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American Civil Liberties Union


‘The Darkness Comes’: CIA Torture Victims Describe How the Mental Scars Never Go Away

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:45 -0400

A New York Times’ investigative series shows how the mental wounds of torture last longer than physical ones. The New York Times is publishing a devastating exposé series on the lasting psychological effects of U.S. government torture on men who once were held in CIA-run secret overseas prisons or at Guantanamo Bay. Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, were independent contractors for the CIA and designed and helped implement the torture program. They are now defendants in an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of three of those victims. Two of them were interview for the Times series — the third was tortured to death. The psychologists based the torture program on junk science claiming that abusing prisoners until they reached a state of “learned helplessness” would lead to accurate intelligence. Since the program was ended, there has been no meaningful accountability for its perpetrators nor redress for its victims. Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from One of the stories the Times series highlights is that of our client Mohamed Ahmed Ben-Soud. In 2003, he was kidnapped in his country of Libya and unlawfully rendered to the Salt Pit, a secret CIA prison, which he and other detainees call “The Darkness.” There, Ben Soud was subjected to some of the worst tortures of the Mitchell-Jessen devised program. He was “forced onto a plastic tarp while naked, his hands shackled above his head,” while CIA officials “poured buckets of ice water on him as others lifted the tarp’s corners, sending water splashing over him and causing a choking or drowning sensation.” He was locked inside coffin-sized boxes, some even smaller; slammed repeatedly against a wall; and chained to the ceiling by his arms for days. Rock music blasted deafeningly throughout the pitch black dungeon where he was held and tortured and abused for a year. Unsurprisingly, Ben-Soud has not recovered from the trauma of his time in “The Darkness.” Today, he lives “in constant fear of tomorrow.” And, when his children ask why he loses his temper so suddenly, he told the Times, he is at a loss for words: “How can you explain such things to children?” Another ACLU client, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, was the subject of the second article in the series. After his abduction by the CIA and the Kenyan government, Salim too was sent to “The Darkness” and brutally tortured. He was held in solitary confinement in a room so dark “he could not see the shackles on his arms or the walls of his cell.” He was hung from the ceiling by his arms, slammed into a wall, doused in ice-cold water and wrapped in a tarp, repeatedly beaten, and stuffed inside a “coffin-like box.” Eight years after his release, Salim remains deeply traumatized. He has been diagnosed with lasting psychological injuries from his torture, including severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He experiences frequent nightmares and terrifying flashbacks, frequent spells of dizziness and confusion, and major depression. “Many times now I feel like I have something heavy inside my body,” Salim told The Times. “Sometimes I walk, and I walk, and I forget, I forget everything, I forget prison, The Darkness, everything. But it is always there. The Darkness comes.” Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from While many think of torture as only physic[...]

Since When Did Police Officers Replace the Principal’s Office?

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:45 -0400

School administrators across California increasingly rely on police officers to enforce minor disciplinary infractions. Back in the day, a student who broke school rules or otherwise misbehaved would be reprimanded by a teacher or sent to the principal’s office. But today, school administrators are increasingly relying on law enforcement to keep students in line, and the results can be dire. Take the case of Michael Davis, a five-year-old student with disabilities in the Stockton Unified School District.  A senior police officer in the school district’s police department decided to “scare him straight” after Michael acted out in his classroom, and the situation quickly spiraled out of control. When Michael got upset and could not calm down, the officer zip-tied Michael’s hands and feet and took him to a mental health facility. Michael’s family filed a lawsuit, and the police officer was finally dismissed from the department four years later, shortly after the family settled with the district for $125,000. This incident, and many others like it, demonstrates how police officers are ineffective substitutes for counselors or other adults trained to work with young people who need guidance more than harsh discipline. Students who are treated as criminals for commonplace misbehavior are often traumatized and humiliated.   In a newly released report, “The Right to Remain a Student,” we examined 109 school-district policies on the use of law enforcement on campuses in California and found them often conflicting and vague, giving administrators wide latitude to request police assistance. Many schools have called the police to enforce minor violations like "disruption," "disturbing the peace," vandalism, tardiness, and inappropriate use of electronic devices — hardly criminal offenses. Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from In the San Bernardino Unified School District, for example, campus officers arrested around 30,000 students between 2005 and 2014, mostly for minor infractions like tagging and disobeying curfews. We also found that these policies disproportionately target students of color and young people with disabilities, unnecessarily feeding them into the criminal justice system. Black students are three times as likely as white students to face school-related arrest. Students with disabilities are three times as likely as students without disabilities to be arrested on campus.   When Michael got upset and could not calm down, the officer zip-tied Michael’s hands and feet and took him to a mental health facility.  Rather than unjustly contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline, school administrators should call the police only if there is a real and immediate physical threat to student, staff, or public safety. In 2013, the Pasadena School District developed guidelines that clarify the role of police on its campuses. Under these new rules, school staff cannot ask police officers to address incidents that involve school discipline. This progressive step has led to a significant decrease in school-based citations and arrests in Pasadena. Still, more needs to be done to ensure that district staff and police follow the rules, and that the district publicly and accurately report the data. Similarly, school administrators should take back control of their campuses and stop relying on police officers to handle minor discipline issues, which only serves to criminalize students and push them out of school. Instead, school staff should address these issues themselves and correct student behavior with restorative justice and other more constructive practices.[...]

The Constitution Leaves No Room for Secret Law

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 16:15 -0400

We’re asking America’s spy court to release secret opinions on Yahoo email searches and other surveillance. There are still many questions to be answered about Yahoo’s secret scanning of all of its customers’ incoming emails under a mysterious government order. Anonymous officials have revealed that the government used an individualized court order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). But that sweeping demand and the legal interpretations it was based on remain secret — and they are only one small part of a much larger collection of hidden rulings on all sorts of government surveillance activities that affect the privacy rights of Americans. That’s why today, the ACLU — with the help of Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic — filed a motion with the FISC asking the court to release all of its opinions containing “novel or significant interpretations” of law issued between 9/11 and the passage of the USA Freedom Act in June 2015. The USA Freedom Act ended the NSA’s mass phone records collection program, and it also required the government to make significant FISC opinions public. Unfortunately, the government maintains that its obligation to release such opinions does not apply to secret court rulings that predate the USA Freedom Act. More broadly, it has refused to recognize the public’s First Amendment right to examine significant FISC opinions interpreting our surveillance laws. These court rulings are essential for the public to understand how federal laws are being construed and implemented. They also show how constitutional protections for personal privacy and expressive activities are being enforced by the courts. In other words, access to these opinions is necessary for the public to properly oversee their government. Based on documents and media reports released in the past few years following the revelations by Edward Snowden, it appears that in addition to authorizing bulk searches of Yahoo emails, the FISC’s secret rulings address a range of novel surveillance activities, including: The government’s use of malware, which it calls “Network Investigative Techniques” The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to weaken or circumvent their own encryption protocols The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to disclose their source code so that it can identify vulnerabilities The government’s use of “cybersignatures” to search through internet communications for evidence of computer intrusions The government’s use of stingray cell-phone tracking devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) The government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans under FISA Section 702 — a controversial authority scheduled to expire in December 2017 The bulk collection of financial records by the CIA and FBI under Section 215 of the Patriot Act (The ACLU has compiled a longer list of undisclosed FISC opinions, which is included with today’s motion.) This is not the first time we have sought important legal opinions in the FISC. We’ve been fighting for years to gain access to a similar but smaller set of rulings, and we previously won disclosure of a FISC opinion addressing the First Amendment and spying under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. We are seeking these opinions now because — as the new Yahoo revelations underscore — it simply isn’t possible to understand the government’s claimed authority to conduct surveillance without these judicial rulings. Congress recognized the importance of transparency in the USA Freedom Act when it required that FISC opinions be made public, but the government has refused to accept that the need for transparency extends to the many foundational FISC opinions that predate the law and remain hidden. It is now time for the FISC to make clear that the Constitution leaves no room for secret law — even in a court that often operates in the shadows.[...]

As the Flint Water Crisis Fades From the Headlines, the State of Michigan Has an Enduring Responsibility to the City’s School Children

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 15:15 -0400

The ACLU of Michigan has filed a federal class-action lawsuit to ensure Flint’s school children get the support they need. The most recent numbers showing lead levels in the water of Flint’s public schools continue to hit with spine-chilling impact. Thirty months after an appointed emergency manager made the ill-fated decision to begin using the dangerously corrosive Flint River as the municipal water source for a city of nearly 100,000 people, the water is still not safe to drink unless it first passes through a filter. That’s after a year of intense study by federal, state, and local officials as well as some of the nation’s leading experts from a variety of universities. That's after nearly a year of applying the mandatory corrosion control chemicals that — in another horribly short-sighted effort to save a few bucks — weren’t being used until a coalition of residents, scientists from Virginia Tech, and the ACLU of Michigan conducted independent testing that proved lead levels were much higher than the city and state claimed. The poisoning of Flint's water wasn't a "failure of government at all levels," but a series of deliberate actions that lead to the poisoning of a city. Despite these efforts, though, the most recent available numbers, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, are enough to make any parent shudder. For instance, in tests conducted in March and April, one sample from Brownell STEM Academy produced water that contained 412 parts per billion lead. Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary reached a high of 614 ppb. Eisenhower Elementary and Doyle/Ryder Elementary both topped 1,500 ppb. And at Holmes STEM Academy, the highest reading came back at 2,084 ppb. Keep in mind that the safe level of lead is zero. And the federal action level is 15 parts per billion. So yeah, the numbers are very scary. And the scenario gets even scarier when you consider the lead levels children were being exposed to before the state was forced to admit the truth before those officials alleged to have concealed the truth were charged with multiple felonies. Moreover, as Virginia Tech scientist Marc Edwards pointed out at a press conference in September 2015, the biggest concern isn’t having lead in your water. It is having lead in your water and not knowing about it. Thanks to the tireless work of Edwards and his team, as well as the ground-breaking efforts of a cadre of Flint residents, the world now knows about the lead lurking unseen in Flint’s water — and in the water in cities across the nation. But Flint is unique because the people there had no choice but to use the foul river water being forced on them by the state. In March 2015, the city council voted to return to the cleaner, safer water coming from Detroit’s regional system — but the appointed emergency manager overruled the vote, saying the people of Flint couldn’t afford anything better than the rust-colored, foul-smelling swill being pumped from the river into their homes. So the school children of Flint aren’t supposed to be drinking from the fountains now because the danger is known and being addressed, and they are being given bottled water for the time-being. But the tragedy is in those 18 months that they and their parents were being assured by officials that the water was safe. The lead in that water was causing irreversible damage. IQ loss. Behavioral problems. Learning disabilities. Problems that will shadow them for the rest of their lives. Significant progress has reportedly been made in reducing overall lead levels throughout the city. And in the schools, plumbing fixtures containing lead have been identified and parts replaced. Filters have been installed. But making the water safe to drink is just one of the issues that the state needs to address. During his sworn testimony in front of Congress, Gov. Rick Snyder described the Flint water disaster as a “failure of government at all levels.” That description is maddening, and not just becau[...]

The Government Has Been Using the Border as a Dragnet to Pressure People Into Becoming Informants

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 13:00 -0400

The FBI is using border checks to do an end-run around the Fourth Amendment. Recently leaked documents published by The Intercept show that the FBI and Customs and Border Protection have been using CBP’s authority to search travelers at the border — along with the troves of information collected as a result — to troll for potential sources and pressure people into becoming informants. We’ve gone through the documents, and they heighten our concerns that these agencies are exceeding their authority, targeting minority communities and vulnerable people, and trying to evade accountability for doing so. These documents also highlight a broader problem with the government’s official guidance on the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. That guidance purports to ban racial profiling, but it includes exemptions for border screening and national security — exemptions that the leaked documents demonstrate are dangerous and unwise. The secret documents provide a detailed description of the arrangement between the FBI and CBP. The FBI briefs CBP on intelligence priorities, including countries of interest, and CBP provides the FBI with lists of passengers departing to or arriving from those countries 72 hours beforehand. The agencies then use those passenger lists and FBI databases to “target” or “spot” potential informants among the passengers. When those individuals arrive at the airport, CBP redirects them for secondary inspection — which can mean hours of intrusive questioning and searches — during which CBP officers assess them as possible informants and provide those assessments to the FBI. The FBI then uses the airport search as a “pretext” for a follow-up visit to people at their homes or workplaces, during which agents pressure them to become informants. Most of the documents date from 2012, and while they don’t include independent confirmation that this program is ongoing, they are consistent with what we hear routinely from members of American Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities about their treatment by the FBI and CBP. The documents raise several serious concerns. An End-Run Around the Fourth Amendment First, this kind of collusion between the FBI and CBP stretches each agency’s authority to the breaking point. The FBI can’t stop and search or question people without any suspicion of wrongdoing in order to assess whether they can be pressured into serving as informants; doing so would violate the Fourth Amendment. By engineering those stops, searches, and questioning by CBP at the border, the FBI is attempting to circumvent the Constitution. CBP, for its part, has the authority to stop and search travelers at the border and ports of entry, but only for the purpose of locating contraband or identifying individuals who are inadmissible or engaged in criminal activity — a mandate that CBP recognizes is limited. Instead, CBP is using the border as a dragnet for intelligence gathering on innocent people — or, in the FBI’s words, “[l]ooking for ‘good guys’ not ‘bad guys.’” That appears to be outside CBP’s authority. The result is that CBP’s searches under the informant-recruitment program are much more intrusive than they would be if they stayed within CBP’s mandate. For instance, the questions CBP asks in trolling for informants are designed, according to the documents, to assess people’s “motivators, personality traits, vices, interests, hobbies, etc.” That’s unduly invasive, and it’s consistent with what we’ve long documented about border questioning of Muslims regarding their religious beliefs and practices — questioning that can infringe on rights guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law. Racial and Religious Profiling Second, the documents again show that both the FBI and CBP unfairly and discriminatorily target American Muslim communities for scrutiny and surveillance. One blatant example of that kind of biased target[...]

Finally Free: ‘Guantánamo Diary’ Author Released After 14 Years Without Charge

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 12:30 -0400

Mohamedou Ould Slahi is rejoining his family in Mauritania. After unlawfully imprisoning our client Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantánamo for 14 years without charge or trial, the U.S. government has finally released him. He is now home in his native Mauritania. We are overjoyed for Mohamedou and his loving family, who have been anxiously awaiting his return for so many years. His release brings the U.S. one man closer to ending the travesty that is Guantánamo. Mohamedou’s release comes after long legal battles and an outpouring of support worldwide, and he expressed his gratitude: “I feel grateful and indebted to the people who have stood by me. I have come to learn that goodness is transnational, transcultural, and trans-ethnic. I'm thrilled to reunite with my family.” That Mohamedou’s first thoughts are for his family and supporters is unsurprising, especially if you’ve read his deeply human and humane best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary,” which was released to critical acclaim in January 2015. The memoir describes an odyssey that began in 2001, when at the behest of the U.S. government, Mauritanian authorities detained Mohamedou after he voluntarily went in for questioning. The U.S. transferred him to prisons in Jordan and Afghanistan before Guantánamo, where he was brutally tortured. Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from In his book, Mohamedou describes the torture and its effects, missing his family, and forming bonds with some of his Guantanamo guards, one of whom later wrote a letter in support of Mohamedou’s freedom. In July, the Periodic Review Board, a panel of U.S. national security, intelligence, and other officials, finally cleared Mohamedou for release after determining that he poses no significant threat to the United States. All of us on Mohamedou’s team are focused on ensuring he has a cushion of love, support, counseling, and space to adjust after 14 long years in which he was denied his human rights. We already know how resilient Mohamedou is. My co-counsel Theresa Duncan told the PRB his plans to write and work, establish a charity, and care for his family. We will do whatever we can to help him implement those plans. What Mohamedou and we also know is that he now needs time and privacy, and we ask for respect for those needs. As Nancy Hollander, also one of Mohamedou’s attorneys, says: “We are thrilled that our client’s nightmare is finally ending. After all these years, he wants nothing more than to be with his family and rebuild his life. We’re so grateful to everyone who helped make this day a reality.” Mohamedou was born in Mauritania in 1970 and won a scholarship to attend college in Germany. In the early 1990s, he fought with al-Qaida when it was part of the Afghan anti-communist resistance supported by the U.S. The only federal judge to have reviewed all the evidence in his case noted that the group then was very different from the one that later came into existence. Mohamedou worked in Germany for several years as an engineer and returned to Mauritania in 2000. The following year he was detained by Mauritanian authorities and rendered by the U.S. to a prison in Jordan. Later the U.S. rendered him again, first to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and finally, in August 2002, to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, where he was subjected to severe torture.Mohamedou was one of two so-called “Special Projects” whose cruel treatment Rumsfeld personally approved. The abuse he suffered included beatings, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, frigid rooms, shackling in stress positions, and threats against [...]

It’s Time to Decriminalize Personal Drug Use and Possession. Basic Rights and Public Health Demand It.

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 16:30 -0400

When it comes to personal drug possession, the scales of justice are out of balance and need recalibration now. Police arrest more people for drug possession than any other crime in America. Every 25 seconds someone is arrested for possessing drugs for their own use, amounting to 1.25 million arrests per year. These numbers tell a tale of ruined lives, destroyed families, and communities suffering under a suffocating police presence. For the past year I have been investigating how the law enforcement approach to personal drug use has failed. The resulting report, “Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States,” calls on state legislatures and Congress to decriminalize personal drug use and possession. It comes at a time when the country is recognizing that the so-called “war on drugs” hasn’t stopped drug dependence and that we desperately need to address the problems of mass incarceration, race, policing, and drug policy. For personal drug use, it is time to replace our criminal justice model with a public health one instead. The consequences of arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for personal drug use are devastating. I met people who were prosecuted for tiny amounts of drugs, in one case an amount so small that the laboratory could not even weigh it and simply called it “trace.” That man was sentenced to 15 years in Texas. On any given day, nearly 140,000 people are behind bars for drug possession, while tens of thousands more are cycling through jails and prisons or struggling to make ends meet on probation or parole. Still others are serving sentences for other offenses that have been lengthened because of a prior conviction for drug possession. A conviction for drug possession can keep people from accessing welfare assistance and even the voting booth. It can also subject them to stigma and discrimination by potential landlords, employers, and peers. I met a woman I’ll call “Nicole” in the Harris County Jail in Texas. Nicole was detained pretrial for months on felony drug possession charges for residue inside paraphernalia. While she was in jail, her newborn learned to sit up on her own. When the baby visited jail, she couldn’t feel her mother’s touch because there was glass between them. Nicole ultimately pled guilty to possession of 0.01 grams of heroin. She would return to her children later that year, but as a “felon” and “drug offender.” She would have to drop out of school because she no longer qualified for financial aid. She would no longer be able to have a lease in her name and would have trouble finding a job. And she would no longer qualify for the food stamps she had relied on to feed her family. Forty-five years after the “war on drugs” was declared, rates of drug use haven’t significantly declined, and criminalization hasn’t stopped drug dependence. In fact, criminalization has driven drug use underground, making it harder for people who use drugs to access the help they sometimes really want and need. The “war on drugs” has caused enormous harm to individuals and families — harm that often outstrips the harm of drug use itself. And it has made communities less safe by deeply corroding the relationship between police and communities of color and focusing precious law enforcement resources on nonviolent drug use instead of violent crimes, less than half of which result in an arrest. Our research also reiterates that enforcement of U.S. drug laws and policy discriminates against communities of color. Although Black and white people use drugs at equivalent rates, a Black person is 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession. In many states that ratio is significantly higher. In Manhattan, a Black person is 11 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than a white person. As Lisa Ladd told me in New Orleans, the scales of justi[...]

When Minority Report Becomes New Yorkers' Reality

Tue, 11 Oct 2016 12:45 -0400

New York’s governor plans to put facial recognition technology and license plate readers in the state’s transportation hubs.

Tucked into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s presentation on his $100 billion plan to invest in the state’s infrastructure last week was an initiative that will put New Yorkers’ privacy in peril.

Part of Cuomo’s plan to “reimagine New York’s crossings for the 21st century” calls for installing controversial advanced cameras, license plate readers, and facial recognition technology in New York’s airports and other transportation hubs. The plan also will install sensors and cameras at “structurally sensitive” points on bridges and tunnels.

This is a transformative surveillance system — one that has the potential to put thousands and thousands of people's images and data in a massive database that could be easily misused by the government in ways we haven’t even imagined yet. It’s also not yet clear how the information will be stored and who will have access to it. What is clear is that there is an enormous risk that innocent people will be misidentified as terrorists, especially people of color. That’s because facial recognition technology, while certainly not error proof generally, is much more likely to misidentify minorities. A 2012 study, highlighted by the Atlantic, for example, found that a facial recognition algorithm failed to identify the right person nearly twice as often when the photo was of a Black person.

The other technologies touted by Cuomo are far from harmless as well. Just ask Robert Harte how police use of license plate readers can go awry. A SWAT team in Kansas raided Harte’s house where his wife, 7-year-old daughter, and 13-year-old son lived based in part on the mass monitoring of cars parked at a gardening store. Harte was held at gunpoint for two hours while cops combed through his home. The police were looking for a marijuana growing operation. They did not find that or any other evidence of criminal activity in Harte’s house.

It’s also important to understand that these technologies have a way of creeping towards ubiquity. It starts with a camera here or a license plate reader there, but soon they are everywhere. And just as important, Gov. Cuomo’s plan sets a disturbing precedent that could be followed by other states.

We are taking one step closer to the dystopian world of Minority Report without any discussion of the serious privacy concerns that are implicated.


The Surveillance State Descends on the Dakota Access Pipeline Spirit Camp

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 10:00 -0400

In an effort to intimidate indigenous people protesting an oil pipeline, North Dakota has militarized its response. For the past six months, at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, history has been made at one of the largest international gatherings of indigenous people in recent history. Representatives from well over 100 indigenous nations and thousands of people have camped, prayed, and taken action in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on and near the tribe’s sovereign land in North Dakota. And for the past six weeks, history has repeated itself as the Morton County Sheriff’s Office has dramatically increased its surveillance of the gathering, militarized the county, and taken action to suppress the religious expression of the indigenous people gathered at Sacred Stone. The use of surveillance, military-style force, and religious oppression against indigenous people has a long history in this country. Today, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and at a moment of surging indigenous power and strength, we bring light to the ongoing repression of the indigenous nations by Morton County and the state of North Dakota. A (Brief) History of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Water Protectors Dakota Access, or DAPL, is a 1,168-mile pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners. If finished, the pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Field through South Dakota and Iowa before ending in Illinois for refining. Proposed over two years ago, DAPL originally crossed the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota, but was re-routed due to concerns over Bismarck’s water supply. The new route placed the Missouri River crossing a half-mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, avoiding “official” reservation land but endangering the water supply for an entire sovereign nation if the pipeline leaked or burst. When construction on the pipeline began earlier this year, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies gathered at Sacred Stone and began a permanent spirit camp to pray and bring attention to the injustice of DAPL’s route and the risks it poses to land, water, and cultural resources. Over the summer, the camp grew, eventually spilling over into an overflow camp, known as the Oceti Sakowin camp, as well as several others in the same area. The camps have held, at times, thousands of people who come to pray and stand together in solidarity. Starting around the beginning of August, and continuing today, many actions, direct and otherwise, have occurred along the pipeline route, mainly in Morton County. Participants in these actions — ranging from prayers and round dances in public areas to physical lock-downs on construction equipment — refer to themselves as “water protectors,” in deference to the core reason for the existence of the camp in the first place: to protect the water threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. Peaceful water protectors demonstrate in front of a police roadblock preventing them from driving on public roads to pray at one of the Dakota Access construction sites on October 3.Ramping Up: Surveillance and Militarization in Morton County At the front of the Oceti Sakowin camp entrance, a sign reads: “We Are Unarmed.” The same cannot be said for the government reaction to the indigenous nations’ protest. In response to ongoing peaceful actions, the Morton County Sheriff’s Office has activated the one of the most militant responses ever in North Dakota’s history. In mid-August, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency for southwest and central south North Dakota in response to actions taken by the water protectors. Despite the governor’s and the local sheriff’s verbal commitment to allowing constitutionally protected lawful protest, the result of[...]

Protect the Children, Preserve the Tribe

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 09:30 -0400

States across the country continue to seize Native American children from their homes and communities. IMAGINE HIRING A BABYSITTER who you have every reason to trust to watch your toddler while you are at work. One day you return to pick up your child and you’re told that she has been taken into custody by the police because the babysitter became inebriated during the day. Fortunately, your child is fine and you are ready to take her home. But, instead, you learn that the police have turned your daughter over to Social Services, and the caseworker refuses to return her to you. You explain the situation, but it makes no difference. The county prosecutor then files a petition for temporary custody against you. Two days later, a judge refuses to allow you to present any evidence or to testify on your own behalf and won’t let you ask the caseworker any questions. You aren’t even given a copy of the petition that was filed against you. Based exclusively on that secret petition, the judge grants custody to Social Services and places your child in a foster home for over a month. This kind of nightmare scenario is the unfortunate reality for Native Americans in South Dakota. Social workers and the courts place their children into non-Native American foster homes — sometimes through hearings that last less than 60 seconds — resulting in thousands of fragmented families and a widespread diaspora of Native American children disconnected from their cultures. All of this is happening in spite of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which was passed in 1978 to ensure the integrity of Native American tribes and families. ICWA was created to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture,” according to Congress. In response to the growing outrage of the Native community and Indian Child Welfare advocates across the country, the ACLU is fighting against the unwarranted and unconstitutional removals of Native American children. Staggering Statistics Before ICWA was enacted, a study by the Association on American Indian Affairs revealed that 85 percent of Native American children in state custody were being placed in non-Native American homes or institutions. The rate of per capita removals of Native American children from their parents was so high that Congress was prompted to seek legislation to halt the systematic breakdown and devastation of tribal life in America. Yet, despite passage of this law, Native American children represent approximately 13 percent of the total number of children in South Dakota today but comprise nearly 53 percent of all children in foster care. With approximately 750 seizures a year in that state, Native American children are 11 times more likely to be taken into foster care than their white peers, displacing thousands of Native American children and destroying the fabric of families and tribes. Additionally, since January 2010, following hearings that happen within 48 hours of a child being removed from a home and in which no witness testified and no documents were offered during the hearing as evidence, it has been the standard practice for the judges of South Dakota’s Seventh Circuit: To make “findings of fact” that the Department of Social Services (DSS) is making active efforts to avoid removing children from their families To state that foster care placement is the least restrictive available alternative To say that returning custody to the parents would likely result in serious emotional or physical harm to the children — without providing any exp[...]