The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Civil Liberties News for Week Ending 6/29/06

by Jessica Azulay

A weekly rundown of stories related to rights, privacy, etc. @ Gitmo tribunals overturned @ Kansas lethal injection @ Feds un-gag librarians @ Flag-burning bill quashed @ ‘Defamation’ threat silences

High Court knocks down Gitmo tribunals

The US Supreme Court ruled this morning that the military tribunals designed to try Guantánamo detainees for alleged war crimes are unconstitutional and that in creating the tribunals, the president overstepped his authority.

The challenge to the tribunals was brought by a Guantánamo detainee named Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who served as Osama bin Ladin’s driver. Hamdan was one of a handful of the hundreds of detainees held at Guantánamo singled out by the Bush administration for trial by military tribunal.

Though the decision was fractured, with the justices taking various positions on the issue, a 5-3 majority ruled against the legality of the tribunals. Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because he had ruled against Hamdan last year as an appeals court judge.

Judge to Kansas: ‘Kill more considerately’

A federal judge ordered Missouri to revise its protocol for killing Death Row inmates Monday, after finding that the state’s lethal-injection procedure “subjects condemned inmates to an unacceptable risk of suffering unconstitutional pain and suffering.�

The court found that Missouri relies on an anonymous surgeon for mixing the drugs used to put inmates to death and for monitoring inmates to make sure they are properly anesthetized. But the state does not appear to have a written protocol for the dosages or administration of its three-drug regimen, and the physician in charge does not have oversight or training in anesthesiology.

Without proper injection of the initial two drugs, the third drug could cause excruciating pain to the inmate, but he or she would be unable to express discomfort because of the paralyzing affects of the initial drugs.

US District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. ordered the state to find a certified anesthesiologist to mix the drugs used in lethal injections and to monitor the execution in order to ensure the anesthesia is working properly to kill the pain for the final drug.

In other death-penalty news, the US Supreme Court upheld, in a 5–4 ruling, the constitutionality of a Kansas’s sentencing policy that instructs juries to err on the side of choosing state-sanctioned killing when the evidence points to a toss-up between life and death.

Feds drop case against librarians gagged by Patriot Act

After preventing a group of librarians from telling Congress about the FBI’s attempt to access patrons’ computer records, the federal government has dropped its request for the data.

The librarians who received the subpoena from the FBI fought a long court battle to avoid complying with the request and to remove a gag order that prohibited them from telling the public about the request. The federal government eventually released them from their mandatory silence, but only after lawmakers had renewed the USA Patriot Act provisions dealing with national security letters – the internally issued subpoenas the FBI can use to request records without a court order. The librarians had hoped to testify before Congress against the very policy that gagged them.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which litigated the case on behalf of the four librarians, announced Monday that the government had finally dropped its request for the records entirely, allowing the group to disclose the scope of the probe.

The FBI’s letter, which the ACLU posted to its website, demands that the Library Connection, a consortium of 26 Connecticut libraries, hand over “all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity related to� a certain IP address during a 45-minute period on February 15, 2005. An IP address is a unique identifier of a computer or computer network.

Firms using ‘defamation’ threats to scare citizens into silence

The consumer advocate Public Citizen has filed an appeal in Pennsylvania court on behalf of a surgery patient who has been denied the right to gripe about his doctors on the Internet.

Dominic Morgan, who underwent unsuccessful eye surgery in 1998, created the website on which he criticized his doctors. The doctors, in turn, threatened Morgan with a defamation lawsuit.

According to Public Citizen, Morgan removed all of the material about his doctors from the site while he evaluated defamation law. He then posted new material based on his assessment of what he could legally say.

But his doctors claimed, and a Philadelphia judge upheld, that in removing the original materials from the website in response to the threat of a lawsuit, Morgan had implicitly agreed to never again post criticisms of the doctors on his or any other website.

“This case typifies a common problem for consumers who use the Internet to criticize companies,� Paul Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the appeal, said in a press statement. “Consumers who receive threats from companies often react by taking down the criticisms while they evaluate their chances of defending a lawsuit. If the temporary removal of criticisms from a website can be construed as an ‘agreement’ not to say anything about the company in the future, this will have a chilling effect on Internet free speech and consumer rights.�




The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the June 29, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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