The Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will be holding a Spring Forum on “Our Shredded Civil Liberties” followed by a Q&A session tomorrow from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Faulkner Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara.
The program, which is free of admission, will focus on the current state of civil liberties with regard to recently passed policies relating to the “War on Terror” — an international military campaign spearheaded by the United States, United Kingdom and other NATO and non-NATO countries. The forum looks specifically into the policies’ historical contexts and legal and political implications.
Ahilan Arulanantham, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California, will discuss the civil liberty infringements present in current American policies such as the Obama administration’s National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military to detain and arrest anyone they deem a terrorist without trial. Other policies include the targeted killing of U.S. citizens without fair trial, which occurred in Yemen to US-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki last September, and the State Secrets Doctrine, which allows the U.S. government to omit certain pieces of evidence in court if its release poses a threat to national security.
According to UCSB sociology professor and Santa Barbara ACLU president Lisa Hajjar, civil liberty infringements serve to cover up unlawful actions committed by the nation.
“[The policies] were used under Bush and now under Obama,” said. “[They’ve] been used to smother all kinds of cases, especially those that lead to illegal U.S. behavior.”
Hajjar and Black Studies professor Cedric Robinson, the Program Committee Chair of the ACLU SB chapter, will be moderating the event, introducing speakers and vetting the Q&A portion.
Along with Arulanantham, UCSB Sociology Professor Richard Flacks will also be speaking at the forum about the historical context for current accounts of policies impacting civil liberties as well as strategies for defending the Bill Of Rights in such circumstances.
According to Flacks, the forum is being held due to recent widespread disturbance regarding outright violations of civil liberty. Flacks said due to technological progress, there has been an increase in drone technology and other kinds of surveillance methods of which people have legitimate worries about in terms of privacy.
“There is a feeling by some people that because of recent policies, President Obama is worse than other presidents, but that is not the case at all,” Flacks said. “I want to show that what he has supported or what he has done fits in with precedents set by presidents in the past, including other liberal presidents. I want to try to have people put these situations in context.”
Hajjar said the forum presents an opportunity to inform and educate so that people do more than just register to vote. Instead, they can engage in policy demands as citizens. According to Hajjar, it is up to citizens to hold the government to adhering more closely to its constitutional obligations, regardless of one’s partisan affiliations.
“What’s important is being focused in a critical way on policies by a democratic president, some of which are continuations of older policies,” Hajjar said. “You can’t understand some of these crucial issues if you’re thinking purely [like a] Republican or Democrat. Instead we want to edify all people about these policies regardless of party lines.”
In addition to discussing issues regarding unwarranted government detainment, use of military force and intrusion, Arulanantham and Flacks will also speak on civil liberty infringement in the form of racial discrimination.
According to first-year political science major Brian Jenny, statistics have shown a marked decrease in racial prejudices today in comparison to their pervasiveness in the past, but they remain prevalent in present day society nonetheless.
“Racism may not be as bad as it was 50 years ago, but it definitely still exists,” Jenny said. “I feel like there are a lot of violations of civil liberties influenced by [another person’s] race. [For example,] the Arizona Immigration Law … discriminated against people with dark skin. Also, after 9/11, anyone who looked Middle Eastern was instantly racially profiled.”
Flacks said civil liberty infringement applies not only to suspected terrorists and detainees overseas but also to university students and the potential issues that can occur on campuses.
“There is a great interest among students in issues of personal freedom and the right of expression,” Flacks said. “One issue I mentioned has a lot to do with student protests. There have been attempts by other campuses, particularly UC campuses, in which the government really tried to regulate demonstrations in ways that caused people lots of distress on thoughts that their rights were being infringed.”