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Jameel Jaffer

Jameel JafferOld Boy

Lawyer seeks openness and honesty from American government

Jameel Jaffer ’90, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and director of its Center for Democracy, urged a federal judge to stop a United States spy agency’s sweeping collection of telephone data — which it claims violates the constitutional rights of Americans — on Nov. 22.

This is just the latest instance of the Kingston, Ont.-born Old Boy making headlines over the past several years, as his position has put him at the forefront of hot-button topics that have sweeping ramifications around the globe.

Jaffer’s role with the ACLU involves him in issues of national security, human rights, free speech, privacy and technology. He’s advocated on behalf of 9/11 detainees, Guantanamo Bay prisoners and torture victims, and some of his recent work relates to revealing information about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its so-called “targeted killing” program involving unmanned drone strikes that have caused American and other casualties during anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other hot spots.

Jaffer concedes that it’s difficult to predict what major project the ACLU will tackle next, saying, “If someone had told me five years ago that during the Obama administration’s second term we’d be litigating over targeted killing and warrantless wiretapping, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

While Jaffer has lived and worked in the U.S. for several years, he’s still a Canadian citizen and a Canadian Civil Liberties Association board member. He stresses that the causes he’s involved with are applicable in jurisdictions around the world and urges people to “elect political leaders who understand the importance of respecting and protecting civil liberties” and support organizations that defend those liberties.

When Jaffer isn’t drawing respect and praise from friend and foe alike for the preparedness, resolve and oratorical prowess he displays in the courtroom, he’s likely putting similar skills to work as an author.

Jaffer and former ACLU attorney Amrit Singh co-wrote the expansive 2007 book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, a detailed account of what took place in America’s overseas detention centres.

The former articles editor of Harvard Law Review hopes to finish another book, about the transformation of official secrecy and individual privacy in the U.S. since 9/11, by the end of the year.

“The book asks two questions — whether democratic governments know too much about their citizens, and whether citizens know enough about their governments,” concludes Jaffer.