“[It] may be worthwhile to look ahead a few generations to the millennium anniversary of one of the great events in the establishment of civil and human rights: the issuance of Magna Carta, the charter of English liberties imposed on King John in 1215. What we do right now, or fail to do, will determine what kind of world will greet that anniversary. It is not an attractive prospect – not least because the Great Charter is being shredded before our eyes.”

The first scholarly edition of the Magna Carta was published in 1759 by the English jurist William Blackstone, whose work was a source for U.S. constitutional law. It was entitled “The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest,” following earlier practice. Both charters are highly significant today.

The first, the Charter of Liberties, is widely recognized to be the cornerstone of the fundamental rights of the English-speaking peoples – or as Winston Churchill put it more expansively, “the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land.”

In 1679 the Charter was enriched by the Habeas Corpus Act, formally titled “an Act for the better securing the liberty of the subject, and for prevention of imprisonment beyond the seas.” The modern harsher version is called “rendition” – imprisonment for the purpose of torture.

Along with much of English law, the Act was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution, which affirms that “the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended” except in case of rebellion or invasion. In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the rights guaranteed by this Act were “(c)onsidered by the Founders as the highest safeguard of liberty.”

More specifically, the Constitution provides that no “person (shall) be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law (and) a speedy and public trial” by peers.

The Department of Justice has recently explained that these guarantees are satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch, as Jo Becker and Scott Shane reported in TheNew York Times on May 29. Barack Obama, the constitutional lawyer in the White House, agreed. King John would have nodded with satisfaction.

The underlying principle of “presumption of innocence” has also been given an original interpretation. In the calculus of the president’s “kill list” of terrorists, “all military-age males in a strike zone” are in effect counted as combatants “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,” Becker and Shane summarized. Thus post-assassination determination of innocence now suffices to maintain the sacred principle.

This is the merest sample of the dismantling of “the charter of every self-respecting man.”

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Der Homeland Securitat just keeps whittling away:

Anyone who has ever played a few games of Call of Duty or Halo online knows that communities like Xbox Live aren’t exactly models of good behavior. But the federal government believes the occasional bursts of profanity may not be the worst of what’s going on according with consoles, and it wants a way to dig deeper.

According to forensic experts, pedophiles are increasingly using gaming systems to exploit children, while terrorists are using it for communication. With this evidence, a contract was awarded on April 5 by the Naval Supply Systems Command to Obscure Technologies for the research and development of “hardware and software tools that can be used for extracting data from video game systems.”

With today’s practice of owners jailbreaking consoles in order to play pirated games, gaming companies have fought back with hard-to-break encryptions. As a result, the extraction of data, according to the contract, is a rather complex process and one that the Department of Homeland Security believes can only be achieved by Obscure Technologies. For the small San Francisco computer diagnostics and forensics company, likely with sales under $500,000 and less than five employees, the contract award was for a sum of $177,235.50.


“This February, the outcry reached new heights. The Wall Street Journal reported that police stopped and questioned 684,330 people in 2011, an increase of 14 percent from the previous year. Only 9 percent of those stopped were Caucasian.”-Jill Priluck, Why Mayor Bloomberg’s Equivocations On Civil Liberties No Longer Cut ItPhoto Courtesy of the NYCLU


“This February, the outcry reached new heights. The Wall Street Journal reported that police stopped and questioned 684,330 people in 2011, an increase of 14 percent from the previous year. Only 9 percent of those stopped were Caucasian.”

-Jill Priluck, Why Mayor Bloomberg’s Equivocations On Civil Liberties No Longer Cut It

Photo Courtesy of the NYCLU

From a certain perspective, there’s really only one point worth making about all of this: if you think about it, it is warped beyond belief that the ACLU has to sue the U.S. Government in order to force it to disclose its claimed legal and factual bases for assassinating U.S. citizens without charges, trial or due process of any kind. It’s extraordinary enough that the Obama administration is secretly targeting citizens for execution-by-CIA; that they refuse even to account for what they are doing — even to the point of refusing to disclose their legal reasoning as to why they think the President possesses this power — is just mind-boggling.

Killing American citizens with drones is the most extreme action that the Obama Administration takes in secret. President Obama insists that he is empowered to secretly kill anyone whose name appears on a secret list he keeps. The guilt of the people on the list is presumed based on secret evidence assembled by a secret group of government officials who meet in secret. The strikes are subsequently carried out by secret agents in the Central Intelligence Agency. As if that Orwellian spectacle, bereft of checks and balances, weren’t invitation enough to abuses, the government won’t even reveal the legal reasoning that supposedly justifies its suspension of due process, even for American citizens. That too is deemed a secret.

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the status quo. It demands to know how the U.S. government adds names to its kill list; the standards under which Americans may be killed without due process; and the evidence that persuaded the government its protocols had been met in drone killings past. Perhaps most alarming is the possibility that the Obama Administration has killed American citizens and kept mum about it. There’s no evidence that they’ve done so. At the same time, they claim that right, without ever citing legal arguments to justify it.

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President Barack Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 31 shocked many people who hoped that Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would reverse the abuses routinely committed by the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

But while the NDAA—with its provisions that authorize the military, on the say-so of the president, to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens—is ominous, it certainly isn’t Obama’s first assault on civil liberties. After spending his presidential campaign in 2008 criticizing the Bush administration for providing a “legal” justification for torture, Obama has refused to take action against Bush-era officials for violating international law, and he has made sure the U.S. government’s repressive apparatus remains in place, at home and in countries around the world.

Abdul Malik Mujahid is a leader of Muslim Peace Coalition, an organization formed in 2011 to challenge Islamophobia. He spoke with Eric Ruder about the anxiety that the NDAA has caused in the Muslim American community—and what people are doing to stand up for their rights.