With civil rights in retreat in the wake of the Patriot Act and the prosecutorial zeal of Attorney General John Ashcroft, venerable Berkeley activist/attorney Ann Fagan Ginger has launched a counterattack, starting with a contest to identify the most egregious examples of trampled rights in the Bush era.
Ginger, founder and director of Berkeley’s well–known Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, will compile the worst examples into a new book, Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 9/11, which will form the centerpiece of a campaign to regain liberties lost to the war on terror.
The Institute is offering a $50 reward for the clearest and most accurate description of a domestic post-9/11 human rights violation.
Ginger said the book will serve as documentation for the Institute’s push to force local, state, and national bodies to respect the international laws protecting human rights.
Throughout its history, the Meiklejohn Institute has played a leading role in documenting human rights abuses, and chronicled such well-known events such as the Angela Davis case and the Free Speech Movement.
Ginger founded the Institute in 1965, but she’s been a dynamo on the Left since before the McCarthy period, drawing enough attention from J. Edgar Hoover’s Red Squads to amass a foot-thick FBI file documenting her work for the National Lawyers Guild (which once occupied a spot on the attorney general’s published compendium of subversive organizations), her organizing efforts for the United Electrical Workers, and her famous speech from atop a police car during the days of the Free Speech Movement.
She’s written books, taught at universities and colleges—including San Francisco State, UC Berkeley and Hastings—and served as the first chair of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission.
It was law school that brought Ginger to Berkeley 44 years ago, when she started work on her master’s degree at Boalt Hall. Today, at 78, she’s working as hard as ever, pursuing the struggle begun long ago.
“The Institute and I as a human being have been around a long time, and I am convinced that since 9/11 we have seen the worst violation of civil rights of my lifetime—and that includes the McCarthy period,” she said.
The upcoming book and the attendant campaign are means to address the crisis.
Ginger says documentation readily available to anyone leads to the conclusion that the Bush Administration is set on destroying the system as we know it, pushing aside human and civil rights.
“[People like Assistant Secretary of State Paul] Wolfowitz and [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [National Security Council staffer] Elliott Abrams have contempt for democratic decision-making,” she said. All three are prominent neoconservatives and key figures in the Project for a New American Century, the organizational fountainhead of many Bush foreign and domestic policies.
“I think there is a plan that has been written out. They have an open plan to destroy the democratic system of government and replace the capitalist system with a fascist military regime with a few monopoly corporations,” Ginger says, adding that she has the documentation to prove it.
During the McCarthy era—when the State Department refused to give her a passport because of her activism—countless dissidents were illegally jailed, deported, fired, blacklisted, wiretapped and otherwise terrorized.
“What people don’t realize is the Patriot Act made all of that stuff legal,” she said. “The good news is there is something called the U.N.,” she said.
Her book will be used to help the United Nations monitor and end abuse by forcing compliance with already existing human rights treaties.
It’s a complicated strategy, but Ginger spells it out in crisp, well-chosen words.
First comes the compilation of the reports. Institute staff have already gathered more than 100 incidents from news reports and other sources, and more are coming from the public and through entries to the contest—which officially ends Nov. 10.
Once the report is published, the Institute will formally submit each violation to the Office of the Inspector General of each government agency involved.
Inspector General offices are internal enforcement agencies attached to every federal department and are charged with investigating and reporting on governmental fraud and misconduct.
The Inspector General’s staff of the Environmental Protection Agency recently captured headlines for exposing the serious health risks faced by workers in the ruins of the World Trade Center—dangers long denied in public EPA pronouncements.
The Meiklejohn Institute will also send its report to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is responsible for submitting reports to U.N. Committees that enforce the human rights treaties that cover the abuses Ginger cites.
This is the crucial point in the Institute’s strategy and what she believes is the most effective way to create change through such treaties as the U.N. Charter, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination—all signed by a president of the United States and ratified by the Senate.
Under the Constitution, treaty provisions are legally supreme to any local, state or national statutes, and the government is bound to comply.
Though the treaties require the U.S. to submit reports to the U.N. committees that govern them, Washington has been consistently late and evasive in fulfilling those obligations, she says. Ginger points out that while the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination—passed by the U.N. in 1969 but not adopted by the United States until 1994—requires signatories to submit a report every two years, the U.S. delayed submission of its initial report until 2001, complying then only because the U.S. knew it would otherwise face a challenge at the upcoming U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
The Institute’s report will be tailored to augment the mandated reporters and force the secretary of state to comply with international obligations.
After the reports have been submitted to the U.N. bodies, Ginger says, the next step is for concerned citizens to attend the committee meetings where the U.S. reports are reviewed and increase the pressure on Washington to comply.
Ginger urges the media to attend and report on the proceedings, which she says would help persuade local, state and federal offices to carry out the U.N. Committee’s suggestions.
The overall strategy is modeled in part on past campaigns focused on repressive regimes in South Africa and East Timor.
Ginger notes that even though the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation in 1954, segregation remained widespread because the court lacked a mechanism to enforce their ruling.
Even in Berkeley, seven more years passed before local schools were finally desegregated, she says, and it was lobbying by concerned citizens—including Ginger, who was prominently involved in the local effort—and not the court’s decision that finally brought change.
Meiklejohn Institute staff will organize the rights violations they collect into 28 categories. Examples already documented include reports of abuse in prisons, violence against immigrants, and the police response to anti-war protest at the Port of Oakland.
Ginger says she expects the book to be released early next year, though they haven’t yet found a publisher
Anyone wishing to submit an instance for the contest can send their example by e-mail to email@example.com, by fax to 848-6008 or via snail mail to Box 673, Berkeley, CA 94701-0673. Entries arriving after Nov. 10 will still be considered for the report.
For more information and to contact the center directly, firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-0599.