It seems almost beyond imagination that it has been 20 years since the movie "Star Chamber" came out, starring at that time a relatively young Michael Douglas. This movie does a masterful job and stretches your thinking from the very opening. Michael Douglas portrays an idealistic L.A. County superior court judge who finds himself in a cabal of judges known as THE STAR CHAMBER, in this 1983 film of the same name directed and co-written by Peter Hyams (OUTLAND; CAPRICORN ONE; 2010). His character is frustrated about letting criminals go scot-free on charges ranging from kidnapping to murder because of technicalities; even though the evidence would clearly put these thugs on ice, improper procedures by the police force Douglas to obey the letter of the law and dismiss them.
But he gets a look into this Star Chamber cabal from his mentor (Hal Holbrook, good as ever), where he and seven other judges, plus Douglas now, pass judgment on and later find and execute the criminals. In essence, this Star Chamber consists of judges so fed up with the System that they resort to vigilantism. Douglas, however, doesn't see this particular cabal as the answer, and he has to struggle with this dichotomy.
This movie is among my all time favorite political thrillers, right along with the following;
"All The President's Men", In the Watergate Building, lights go on and four burglars are caught in the act. That night triggered revelations that drive a U.S. President from office. Washington reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) grabbed the story and stayed with it through doubts, denials and discouragement. All the President's Men is their story. Directed by Alan J. Pakula and based on the Woodward/Bernstein book, the film won four 1976 Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor/Jason Robards, Adaptation Screenplay/William Goldman, Art Direction and Sound). It also explores a working newspaper, where the mission is to get the story and get it right.
In 1969, students Martin Brice and Cosmo are hacking into computer networks using university equipment, to redistribute conservative funds to various liberal causes. The police burst in and arrest Cosmo while Martin is out getting pizza, and Martin goes on the run.
In the present day, Martin, now called Martin Bishop, is running a tiger team of security specialists in San Francisco, including Donald Crease, a former CIA officer and family man; Darren "Mother" Roskow, aconspiracy theorist and electronics technician; Carl Arbogast, a young genius; and Irwin "Whistler" Emery, a blind phone phreak.
Martin is approached by two National Security Agency officers, Dick Gordon and Buddy Wallace, who know of his former identity. In exchange for clearing his record, he's asked to recover a "black box" from mathematician Dr. Gunter Janek, who has developed the box under the project name "Setec Astronomy" supposedly for the Russian government. Martin is hesitant but agrees to help. With help from his former girlfriend, Liz, Martin and his team secure the box which is disguised as a telephone answering machine. During their ensuing celebration party, Whistler, Mother, and Carl start to investigate the box, finding it capable of breaking the encryption of nearly every computer system. Martin works out that "Setec Astronomy" is an anagram of "too many secrets".
"Red Dawn" In Red Dawn, a city in Washington state awakens to the surreal sight of foreign paratroopers dropping from the sky – shockingly, the U.S. has been invaded and their hometown is the initial target. Quickly and without warning, the citizens find themselves prisoners and their town under enemy occupation. Determined to fight back, a group of young patriots seek refuge in the surrounding woods, training and reorganizing themselves into a guerrilla group of fighters. Taking inspiration from their high school mascot, they call themselves the Wolverines, banding together to protect one another, liberate their town from its captors, and take back their freedom.
And then there's Will Smith's epic "Enemy of the State". Enemy of the State is a 1998 American action-thriller about a group of rogue NSA agents who kill a US Congressman and try to cover up the murder.
Star Chamber, as most of all the above movies, have all but been forgotten about, that was until yesterday when the Washington Post disclosed details about the reality of a Secret Surveillance Court. In the wake of the NSA Scandal, the Washington Post now talks openly about the Foreign Intelligence Security Court and "Wedged into a secure, windowless basement room deep below the Capitol Visitors Center, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates appeared before dozens of senators earlier this month for a highly unusual, top-secret briefing." Bates, "reluctantly agreed to appear at the behest of Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who arranged the session after new disclosures that the court had granted the government broad access to millions of Americans’telephone and Internet communications.
The two-hour meeting on June 13 featuring Bates and two top spy agency officials — prompted by reports days earlier by The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper about the vast reach of the programs — reflects a new and uncomfortable reality for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and its previously obscure members."
The good news where all our interests are aligned (this isn't a left or right issue, this isn't about Democrat or Republican) is, "Members of Congress from both parties are pursuing legislation to force the court’s orders into the open and have stepped up demands that the Obama administration release at least summaries of the court’s opinions."
"Walton, who took over as chief earlier this year, issued an order last month demanding that the Obama administration respond to a request from a civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for the release of a classified ruling in which the court found that the government had engaged in unconstitutional surveillance of Americans. The court has even taken the rare step over the past two weeks of creating a public docket Web page featuring the Electronic Frontier Foundation case as well as a separate, new motion brought by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union seeking records of the phone surveillance program."
CIVIL RIGHTS 101 FROM MY PERSPECTIVE:
"It is a fair summary of constitutional history that the landmarks of our liberties have often been forged in cases involving not very nice people." -Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.
Protection of civil liberties and civil rights is perhaps the most fundamental political value in American society. That is what I believe will UNITE us all in the future (sooner than many of you might believe given the speed at which all of our Civil Rights are being violated) and why I believe the Founding Fathers codified them in the Bill of Rights. And yet, as former Justice Frankfurter explained in the quote above, the people who test liberties and rights in our courts are not always ideal citizens.
What is the difference between a liberty and a right? Both words appear in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The distinction between the two has always been blurred, and today the concepts are often used interchangeably, especially when words and definitions are so easily changed to suit political agendas. However, they do refer to different kinds of guaranteed protections for ALL OF US. Again, this is not left or right, Republican or Democratic, so this is something about which all of us should be able to come together and agree around the importance of protecting Civil Rights. If I lose my Civil Right to profess my Christian faith, are you then ready to lose your Civil Right to profess your belief in same sex marriage?
Civil liberties are protections AGAINST government actions. For example, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the right to practice whatever religion they please. Government, then, cannot interfere in an individual's freedom of worship. Amendment I gives the individual "liberty" from the actions of the government to prevent ANYONE from practicing ANY religion, whether I vehemently disagree with them or not, like the Westboro Baptist Church. Regardless of whether I personally find their ideology reprehensible, I have to agree to defend their right to practice their religion (within the law) and I expect the same liberty in reverse.
Civil rights, in contrast, refer to positive actions of government should TAKE to create EQUAL conditions for ALL Americans. The term "civil rights" is often mistakenly associated with the protection of minority groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and women, but the language of equality for all is an important condition. The government counterbalances the "majority rule" tendency in a democracy that often finds minorities outvoted.
The overwhelming majority of court decisions that define American civil liberties are based on the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791. Civil liberties protected in the Bill of Rights may be divided into two broad areas: freedoms and rights guaranteed in the First Amendment (religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition) and liberties and rights associated with crime and due process. Civil rights are also protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects violation of rights and liberties by the state governments.
Protection of civil liberties and civil rights is basic to American political values, but the process is far from easy. Protecting one person's right can potentially involve violating those of another. How far should the government go to take "positive action" to protect minorities? The answers often come from individuals who brush most closely with the law, whose cases help to continually redefine American civil liberties and rights.
For most hard working Americans, we've been out there focused on our job, building our businesses, raising our kids, being involved in our communities and generally believing that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were safe and secure. We are waking up to a very different reality, and this is what unites us towards a common cause. Some of us this awakening came long ago, some within just the past few weeks because of the myriad scandals and revelations about things which just months ago were unthinkable and rejected as conspiracy theory.
Again, this isn't a Party issue because Former National Security Agency analyst Russ Tice, a Bush-era whistle-blower, recently made startling claims that the federal government’s wiretap endeavors targeted high-ranking government officials, including military officials, lawmakers and diplomats including President Obama.
What I find most interesting right now is the somewhat parallel legal claims being pursued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their request for the release of a classified ruling in which the court found that the government had engaged in unconstitutional surveillance of Americans and the ACLU who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government surveillance program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans from U.S. telecommunications companies.
Do you believe your Civil Rights are being violated by the government surveilling your personal phone records, emails or any other communication without any connection or claim of involvement with a terrorist organization or any wrongdoing whatsoever? If you believe your personal Civil Rights have been violated by the actions of the government, what action are you willing and capable of doing to obtain your 1st Amendment Right to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances?
Chief Justice Roberts himself signaled some discomfort with the system during his 2005 confirmation hearings.
“I’ll be very candid,” he told senators. “When I first learned about the FISA court, I was surprised. It’s not what we usually think of when we think of a court. We think of a place where we can go, we can watch, the lawyers argue, and it’s subject to the glare of publicity. And the judges explain their decision to the public and they can examine them. That’s what we think of as a court.”