Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Bradley Manning Supporter Sues Government Officials
Bradley Manning Support Network co-founder David House has been cleared by a federal judge to continue with a lawsuit he’s filed against former San Diego schools superintendent and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin, along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.
At issue is a claim by House of surveillance and routine harassment by federal officials since he helped form a legal defense fund for Manning, the soldier suspected of dumping 700,000 confidential military files through the whistleblower site WikiLeaks. Though arrested in May of 2010, Manning has yet to stand trial.
House’s specific charges include allegations that he has been detained every time he’s crossed the U.S. border since September 2010, and has been “grilled about his political beliefs and work for the Bradley Manning Support Network,” according to a report by Courthouse News Service.
House further alleges violations of his First Amendment right to freedom of association and his Fourth Amendment right protecting against unreasonable search and seizure.
On November 3, 2010, House was returning from a vacation in Mexico and landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, intending to catch a connecting flight to Boston. Instead, he was detained by Department of Homeland Security agents Darin Louck and Marcial Santiago, who informed House that he would be missing his flight. They proceeded to seize all electronic devices in his possession, including computer, USB storage drive, video camera, and cell phone, though after a lengthy interrogation he was allowed to reclaim the phone.
House says the devices, which he claims contained several years’ worth of personal data, including the Support Network’s mailing list, donor list, and data relating to fund-raising activities. Agents promised to have the devices, aside from the phone, returned by FedEx within a week.
48 days passed with no action from the government, and House hired a lawyer, who sent a fax demanding the personal property be returned. It was returned the next day. Some months later, House decided to file suit alleging the Constitutional rights violations.
“When the agents questioned House, they did not ask him any questions related to border control, customs, trade, immigration, or terrorism and did not suggest that House had broken the law or that his computer may contain illegal material or contraband,” said U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper in a published opinion allowing the case to proceed. “Rather, their questions focused solely on his association with Manning, his work for the Support Network, whether he had any connections to WikiLeaks, and whether he had contact with anyone from WikiLeaks during his trip to Mexico. ... Thus, the complaint alleges that House was not randomly stopped at the border; it alleges that he was stopped and questioned solely to examine the contents of his laptop that contained expressive material and investigate his association with the Support Network and Manning.”
House’s complaint further alleges that his information was copied and disseminated to other government entities, thus threatening the Support Network’s ability to organize and fund-raise, given that many contributors had expressed wishes to remain anonymous. A similar argument has also been used recently by the National Organization for Marriage, though that group seeks to shield its members from public criticism for their support for laws targeting gays rather than from government harassment.
The circumstances of House’s Chicago detention are also being trumpeted by a group of activists seeking an injunction against the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, dubbed the “Homeland Battlefield” law for a clause allowing the military to detain indefinitely anyone suspected of “substantially supporting” terrorists or “associated forces.”