the very staffers carrying out the Senate's constitutional duty of overseeing the executive branch? An uncontrolled – and seemingly uncontrollable – CIA threatens the very foundations of our Constitution.

Twelve years of CIA lawlessness should be enough. It is long past time for Congress and the president to forever ban the CIA from holding anyone in its custody and running a secret prison. But President Obama must also stand up to the CIA and to John Brennan himself. Congress must make the Senate CIA torture report public and start serving as an effective check on the CIA.

No more anniversaries for lawlessness.

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The Fight for Marriage Equality: From Birth to Death and Every Moment in Between

August 6th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney, ACLU

After 22 years together, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur faced the devastating reality that John would not survive another year. John had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2011, a condition for which there is no cure.

By June of 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, the couple knew their days together would be measured in weeks, not months or years. With the help of family, friends, and a team of doctors, they boarded a medically equipped plane to Maryland and married on the tarmac of an airport there.

But when they returned home to Ohio – the state that they had called home for decades, where they built a life together and where they prepared to say goodbye to each other – their marriage was not recognized. They faced the cruel reality that when John died, his death certificate would list him as single and a blank space would follow on the line for surviving spouse. The love and legacy he shared with Jim would be noticeably empty from the last official document of his life.

Unable to fathom such a fate, the couple sued the state of Ohio.

In December of 2013, the district court ruled in favor of Jim and John, striking down Ohio's marriage bans as they applied to the recognition of out-of-state marriages on death certificates. The ruling left John's death certificate, which listed him as married and Jim as his spouse pursuant to an earlier order of the court, undisturbed. But the state of Ohio appealed, and now if that decision is overturned, John's death certificate could be amended to remove all mention of Jim and John's 22-year relationship.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan, will hear argument today in Jim and John's case as well as five other cases challenging state laws that bar the recognition of marriages between same-sex couples and the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

In the year between when many of these cases were filed and today's oral argument, some plaintiffs like Jim Obergefell have lost the love of their life while others have welcomed a child into the world. For each couple the most joyous and the most tragic of life's moments have been complicated by their home state's refusal to treat them as married or to prevent them from being married in the first instance.

Today, Jim and the plaintiffs in five other cases are calling on the 6th Circuit to affirm six district court decisions all ruling in favor of marriage or marriage recognition for same-sex couples in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan.

These cases will be the third set of cases to be heard by a federal court of appeals after a string of 21 district court decisions, which all ruled in favor of marriage equality since the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor. The two other courts of appeals, the 10th Circuit and the 4th Circuit, have already upheld district court decisions on the side of marriage. We hope that the 6th Circuit will be next.

The ACLU continues to work to strengthen the unbroken line of post-Windsor decisions that has created a judicial consensus that bans on the freedom to marry and marriage recognition for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. One or more of these cases will soon be before the Supreme Court and we are optimistic that the Supreme Court will also conclude that our Constitution simply does not tolerate the discrimination that these marriage bans reflect.

With any luck that day will come soon so that Jim, the other plaintiff couples, and same-sex couples across the country will be able to navigate life's challenges and celebrations without having to worry about whether they will be treated as strangers in the eyes of the law.

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We Need Meaningful Immigration Reform, Not Just Theatrics

August 5th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in Border security
By Terri Burke, Executive Director, ACLU of Texas


We don’t have a criminal problem at the border

Since the beginning of this humanitarian crisis, elected and law-enforcement officials in the Rio Grande Valley have observed no increase in crime. These are children who are running into the arms of the Border Patrol agents. They aren’t sneaking in. They aren’t resisting arrest. They have come to escape the violence and crime in their own countries.

Our border is secure

Our border communities already face the most militarized zone in the nation, with 3,000 Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley. The border region does not need more law enforcement agents sent to the area nor does it need the Texas National Guard, whose role is especially unclear. Neither the state Department of Public Safety nor the National Guard has any authority to enforce immigration law.

Increasing, yet again, the number of law enforcement personnel patrolling our border communities only escalates the potential for violating border residents’ constitutional rights and reducing the quality of life for everyone at the border.

We need to get our priorities straight

There are only two kinds of additional boots on the ground needed in the Valley: humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross and more administrative and judicial personnel to screen these immigrants to determine whether they warrant consideration for asylum or refugee status or for U or T visas. Their welfare should be our top priority.

What does “securing the border” look like?

How you measure success matters. In most of our businesses, we set goals and establish metrics to determine success. The state should do no less. To secure the border, our nation needs legal programs that respect family reunification and more clearly hew to labor demands, among a number of other changes.

If you want real change, if you truly want to secure the border, and not just engage in theatrics, then urge Gov. Perry to send needed aid to the border, not more law enforcement.


When Walking Down the Street Is a Crime

August 5th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney, ACLU

When Monica Jones left her house on the evening of May 17, 2013, she expected to hang out at a local bar and restaurant and meet up with some friends. But for transgender women of color, just walking down the street can be a criminal act.

Especially in Phoenix, Arizona, where literally "any bodily gesture" can be sufficient evidence that you are intending to engage in prostitution.

When an undercover officer saw Monica Jones, a black transgender woman, walking down the street just a few blocks from her house, in an area that the officer described as being "known for prostitution," that was enough to convince him that she intended to engage in prostitution. It was on that basis that he approached and stopped her.

In April of this year, Monica was convicted of violating this overbroad and vague law. Today she appeals that conviction, and the ACLU, along with other advocacy and civil rights organizations, filed a brief in support of her appeal.

We #StandWithMonica because transgender women of color should be able to walk down the street in their neighborhoods without being arrested, or worse, for simply being themselves.

We #StandWithMonica because 47 percent of black transgender women have been incarcerated at some point in their lives.

We #StandWithMonica because in June of this year, four transgender women of color, that we know of, were murdered.

We #StandWithMonica because transgender women of color are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than their non-transgender counterparts.

We #StandWithMonica because she is taking on great personal risk to stand up for the transgender community.

While approximately 94 percent of criminal cases are resolved with pleas, Monica went to trial, risking jail time, to tell her story and draw attention to the problem of police profiling of transgender women.

Tonight, Monica will join Emmy-nominated actress Laverne Cox onstage in Phoenix for a conversation about the criminalization of transgender women of color and visions for justice. Both Monica and Laverne are claiming space in different ways to tell their stories of survival and resistance against all odds.

Join Monica, Laverne, and the ACLU in demanding justice for transgender people. Today in support of Monica's case follow the #StandWithMonica hashtag on twitter to send the message that police profiling of transgender women of color must stop.

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The Shadow Economy of Lethal Injection Drug Deals

August 4th, 2014 No Comments   Posted in ACLU Nationwide
By Tanya Greene, Advocacy and Policy Counsel, ACLU

For all we know, the "pharmacy" might be a high school science class.

That's how a federal appeals court judge described Missouri's secretive death penalty system back in the spring.

Shady medical experiments masquerading as legal executions have gone horrifically wrong in four states already this year. During the most recent, Arizona officials shot 15 separate doses of experimental drugs into Mr. Joseph Wood. This bungled execution lasted for nearly two hours, during which Mr. Wood gasped for breath 660 times and then finally suffocated to death.

These botches had some common themes: drugs without a disclosed manufacturer, unknown doses, and unqualified medical supervision.

The government of Missouri knows this. Governor Jay Nixon has the opportunity to make sure that the execution scheduled for 36 hours from now in his state does not suffer from this same irresponsibility. He should issue a stay.

At the very least, to carry out an execution, a state should be able to tell us the name and manufacturer of the lethal injection drugs and the drugs' expiration dates. A state should also be able to provide proof that the drugs are FDA approved. And a state should be able to show the public that executioners are medically qualified to administer the drugs.

Missouri has done none of this. Neither did the four other states where medical experimentation went horribly wrong this year.

What we do know about Missouri's execution system should scare us. In order to dredge up drugs, Missouri gave one of its corrections officers $11,000 in cash and sent him over the border to Oklahoma. The officer returned with the drugs, but he couldn't say whether they were pure or whether they'd been stored or transported properly.

When execution teams are buying drugs with cash, we should question why they've taken to the shadows.

The answer is that the death penalty simply has no place in this country. Most pharmaceutical companies have refused to provide their drugs to be used in executions. Other methods of state-sponsored killing have been deemed too barbaric and archaic. And many doctors won't execute, because it violates their code of ethics to do no harm.

So the whole execution system has been driven underground. States are scrambling to find whatever drugs they can, never mind the fact that they might not work or have been long expired. Missouri has even taken to paying execution teams in cash, under the table – one more part of the dirty business of lethal injection.

Mainstream America wants this barbaric practice off the books. And certainly these botched methods of carrying out the death penalty are far from constitutional. States should heed this, instead of hiding in a cash economy, carrying out illegal medical experimentation on human beings.

Missouri has gotten plenty of warning. Governor Nixon should set his state apart from the secrecy and capriciousness that have characterized four irresponsible, inhumane and unconstitutional botches this year alone. It's time to order a stay.

Sign our petition calling for a nationwide suspension of executions. No government should experiment with human life.

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