Inside NACDL: NACDL’s Defense of Liberty Program

NACDL’s Defense of Liberty Program There is some

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

There is something unique about the American political psyche. When trouble comes, politicians across the ideological spectrum reflexively turn to the criminal law as the weapon of choice. Whether it is because it taps into the American fascination with frontier justice, which sees retribution as a magic elixir, or because it offers the allure of a quick fix at low cost, the government responds to challenge by unleashing a cadre of overzealous prosecutors in the misguided belief that the country can prosecute its way out of any problem.

Under the rubric of an amorphous “war on terrorism,” which some assert is a war without end, fundamental constitutional protections are at unprecedented risk. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the government has launched serial assaults on a range of constitutional rights. During this period, the government has engaged in or sanctioned a pattern of abuse that has included extraordinary rendition, detention without charge, and “enhanced” interrogation techniques, which many recognize as torture. But, more troubling in terms of its pervasive impact and potential to undermine fundamental liberty, the government has both employed new anti-terrorist legislation in a scattershot manner that is disturbingly overbroad, and manipulated security classifications to suppress and obscure evidence.

The front line in the battle against these troubling incursions on liberty is the criminal prosecution. NACDL is determined to marshal the resources of the criminal defense bar to resist this trend on both a case-by-case basis and systemically. As previously reported [The Champion, July 2008, page 7], a first step in fulfilling this commitment is NACDL’s collaboration in the John Adams Project with the American Civil Liberties Union. The project is ensuring that the high value detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who are being prosecuted under the Military Commission Act, have access to defense teams that comport with minimal standards for all capital cases. But that is just the beginning. NACDL has now launched a Defense of Liberty Program designed to counter the government’s perversion of the criminal justice system in the name of national security.

In late August, NACDL appointed Michael Price as its first National Security Coordinator. The coordinator will serve as a project manager for the John Adams Project. He will also undertake a broad range of activities to support lawyers in the trenches who must confront the consequences of investigative, prosecutorial, and classification practices that threaten to shred our Constitution in the name of national security. In his inaugural article [see page 28 in this issue], Michael describes how the prosecution’s new anti-terrorism arsenal has been deployed not just against international terrorists, but against domestic political protesters. Indeed, his research shows that most “terrorism-related” cases do not involve terrorism at all, but rather a range of nonviolent offenses that have no link to terrorist activities.

Michael recently graduated from New York University School of Law with an extraordinary background in national security issues. He served as an editor of the Journal of International Law and Politics and student research director at the Center on Law and Security. Michael also served as a student advocate for the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU, where he represented two Yemeni nationals detained in CIA black sites, and he was a project leader for the ACLU National Security Project. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University.

As the national security initiative evolves, NACDL anticipates that under Michael Price’s leadership the association will serve as a resource for defense lawyers engaged in national security-related litigation. By fostering partnerships among academics and practitioners, NACDL will seek to: (1) document how the misuse of the classification process undermines fair trials and the truth-seeking process; (2) study the effect of counterterrorism sting operations on relations with America’s Muslim community and gauge the effect of these tactics upon public confidence in law enforcement; (3) expose the practical impact of massive electronic surveillance; and (4) identify pressing national security issues that must be addressed by Congress, the courts, and the legal profession.

NACDL recognizes that as the nation confronts the shadowy threat of terrorism, a threat that can manifest itself whenever a solitary, suicidal lunatic straps a bomb to his back, the national inclination to suppress constitutional liberty remains an irresistible lure for politicians of all stripes. American lawyers, especially the criminal defense bar, have a special duty to preserve and protect fundamental liberties. Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean author of the novel By Night in Chile, described how many in the Pinochet era accommodated themselves to brutality: “The answer was simple. Because with time, vigilance tends to relax, because all horrors are dulled by routine.”

NACDL pledges not to let this happen in America. Liberty’s Last Champion will never accept extra-constitutional measures as routine.

Continue reading below

Featured Products