The 2007 State of Civil Liberties in America

Document Date: January 22, 2007
Affiliate: ACLU of the District of Columbia

America is in a state of constitutional crisis engendered by the president’s unprecedented expansion of executive power. The crisis is exacerbated by the 109th Congress’s failure to carry out its constitutionally mandated role to act as a check on the executive.

To restore traditional American values guaranteed by our founding fathers, we call on the president to sign an amended Military Commissions Act that restores habeas corpus, stop warrantless NSA wiretapping, protect our privacy, end torture and abuse, and stop hiding behind false claims of state secrecy. The president’s recent announcement to follow the law and get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before actually conducting a wire tap, is only a small step toward restoration of civil liberties.

Military Commissions Act of 2006 – This act eliminated a cornerstone of our Constitution and made the president both judge and jury.

  • Habeas corpus is the essential right to challenge your detention before a court using due process of the law. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 took that away from certain people.
  • The Military Commissions Act gives this president and future presidents the sole power to determine both who should be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime and what constitutes torture.
  • Some of the people whom the president has declared enemy combatants are in their fifth year of captivity without ever having been charged with a crime.

NSA Domestic Surveillance — For five years, the National Security Agency conducted illegal widespread electronic surveillance of Americans – tapping phones and reading our e-mail without warrants.

  • If not for journalists, we would not even know that the program existed. The Constitution prohibits wiretapping without warrants, and yet, there has been no independent investigation of the program.
  • The NSA domestic surveillance program has been cloaked in secrecy and for five years operated without checks and balances.
  • Congress must uncover the truth about the NSA surveillance program and find out how many Americans have had their privacy violated. And Congress should find out who is responsible for the decision to break the law and hold them accountable.
  • The illegal wiretapping program must be stopped – for good. Although the president now claims he has modified his illegal surveillance program and brought it under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, he still asserts he has the authority to violate the law when he sees fit and can resort to warrantless surveillance.
  • Congress should also delve into the administration’s claims that the program now operates under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and that the administration is upholding the letter and spirit of the law. Congress should consider how best to ensure that this and future presidents stay within the bounds of the Constitution.

Privacy – Expanded government powers and expanded private sector data collection efforts are creating a new “surveillance society” that is unlike anything Americans have ever seen.

  • The Patriot Act continues to be used to assault our privacy. The Patriot Act’s national security letters, 215 orders and sneak and peek warrants continue to expose our health care, financial and other private records to unwarranted scrutiny.
  • The FBI and Pentagon are keeping files about peace activists, and placing confidential informants inside groups like Greenpeace and PETA.
  • Recent reports tell us the administration is opening our mail and seeking financial records without warrants.

Torture and abuse – The government continues to claim that it has the power to designate anyone as an enemy combatant and to detain such persons indefinitely without charge.

  • Five years later, hundreds of prisoners remain at Guantánamo. The government even admits 140 are innocent. None of them is able to learn why they were captured, tortured and detained indefinitely.
  • Investigations into detention centers have revealed severe human rights abuses and violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
  • People captured by agents using faulty intelligence or by mistaken identity are telling first-hand accounts of abuse in secret U.S. prisons around the world.

Excessive government secrecy – The Bush administration avoids any scrutiny of its illegal behavior by hiding behind a veil of secrecy. President Bush has used a variety of tactics to deny court review of key facts that could reveal unconstitutional and illegal actions by administration officials.

  • The Freedom of Information Act has been weakened through willful noncompliance.
  • The administration has led a campaign of reclassification and increased secrecy — including the expansion of a catch-all category of “sensitive but unclassified” — and has made sweeping claims of “state secrets” to stymie judicial review of its policies that erode civil liberties.
  • To thwart the media’s role in exposing questionable and illegal conduct, the administration wants to prosecute journalists under the Espionage Act of 1917.

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