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In This Issue
Take Action: House Must Stop Unconstitutional Senate FISA Bill

Observing Injustice of Military Commission Hearings at Guantánamo

"State Secret" is Blatant Attempt to avoid Scrutiny in Rendition Case

Rectifying 20 Years of Disparate Justice

Appeals Court Says NY Must Recognize Canadian Marriage of Lesbian Couple

Maine Utility Commission Orders Investigation of Verizon’s Alleged Abuse of Customer Privacy to Continue

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Appeals Court Says NY Must Recognize Canadian Marriage of Lesbian Couple

In a unanimous decision, a New York appellate court has ruled that marriages of same-sex couples entered into outside of the state must be recognized. The case is the first appellate court decision in the state and the first known decision in the country to hold that a valid same-sex marriage must be recognized.

"This is a victory for families, it's a victory for fairness and it’s a victory for human rights," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Now we need to work toward a New York where you don't have to cross state or country lines to get married."

The case,
Martinez v. County of Monroe, was filed in 2005 in State Supreme Court on behalf of Patricia Martinez, an employee of Monroe Community College in Rochester, seeking health care benefits for her female partner whom she married in Canada in 2004.

The case raised the issue of whether the time-honored "marriage recognition rule," which requires New York State to recognize marriages that were solemnized outside the state, applies to same-sex marriages. The court answered with a resounding "yes," holding that the couple's valid Canadian marriage at issue in the case is entitled to recognition.

>> Read more about the case.

Maine Utility Commission Orders Investigation of Verizon’s Alleged Abuse of Customer Privacy to Continue

The rule of law and the right to privacy won a victory last week as the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) released an order that will allow its investigation into Verizon’s alleged abuses of customer privacy to continue. The order requires that, as a condition of the sale of Verizon assets to FairPoint Communications, the PUC retain jurisdiction over the telecomm giant even after the transaction with FairPoint has been completed.

Verizon had previously asserted that the sale to FairPoint would put an end to all legal proceedings concerning Verizon privacy violations pending in Maine. The victory means that Verizon cannot sell its way out of scrutiny from the PUC and the citizens of Maine it represents.

“Sale of its assets should not mean Verizon is off the hook for violating the privacy rights of its customers,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Mainers need to know that their private telephone conversations will be free from surveillance by the government or the phone company.”

The order also benefits the privacy rights of Mainers by requiring FairPoint to adopt stronger privacy policies before it can acquire assets from Verizon. In addition to creating a formal privacy policy prior to the sale, the PUC requires FairPoint to agree to an annual review of its privacy practices.

In May 2006, Maine privacy activists initiated a customer complaint urging the PUC to investigate whether Verizon handed over customer records to the National Security Agency (NSA) or gave the NSA access to their phone equipment.

more about this case.

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February 14 , 2008

Breaking News: House Republicans walk out of FISA debate. Keep pressure on.

Take Action: House Must Stop Unconstitutional Senate FISA Bill

Call your representative:
No warrantless spying, no telecom immunity.

The Senate has capitulated to President Bush by passing a dangerous and unconstitutional FISA bill that allows warrantless government eavesdropping on Americans and grants immunity to giant phone companies that handed consumer data over to the government without a warrant.

"Though many questions still remain unanswered about years of domestic spying, the Senate has effectively sealed the vault by handing over immunity to the phone companies,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the Washington Legislative Office. “The over forty legitimate lawsuits currently pending against them may end before they’ve begun. It’s a fact that Americans had their rights violated and now, by closing the courtroom door, they may be left with no recourse.”

Stopping the awful Senate bill -- which the House can do -- is vital to protecting your constitutional right to make a phone call, send an email or search the Internet without the government monitoring your activity.

Your representatives in the House need to hear from you. Whether you have called already or this is your first time, a quick phone call today will send a clear message that Americans don’t want the House to send an unconstitutional bill with telecom immunity to the President.

>> Take action: Call your representative: No warrantless spying, no telecom immunity.

Observing Injustice of Military Commission Hearings at Guantánamo


The United States government has announced its intention to prosecute and seek the death penalty for six detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, despite a flawed military commissions system there that has yet to try a single case.

This legally and ethically flawed system was tested last week during hearings in the cases of Canadian national Omar Ahmed Khadr and Yemeni national Salim Ahmed Hamden. ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi was on hand to monitor the proceedings and reported on some disturbing themes.

If prosecutors have their way, Omar Ahmed Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured, will be the first juvenile offender to be charged with war crimes in recent history. Recognition of the special needs of child offenders in the context of armed conflict is part of federal law. In 2002, the United States ratified a United Nations' convention that recognizes children caught up as participants in armed conflict should be rehabilitated and provided assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration.

Khadr's detention and treatment has been to the contrary. In U.S. custody, he was denied access to a lawyer for more than two years and, his lawyers say, he was severely abused while at Guantánamo. His lawyers allege that he was shackled in painful positions, threatened with rape, and used as a "human mop" to clean up his own urine during one interrogation session. Unlike every other legal system, including federal, state and military courts, the military commissions do not require the judge to take into account the needs of alleged child offenders.

In the Hamdan case, the government argued that defense lawyers could not have access to former CIA prisoners held in a secret part of the prison camp, even though these witnesses could have evidence that exonerates Hamdan. The witnesses were part of a CIA program that included "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding, and the government takes the position that access to them must be limited as a matter of highest national security.

Throughout, issues of secrecy and coercion permeated the hearings. Given the military commissions proceedings to date in Guantánamo, it is unlikely that any detainee will receive a full and fair trial.

>> Read Hina’s observations at Guantánamo.

>> Learn more about the ACLU’s involvement surrounding the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay:

"State Secret" is Blatant Attempt to Avoid Scrutiny in Rendition Case

The ACLU was in federal court last week arguing for the continuation of its case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. for the company’s role in the CIA’s "extraordinary rendition" program. The ACLU is opposing the government’s attempt to throw out the case by misusing the "state secrets" privilege in an effort to avoid legal scrutiny of this unlawful and shameful program.

"'Extraordinary rendition' is no secret. By the government's reasoning, the CIA's torture and detention program can be discussed anywhere in the world, except in an American courtroom," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU, who argued the case.

The hearing is part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of the rendition program who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques and torture. The lawsuit charges that Jeppesen knowingly aided the program by providing flight planning and logistical support services for aircraft and crews used by the CIA to transport the victims.

After the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. government intervened to seek its dismissal, asserting the “state secrets” privilege and contending that further litigation of the case would be harmful to national security. However, information needed to pursue the lawsuit, including details about the "extraordinary rendition" program itself, is already in the public domain.

Jeppesen’s involvement in the "extraordinary rendition" program has been publicly confirmed by extensive evidence and testimony. In a December 2007 sworn declaration filed with the court in the ACLU’s case, a former Jeppesen employee reported that a senior Jeppesen official told new employees at a company meeting that Jeppesen did “all the 'extraordinary rendition' flights,” referring to them as “torture flights” and talking about how profitable the rendition flights were.

>> Read more about this case and “extraordinary rendition” at:

Rectifying 20 Years of Disparate Justice


These men were sent to prison as a result of a federal sentencing law that currently punishes crack cocaine offenders up to one hundred times more severely than powder cocaine offenders. You can help bring justice to this disparity.
Take action.

Identical twins Lawrence and Lamont Garrison were inseparable. In elementary school, one would rush to the other's classroom and wait until the other was dismissed. They attended Howard University together. Good students and aspiring lawyers, the twins graduated together in May 1998.

A month before their graduation, however, the police came to the door and arrested Lawrence and Lamont. They were charged with conspiracy as part of a powder and crack cocaine operation.

Throughout the trial, both maintained their innocence. They would not accept a plea bargain. No drugs, paraphernalia or drug money were found in their house or on their person. Nevertheless, they were separately convicted of conspiracy to distribute powder and crack cocaine.

Neither brother had a prior conviction, but because of harsh drug laws, Lamont was sent to Manchester, Kentucky for 19 years. And Lawrence was sent to Elkton, Ohio for 15 years. The Garrison twins' cases raise questions of innocence, although they were in fact convicted of a drug conspiracy. But, even if they were guilty, did the punishment fit the crime?

The Garrisons received such a harsh sentence because federal sentencing law currently punishes crack cocaine offenders up to one hundred times more severely than powder cocaine offenders. Possession or distribution of just 5 grams of crack, little more than a packet of sugar, carries a minimum 5-year federal prison sentence, whereas for powder cocaine, you have to distribute one hundred times that amount 500 grams to be subject to the same minimum sentence.

A number of efforts are under way to end the sentencing disparity and the 20 years of damage it has done, particularly to the African American community. The ACLU, in coordination with a host of other organizations, is undertaking a campaign urging Congress to end the disparity. And numerous judges, medical professionals and civil rights advocates have all called on Congress to address this growing problem. As a result, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

Further, last December, the Supreme Court recognized the glaring inequity in sentencing for powder cocaine versus crack cocaine and allowed federal judges to sentence below the federal guidelines in
Kimbrough v. United States. Yet, this victory is only an incremental step in rectifying the two decades of disparate justice that has disproportionately affected African-Americans.

You can help bring an end to this injustice.
Take action today.

American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, New York 10004-2400
Geraldine Engel and Lisa Sock,


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