Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The strange case of Jose Padilla

There was a ruling today in Jose Padilla's case. A federal judge found that Padilla is competent to stand trial. However...
Judge Cooke, who allowed limited testimony from brig officials during the competency hearing, said that her ruling should not be construed as a finding on Mr. Padilla's claims of mistreatment during his detention and interrogations at a military brig in South Carolina.

"Those claims are for another day," she said, referring to another pending motion by Mr. Padilla that the charges against him be dismissed because of "outrageous government conduct."

The threshold for legal competency is low, requiring a criminal defendant to have the capacity, on a basic level, both to understand the proceedings and to communicate with his lawyers. Most incompetency claims in federal court are denied, said Christopher Slobogin, an expert in law and psychiatry at the University of Florida, and most defendants found incompetent are clearly psychotic.

If Padilla is guilty of something, of course he should be punished. No one here would argue otherwise. The trouble is that the federal government has sunk so low in the last 5+ years that it has reached a point of no longer being trustworthy. (See last week's report from the Justice Department's inspector general that found that the DOJ has routinely misrepresented the number of terrorism cases it has prosecuted.)

And this I find laughable.
In a 16-page report made public Tuesday, Rodolfo A. Buigas, a Bureau of Prisons psychologist who examined Mr. Padilla for the judge, recommended that he be found competent to stand trial. Mr. Padilla refused to submit to psychological testing, so Dr. Buigas evaluated him by talking to him for about five hours, by examining his records and the reports of experts hired by the defense, and by questioning lawyers and brig officials.
During the hearing, two mental health experts who spent over 25 hours evaluating Mr. Padilla for the defense testified that he was disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his experiences in the brig.

"I'm not sure that any of us know what happened at the brig, but I know that something there put the fear into Mr. Padilla," said Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist who examined him. "Mr. Padilla is an anxiety-ridden, broken individual who is incapacitated by that anxiety."

But the Bureau of Prisons psychologist, Dr. Buigas, disagreed with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said Dr. Zapf's testing was invalidated by the fact that Mr. Padilla was handcuffed during the tests, a condition imposed on Dr. Zapf by prison officials.

First, a doctor who works for the government spent five hours with the prisoner and claims he has a better diagnosis than doctors who spent more than 25 hours with him.

But what's really rich is this. The government puts Padilla in handcuffs during his psychological exam and then claims in court that the exam isn't valid because he was in handcuffs.

That's the signpost up ahead- your next know the rest.

Andy in H-burg

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We're still here!

We didn't go away. We're just busy doing the other things that need to be done to advocate for and raise the public consciousness around civil liberties, civil rights, and freedom. If you've followed this blog over its 17 months of existence, you know we occasionally disappear without a trace, only to reemerge several days later.

But we have some things for you, so keep checking in!

Andy in Harrisburg

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No question where they stand

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley drew a clear line where he stands on the death penalty in today's WaPo.
In Maryland, since 1978, we have executed five people and set one convicted man free when his innocence was discovered. Are any of us willing to sacrifice a member of our own family -- wrongly convicted, sentenced and executed -- in order to secure the execution of five rightly convicted murders? And even if we were, could that public policy be called "just"? I do not believe it can.

The movement to repeal the death penalty in Maryland is accelerating with hearings today at the state capitol in Annapolis. Gov O'Malley is among the witnesses.

Then there's this powerful op-ed from two women with a Pennsylvania connection. Vicki Schieber's daughter, Shannon, was raped and murdered while she was a grad student at Penn, and Vicki and her husband Sylvester, who are practicing Catholics, opposed the death penalty for Shannon's killer and clashed with Philly DA Lynne Abraham over the issue.

Carolyn Leming of York County nearly lost her son, Ray Krone, to a wrongful execution in Arizona. In 2002, Ray became the 100th person exonerated after spending time on the row when DNA evidence cleared him.
We write as mothers who have been scarred by the death penalty.

Our stories are very different, but they are both stories of justice gone wrong. They are stories that convince us the capital punishment system in Maryland and across the country is broken beyond repair.

Let's recap: New York has an indefinite halt to executions after a state court declared it unconstitutional in 2004. New Jersey has a moratorium and a state commission that studied the issue called for abolition. Maryland is considering repeal. West Virginia has no death penalty. Ohio has an abolitionist governor and an attorney general who has publicly questioned how capital punishment is applied.

And Pennsylvania? Stickin' out like a sore thumb.

Andy in the HBG

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Here come the stormtroopers

This is going to set the conspiracy theorists on overdrive, with good reason.
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration's behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

Andy in H-burg

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Tip of the Hat: Patriot News reporter, Dauphin County DA

A sad story of injustice had a happy ending in Harrisburg on Friday when David Gladden, a man with mental retardation who was wrongly convicted of the murder of a city woman 12 years ago, was released from prison after Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico decided to drop all charges against him.

More often than not, the ACLU and our allies working for some semblance of justice find ourselves at odds with district attorneys, the PA District Attorneys Association, and the Attorney General. Time after time, we have seen DAs who refuse to admit when their office got it wrong and refuse to recognize that an innocent person was convicted. With that in mind, Marsico and his top assistant, ADA Fran Chardo, deserve a round of applause for recognizing the reality of Gladden's wrongful conviction and releasing him after 12 long years of incarceration.

In a story with several heroes, the biggest one is Patriot News reporter Pete Shellem. It was Pete's dogged work that got this ball rolling. Without his series of articles in December 2005, Gladden would just be another case shuffling through the criminal justice system. This is the fourth time that Pete's work has directly led to the release of an innocent person.

And his article in today's paper reminds us that for the exonerated the story continues as they try to adjust to life on the outside.
The homecomings are always surreal...

They were all joyful moments, but in each case I was struck by overwhelming sadness watching these bewildered souls being thrust back into a life from which they were torn when the justice system ran them over.

In a day of media consolidation, declining newspaper circulation, and massive layoffs at some of the state's leading papers, we need reporters like Pete Shellem more than ever.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, February 19, 2007


It looks like Ben Bridges is not the only powerful legislator convinced that the Jews are behind the whole evolution 'scam.'

Meet Warren Chisum (R), the second most powerful member of the Texas House.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, used House operations Tuesday to deliver a memo from Georgia state Rep. Ben Bridges.

The memo assails what it calls "the evolution monopoly in the schools."

Mr. Bridges' memo claims that teaching evolution amounts to indoctrinating students in an ancient Jewish sect's beliefs.

"Indisputable evidence – long hidden but now available to everyone – demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," writes Mr. Bridges, a Republican from Cleveland, Ga. He has argued against teaching of evolution in Georgia schools for several years.

He then refers to a Web site,, that contains a model bill for state Legislatures to pass to attack instruction on evolution as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Mr. Bridges also supplies a link to a document that describes scientists Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein as "Kabbalists" and laments "Hollywood's unrelenting role in flooding the movie theaters with explicit or implicit endorsement of evolutionism."

Mr. Chisum said he knows Mr. Bridges from their joint service on a committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

If memory serves, this is not the first movement against 'Jewish Science'...

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chalk one up for the 1st Amendment!

NY Times: Judge limits New York police taping
In a rebuke of a surveillance practice greatly expanded by the New York Police Department after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the police must stop the routine videotaping of people at public gatherings unless there is an indication that unlawful activity may occur.

Four years ago, at the request of the city, the same judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., gave the police greater authority to investigate political, social and religious groups.
The restrictions on videotaping do not apply to bridges, tunnels, airports, subways or street traffic, Judge Haight noted, but are meant to control police surveillance at events where people gather to exercise their rights under the First Amendment.

"No reasonable person, and surely not this court, is unaware of the perils the New York public faces and the crucial importance of the N.Y.P.D.'s efforts to detect, prevent and punish those who would cause others harm," Judge Haight wrote.

Jethro M. Eisenstein, one of the lawyers who challenged the videotaping practices, said that Judge Haight's ruling would make it possible to contest other surveillance tactics, including the use of undercover officers at political gatherings. In recent years, police officers have disguised themselves as protesters, shouted feigned objections when uniformed officers were making arrests, and pretended to be mourners at a memorial event for bicycle riders killed in traffic accidents.

"This was a major push by the corporation counsel to say that the guidelines are nice but they're yesterday’s news, and that the security establishment's view of what is important trumps civil liberties," Mr. Eisenstein said. "Judge Haight is saying that's just not the way we're doing things in New York City."

This is how the push back against the attacks on our basic freedoms happens, one step at a time.

Andy in H-burg


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Send in the clowns

Actually, the clowns are already here.

Where do I start with the week's recap of bigotry? Well, you may remember Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), the immigrant and Muslim hater. He's back. In the midst of the House debate on the Iraq war resolution (not an ACLU issue), Goode said
supporting the anti-escalation resolution would "aid and assist the Islamic jihadists who want the crescent and star to wave over the Capitol of the United States and over the White House of this country." Moreover, he said, "I fear that radical Muslims who want to control the Middle East and ultimately the world would love to see 'In God We Trust' stricken from our money and replaced with 'In Muhammad We Trust.'"

Then there's Senator Barack Obama, who took shots this week that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann described as "sleek racism" from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News' hilarious new yuk-yuk show The 1/2 Hour News Hour.
So are we to conclude here that he didn't define himself as black, that the way he looks does? (Sigh.) Okay. We’ve got Obama's wife in here. We've got John Howard from Australia coming up, but, "I'm not sure I decided it"? Well, if you didn't decide it, then how did it happen?

Well, when you look like that, that's what you are.

Well, renounce it, then! If it's not something you want to be, if you didn't decide it, renounce it, become white!


RUSH: Okay, back to our Barack Obama Audio Sound Bite Marathon. What are we up to now? Let's see. Oh, yeah. Obama just said he wasn't sure that he decided he was black, that if you look African-American in this society, you're treated as an African-American, and when you're a child in particular that's how you begin to identify yourself. If you don't like it, you can switch. Well, that's the way I see it. He's got 50-50 in there. Say, "No, I'm white."

I was driving in today, and I was seeing -- because I saw this piece with him on 60 Minutes -- and I thought to myself, he is -- he's very white in many ways.


BECK: And I thought to myself: Gee, can I even say that? Can I even say that without somebody else starting a campaign saying, "What does he mean, 'He's very white?' " He is. He's very white.

And the comedians at Fox News:
But in a shocking (to use one of FNC's favorite terms) contrast to Joseph Biden's controversial remarks about Obama being clean, FOX joked about a new magazine called "BO, Barack Obama magazine." With video.

But bigotry isn't just for the racists. No, sirree, the homophobes had to have their turn.

Retired NBA star Tim Hardaway, in response to the coming out of former NBA player John Amaechi:
"First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team," the former Miami Heat star said. "And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that is right. I don't think he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room."

When show host Dan Le Batard told Hardaway those comments were "flatly homophobic" and "bigotry," the player continued.

"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people," he said. "I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

The NBA removed Hardaway from its upcoming All-Star festivities this weekend.

And no lineup of hate would be complete without yet another visit by Fred Phelps to Pennsylvania, who visited us last weekend when York Suburban High School did a production of The Laramie Project. Thankfully, the community responded with a rousing reception for the play and more than 100 counter protesters.

Of course, as defenders of free speech, we support the right of these people to say these things. And we will use that same right to say loud and clear that no one deserves to be hated or intimidated on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation (among other things).

Now, I want to believe that this is the sound made by a dying animal. But today I was in a meeting that I regularly attend and learned that membership in "white supremacist" groups has gone up markedly in the last year. The reason, according to the person presenting the information, is the volatile debate over immigration.

We have come a long way, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Violate our principles to maintain them?

It's a challenge to make the attack on our most basic American principles fun, but Amnesty International has pulled it off with this video, in the tradition of The Daily Show and Jay Leno's "Jay Walking."

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Public Funds for Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The Kaiser Family Foundation's Daily Women's Health Policy Report and the San Francisco Chronicle report today on public funding used to dissuade pregnant women from seeking an abortion. The San Francisco Chronicle cites that there are at least 8 states, including Pennsylvania, that "use public funds to subsidize crisis pregnancy centers, Christian homes for unwed mothers and other programs explicity designed to steer women away from abortion."

Pennsylvania state Rep. Tom Tangretti, an anti-choice Democrat, was quoted:

I have heard many pro-choice people say, 'There ought to be fewer abortions.' (Funding) this is one way we can do that. . . I just can't imagine why anyone would be afraid of it.
The SF Chronicle shares with us that "Crisis pregnancy centers have received tens of millions of dollars over the last six years from the federal government, mostly to support abstinence education."

Gaining credibility with the federal government's stamp of approval, crisis pregnancy centers are now the 'experts' in preventing teen pregnancy as well as preventing abortion. No degree in public health or scientific research needed - all you need is the ability to lie and ignore teens' desperation for getting information about sex (and how to be safe when they choose to have it).

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the national standard in "sex education", censor educators from answering students' questions about sex and sexuality and often present inaccurate medical information so that youth cannot make informed decisions to exercise their reproductive freedom. Like in their abstinence-only programs, crisis pregnancy centers present inaccurate information - some inaccurately link abortion to breast cancer or exaggerate the health risks associated with abortion.

No need to be afraid, eh?

Julie in Philly

Bridgeport, PA

Good article in the Philly Inquirer today on the lasting effects of the anti-immigrant measures passed in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania. As is made clear in the article, these anti-immigrant ordinances end up significantly hurting legal immigrants as well.

An interesting excerpt:

Of 100 communities that have introduced laws targeting illegal immigrants, a third are in Pennsylvania, according to the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, an immigrant-rights group in Washington.

Analysts say they do not believe that means the commonwealth is more bigoted than other states. Ethnic tensions play a part, they say, but there are many other factors.

They include the copycat effect from the publicity about Hazleton, and competition for low-wage jobs in economically depressed small towns. There is also the state's colonial legacy of small towns. With more than 1,064 incorporated municipalities, there are simply more local officials in Pennsylvania wielding the whereas and thereby than in states like New Jersey, which has only 566.

Anyone else want to speculate why so many of these initiatives are in Pennsylvania? Are we, as a whole, more bigoted than other states? Is PA especially homogeneous, at least in certain parts? The large number of municipalities might play an interesting role--I suppose this is the flip side of increased local governance.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Penn State students sit down for civil rights

Yesterday at University Park, a group of Penn State students held a rally and then staged a sit in at the administration offices for greater support for LGBT and minority students.
The students made several demands, including increasing and retaining minority students and increasing the budget and support of groups such as the Black Caucus and SpeakOut.

Because we are constantly thinking about strategy here at ACLU-PA, I flinched when I first read this but then thought, 'Good for them!' As a Penn State student myself, it's encouraging to see these young people standing up (and sitting down) for equality.

Andy in H-burg

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Friday, February 09, 2007

No rest for the weary

Belated kudos to the Philadelphia Inquirer, for their editorial on Monday about the continued abuses of power by the Bush Administration and the need to remain vigilant on these issues. They specifically pointed to the need to restore habeas rights and to obtain "a final legal determination on the legality of the warrantless NSA spying that Bush ordered - even if he's not doing it now."

I'm particularly happy that the Inquirer is keeping these issues on the front burner because I've noticed an alarming trend since the November election. It seems many people have been lulled into a false (in my opinion) sense of security since the Democrats have taken over Congress. More than once I've heard someone casually dismiss the abuse of power issues we've been focusing on with a "thank goodness we don't have to worry about that anymore" comment. The fact is that the majority of Democratic politicians haven't exactly been valiant defenders of civil liberties over the past five and a half years, and I don't think we can expect them to take these issues up without a lot of prodding on our part. The good news is at least we can start focusing on fixing the mess we have.

To read more about what you can be doing now to help restore our rights, visit the national ACLU's action center. Of particular importance right now is fixing the Military Commissions Act, which gives the President the power to decide by himself who is and who is not an enemy of our country, and to eliminate habeas corpus and due process rights for detainees.

Sara in Philly


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dover junkies, rejoice

For those of you who miss the lies, laughter, and tears of the Dover intelligent design trial, you'll be happy to know that the first book about the trial was just published. Written by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Edward Humes, Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul "chronicles the second coming of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, a story about what happens when science and religion collide," according to the author's website.

It's gotten good reviews, and I hear from those who have read it that it's very favorable to our side of the issue. I enjoyed the LA Times review, which had this quote:
...I know the pervasive power of religious fundamentalism in America. Or at least I thought I did. Humes...has opened my eyes. I only wish I could close them again.

Also of particular interest is the York Dispatch article on the book.
We'd love to hear comments from anyone who's read the book!

Note: Edward Humes will be at a book signing at University of Pennsylvania bookstore this coming Monday, Feb. 12 (Darwin's birthday), from 7 to 8:15 pm.

Sara in Philly

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Ex-Penn State hoopster to come out

David Jones reports in today's Harrisburg Patriot News that former Penn State and retired NBA star John Amaechi will reveal that he is gay in a new book to be released on February 20. Amaechi will also be featured in a segment on ESPN's Outside the Lines next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jones writes...
And my initial overriding thought was, boy, I wonder how the homophobes in central Pennsylvania would feel if they knew. All those straitlaced Penn State faithful who thought Amaechi was one bundle of things they adored.

And, yes, Amaechi was all those things -- devoted to his school, a brilliant analytical thinker, a determined player who made himself better every year, an active and exceedingly human advocate of the State College community beyond the borders of the campus.

I wondered what they would think if they knew he was something else they abhorred out of hand based on preconceived convictions.

As Pennsylvania sports go, Amaechi is not on the level of recognition of Donovan McNabb or Jerome Bettis or Allen Iverson, but he is known among PA sports fans. And that just might be a good thing. As Jones implies, perhaps this is an opportunity for people who have admired Amaechi all these years but who are also disrespectful of gays and lesbians to think twice. No one is naive enough to think that it will stop the hardcore homophobes, but it might be another opportunity to move the ball forward on LGBT issues.

Jones refers to Amaechi's character in his column, and to give more of an idea of the kind of guy he is, here is Amaechi (in the white t-shirt) with a group of Special Olympics players in the U.K.

Andy in the HBG

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Stimson slinks into the night

Charles "Cully" Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, resigned late last week over remarks he made about lawyers who represent Guatanamo detainees. From the Boston Herald...
Cully Stimson, he of the absurd comments about lawyers who represent Guantanamo detainees, has called it a day - and for the sake of our nation's fundamental values not a moment too soon.

For once, American values win out in the Bush administration.

Andy in H-burg

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Send a press release, write a book, be on a panel, but don't ask questions

The Cheneys got a proper skewering from The Daily Show last night. Apparently, who Dick Cheny wiretaps and tortures is "between him and his Constitution."

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Passing of Molly Ivins

Sadly, columnist Molly Ivins lost her battle with breast cancer this week. In addition to being a witty and insightful writer, she was a huge supporter of the ACLU. She volunteered her time to speak at ACLU functions across the country, including events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. She appeared in a recent ACLU video, talking about the ACLU's dedication to the principle of separation of church and state. "That principle," she said, "is so important that it's worth being a pain in the ass about. And that's what the ACLU is."

I was not personally acquainted with Ms. Ivins, but I do remember distinctly a national ACLU staff conference a few years ago in Austin at which she made an appearance. She invited all 200+ of us in attendance to a party at her house that evening. And she meant it. She was truly a unique person, and a great friend to the Bill of Rights and to the ACLU. She will be missed.

The national ACLU has a nice tribute to her here.

Sara in Philly