“A brave, powerful book from one of freedom’s most courageous defenders. These stories remind us how real how personal the threats to our Constitutional rights really are and of the duty that we all have to protect them in times of trouble. Woven through these riveting chapters is a strong reminder: democracy is the best security.” — Eli Pariser, Founder and Executive Director, MOVEON.ORG
Executive Director of the ACLU Anthony D. Romero and award-winning journalist Dina Temple-Raston present stories of real Americans at the front lines of the fight for civil liberties at a time when our most basic rights are being challenged. From the story of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh to the battle against the National Security Agency's warrantless spying program, and from a movement in Pennsylvania to force religion into the public school science curriculum to the case of Matthew Limon, a gay teenager sentenced to seventeen years in prison for having consensual oral sex with another teenage boy in Kansas, In Defense of Our America offers readers an eye-opening look at the dangerous erosion of rights in the post-9/11 age of terror and chronicles the courageous ongoing struggle of ordinary Americans to preserve our hard-won constitutional freedoms.
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About the Author
Anthony D. Romero has been executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union since September 2001. He lives in New York City.
Dina Temple-Raston's previous books include A Death in Texas and Justice on the Grass. She lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
In Defense of Our America
The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror
The timeline of John Walker Lindh's journey from northern California teenager to the "American Taliban" is marked with dates in boldface. November 1992: John Walker Lindh sees the movie Malcolm X and begins to mull the possibility of converting to Islam. Spring 1997: John passes the California proficiency exam, allowing him to test out of the public high school system. Fall 1997: John starts taking history and politics classes at a local community college. Winter 1997: John's conversion is complete. He declares himself a Muslim. Summer 1998: John goes to Yemen to learn Arabic so that he can commit the Koran to memory as Muslim teacher-scholars, his aspiration, must do. May 2001: John e-mails his parents and tells them he is going to travel to the mountains to escape Pakistan's searing summer heat. September 6, 2001: John goes to the front line of a battle between Taliban forces and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. December 3, 2001: John's picture and his introduction as the "American Taliban" appear on the Internet. January 15, 2002: Attorney General John Ashcroft declares John a terrorist. October 4, 2002: John is formally sentenced to 20 years in prison.
It was just five short years, but each date marked a chronology of heartbreak for Frank and Marilyn Lindh. They watched the events unfold with disbelief from the moment they realized their son was in Afghanistan until his sentencing. "The whole experience was my own personal big bang," Marilyn later said. "My life came apart and myfamily was under siege. Everyone keeps trying to find out what was wrong with John. Nothing was wrong with John. Everyone tried to blame us. Nothing is wrong with our family. Instead this was the most striking example of demonizing someone who doesn't see things the same way as other people I have ever seen."
Frank Lindh had just emerged from an early evening showing of Billy Bob Thornton's The Man Who Wasn't There when he noticed a message flashing on his cell phone. Lindh was a soft-spoken man, with a handsome face and lanky frame. He had the look of a runner, and his even temper and problem-solving demeanor were almost those of an Atticus Finch.
The voice mail was from his ex-wife, Marilyn. "Call me right away, it is about John," it said. Marilyn Lindh was not a woman prone to hyperbole. Tall and thin with long flowing hair and bangs, she exuded a sense of quiet and balance. For that reason, the tightness in her voice rattled Frank. He hurried to his car and drove up the road to Marilyn's house.
Frank and Marilyn Lindh had managed to construct one of those rare friendly divorces. They made decisions about their children together without rancor. They attended school plays sitting side by side. They shared the inevitable ferrying around of children as they went to soccer games or drama practice with good-natured compromise. The younger Lindhs were as likely to be found at their father's house on any given evening as they were their mother's. And after the divorce, when the Lindh parents sent letters and small notes to their children, they signed them with the slightly dated honorifics of "Mama" and "Papa."
Why a modern American would join forces with the Taliban would be the question that millions of Americans would later askincluding President Bush. The question would haunt John Walker Lindh for the rest of his life. His path to the Taliban would be a circuitous one, and it would take all of three years to complete.
John was the Lindhs' middle child, sandwiched between Connell, his older brother, and Naomi, a younger sister who idolized him. John was a smart child, though he had always been a little introverted. He was the kind of boy who would ask for Japanese language tapes for Christmas one year and Gaelic tapes the next. He had an affinity for languages and music, and his parents, to the extent they could, tried to foster those interests. John suffered from chronic diarrhea, most likely caused by a parasite, which dramatically affected his ability to go to school. The school district, because of his many health-related absences, sent tutors to home-school him. That alone made him different. It made him solitary and by turns shy. He had beautiful hair and large brown eyes when he was little, and when people commented on it, Marilyn could see John's writhing discomfort. "He hated attention," she said.
When he was little, Men at Work, an Australian pop group, was constantly playing on the radio. Their hit was a song called "Be Good." His father used to sing the song to John. The song had one voiceover that said: "So, tell me what kind of boy are you, John?" When his father used to sing it to him, John was embarrassed but in that secretly delighted way children are when their parents dote on them. The song was the furthest thing from Frank Lindh's mind when he walked into his wife's house. Marilyn had a poster of Pakistan up on the wall in her entryway. She had always kept close tabs on John when he went overseas. She marked the four or five cities on the map where John had been with push pins. It seemed like as good a way as any to keep track of him.
For a man who would later go to fight for the misogynistic Taliban, John thrived in a family of strong women. In addition to having strong bonds with his mother and his paternal grandmother, Kate, John had developed a particularly close relationship with his sister, Naomi, eight years his junior. He was the protective older brother outside on the streets, and a nurturing buddy at home. After school, John would whip up some macaroni and cheese for the two to share. Frank and Marilyn were used to coming home to find their two youngest kids talking furiously with their mouths full of cheesy pasta.In Defense of Our America
The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror. Copyright © by Anthony Romero. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments ix Introduction xv Prologue 1 Chapter 1 Finding John 11 Chapter 2 Two Wraths From God 27 Chapter 3 Outside Forces 45 Chapter 4 The Search for Credible Threats 65 Chapter 5 Taking the Gloves Off 81 Chapter 6 Ethical Lapses 101 Chapter 7 A World of Pipe Carriers 117 Chapter 8 A Breakdown in Communication 135 Chapter 9 The Beginning of Something Much Bigger 151 Chapter 10 Storm Chasing 165 Chapter 11 Taking Initiative 179 Afterword 199 Notes on Sources 215 Index 243
What People are Saying About This
"Prichard keeps the listener engaged in a complex and detailed treatise.... His even-keeled delivery underscores the credibility of this substantive assessment of how America has succumbed to fear and tyranny from within." -AudioFile
Reading Group Guide
In Defense of Our America tells the stories of everyday heroes whose efforts to preserve their fundamental rights have led to some of the most critical civil liberties battles of our time. This discussion guide includes in-depth questions for readers who wish to explore issues raised in the book, such as liberty and safety in a post-9-11 world; the role of religion in the classroom; the impact of Roe v. Wade; and more.
Questions for Discussion
QUESTIONS: After reading In Defense of Our America, do you notice a common thread among the stories? Is there an identifiable link or trend that seems to be sweeping this country (or perhaps the world) since 9/11?
John Walker Lindh was captured weeks after 9/11. Do you think he would have been treated differently if he had been captured under similar circumstances in 2007, rather than in 2001? Why? Some people think that Lindh was sentenced to twenty years in prison even after all of the terrorism-related charges against him were dropped so the U.S. government would appear strong in fighting terrorism. Did the United States make an example of him? In what ways?
In 1999, Kansas's "Romeo and Juliet" law considered sexual relations with a minor a lesser crime if the older teenager was younger than 19, the younger teenager was at least 14 but less than 16 and the age difference between the two teenagers was less than 4 years—as long as the youths were of the opposite sex. In 2000, Matthew Limon was sentenced to 17 years and 2 months in prison because, a week after his 18th birthday, he performed a consensual sex act with a boy who was nearly 15 years old—three years, one month and a few days years younger than Matthew. A heterosexual teenager with the same record as Matthew who had engaged in the same act would have received a sentence of no more than 15 months. Though later overruled, a Kansas appellate court initially suggested that the law needs to treat same-sex relationships different from opposite sex ones in order to prevent "less than desirable couplings," such as incest and polygamy. What do you think of this argument? Do you think that the gender of the individuals should have any impact on the punishment?
QUESTIONS: Do you believe that it is necessary to curtail any civil liberties in order to advance national security? What have you already given up? Do you think that the Constitution needs to be "updated" in the wake of 9/11, or is it possible for the government to protect us against terrorism while preserving the civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution?
QUESTIONS: Kitzmiller v. Dover was one of the most important courtroom clashes over government-funded religion in the classroom since the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial." After a lengthy trial, a federal judge ruled that the Constitution barred the Pennsylvania public school district from teaching "intelligent design" in biology class, saying the concept is not science but a particular religious belief, and therefore unconstitutional. Is "intelligent design" ever appropriate to teach in the public schools? What about in a philosophy or ethics class? Should a private religious school be allowed to teach "intelligent design" in a biology class or should there be a uniform biology standard for all schools? Would such a federal curriculum violate freedom of religion as applied to private religious schools? Is there an inevitable tension between science and religion, or it is possible to be deeply religious and also accept the fundamental tenets of science?
QUESTIONS: Established in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) was designed to regulate physical searches and electronic surveillance when gathering foreign intelligence information. Originally, the Attorney General was permitted to wait 24 hours before seeking a court order after authorizing electronic surveillance in emergency situations. In 2002, the time limit was extended to 72 hours. Should the president be allowed to authorize electronic surveillance without any judicial oversight even after 72 hours if he thinks it is necessary to combat terrorism? Can the president ever ignore the laws that Congress has passed, and, if so, under what circumstances?
QUESTIONS: A secret Pentagon program called Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) was started in 2003. The TALON database was developed to collect unverified information about people or groups who are suspected of threatening Defense Department facilities. It was later discovered that the database included information on peaceful protesters and anti-war demonstrators. College student Kot Hordynski, an organizer with Students Against War at the University of California at Santa Cruz, was surprised when he learned that he was a target of government spying for his protest activities, which he saw as "expressing our patriotic rights...engaging in civil disobedience." What dangers lay in keeping government lists of people who attend political protests or engage in civil disobedience? Are such lists a new practice? Did Kot Hordynski break any laws by protesting next to a military recruiting table? Do you think his protest infringed upon the rights of the military in any way? Did his actions warrant his being targeted by the Pentagon for surveillance and his being labeled a "credible threat"?
QUESTIONS: Greg Davis was incarcerated in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) when Hurricane Katrina struck, awaiting arraignment on minor crimes. He wasn't released for seven months and by the time he had his "day in court," he had already served more time in prison than if he had been found guilty. How could the state and/or federal government have better handled the OPP debacle to protect the prisoners' rights in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? Should Greg Davis's fines have been dropped altogether if he could not have a quick hearing? Is there another way his debt could have been paid?
QUESTIONS: It was Bill Buckingham who contacted the Discovery Institute regarding the fight over "intelligent design" in the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania. At one point Buckingham stated: "Separation of Church and State is a myth. There is no separation." And: "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such." Our currency says, "In God We Trust"; the Supreme Court hearings open with a reference to God, and the House of Representatives has a chaplain....Are these and similar types of examples problematic? Do they violate the First Amendment's prohibition against "an establishment of religion"?
QUESTIONS: Ann Beeson was the ACLU attorney who argued the first federal case challenging the constitutionality of the USA Patriot Act, specifically the "library records" provision that gave the FBI expanded powers in accessing library, business, and financial records. Beeson argued that the provision violated the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. What types of records do people have a reasonable expectation will not be shared with the government? Do you think the expanded powers in the Patriot Act will turn out to be merely temporary—a shift away from civil liberties that gradually reverses itself over time? Or have we experienced a paradigm shift in government power that has resulted in a permanent curtailment of civil liberties?
QUESTIONS: Before the images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison came to light, interrogators responsible for questioning detainees were told that "the gloves are coming off." At the same time, the administration has denied that anyone in its custody was tortured. What do you believe constitutes torture, and what interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists do you consider legitimate? Who should decide what techniques are permissible? Is torture ever acceptable under any circumstances?
QUESTIONS: When South Dakota legislators passed an abortion ban, they hoped it would trigger a court challenge that might eventually lead to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. What do you think it would mean in your own life or in the lives of your friends and family to lose the right to abortion? Have you ever had a condom break or have you faced a pregnancy scare? Was it important to know that having a baby wasn't your only option?
QUESTIONS: The ACLU brought 115 volunteers from 20 states and the District of Columbia to South Dakota the weekend before the election to help defeat the abortion ban—some volunteers traveled 25 hours by van to reach Sioux Falls. What do you think motivated these people to travel great distances in order to protect the reproductive freedom of women in South Dakota? Why does it matter to be able to control when and whether you have children? How has this ability affected your own life? What can you do in your own community to help protect reproductive freedom?
QUESTIONS: South Dakota ranks 44th in the nation for helping women avoid unintended pregnancy and it does not require schools to teach sex education. Why do you think the legislature was so focused on banning abortion instead of helping to prevent unintended pregnancies? Has knowledge of how to prevent an unintended pregnancy or protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases been important in your own life? Do you rely on this knowledge currently? Who do you think should have access to such information?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book looks at the current state of civil liberties in America, by exploring case studies of several different types of cases.Matthew Limon is a gay teenager from Kansas who was sentenced to a seventeen-year prison term for having consensual sex with a boy three years younger. If his sex partner had been female, the sentence would have been much less. As a way to lessen the impact of a proposed total abortion ban in South Dakota, Cecilia Fire Thunder, the President of the Sioux Nation, advocated putting an abortion clinic on Sioux land. The school board of Dover, Pennsylvania attempted to force the local high school to include ¿intelligent design¿ into the biology curriculum. A middle-age science teacher named Bertha Spahr led the fight against the plan. Kot Hordynski is part of a non-violent anti-war group at the University of California, Santa Clara. The Pentagon put him on a terrorist watch list and called him a "credible threat."Before anyone thinks that the American Civil Liberties Union, of which Romero is the Executive Director, is an anti-conservative or anti-Catholic group, consider: the ACLU defended Rush Limbaugh¿s right to privacy when prosecutors wanted his medical records to prosecute his drug bust; they argued that anti-abortion protestors have a right to march and be heard; the ACLU stood up for Oliver North¿s constitutional rights during Iran-Contra; when a high school senior wanted to put a quote from the Bible in her yearbook, the ACLU argued that she had a right to free speech-even religious speech. Also, the ACLU helped strike the provision in the Virginia constitution that denied Jerry Falwell¿s church the right to incorporate in Virginia.This is a gem of a book. It does a good job of showing how civil liberties were not in good shape, entangling average people, even before 9/11; since then, things have gotten noticeably worse. It is very much worth reading.