Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties

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The War on Our Civil Liberties
Directed byNonny de la Peña
Produced byNonny de la Peña
Robert Greenwald (Executive Producer)
Earl Katz (Executive Producer)
Written byNonny de la Peña
Narrated byJames Hanes
Music byMichael Brook
CinematographyBestor Cram
Jennifer Lane
Edited byJoe Bini
Greg Byers
Distributed byPublic Interest Pictures
Release date
  • October 5, 2004 (2004-10-05)
Running time
66 minutes
CountryUnited States

Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties is an American 2004 political documentary about the legal problems with the PATRIOT Act.[1] It posits that the law, hastily passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks,[2] is used to justify a variety of abuses of civil rights that are guaranteed by the US Constitution.[3]

This third and final film in the Un-trilogy from Executive Producer Robert Greenwald[4] and Earl Katz, is a Public Interest Pictures Film. Unconstitutional was written, produced and directed by Nonny de la Peña.[5]


A few weeks after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States Congress passed a complicated and controversial[3] law purportedly designed to help with tracking future terrorist threats.[6] Unconstitutional's purpose is to explain the USA PATRIOT Act to its viewers and expose its alleged failings.[7]

Primary among these is the way in which post-9/11 law enforcement detained Muslims and others with Arabic names for unspecified lengths of time without due process or criminal charges.[7] As examples of this, Unconstitutional presents the stories of Safouh Mamoui, a Syrian living in Seattle, who was arrested without charges and imprisoned for ten months after the FBI cleared him of suspicion;[5][7] Jose Padilla, a US citizen and Muslim convert, who was arrested as a “material witness” in the 9-11 attacks, and later designated an “enemy combatant” so he could be kept behind bars by the military in the absence of evidence or charges;[7] and Aquil Adbullah, an American Catholic Olympic athlete who was put on the no-fly list as a result of his Arabic name.[3] The film claims at least 1000 lesser-known people have been similarly abused.[5] It also addresses the situation of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay[3] and Abu Ghraib.[7]

De la Pena also looks into other PATRIOT Act violations of civil liberties. Among these are government access to any citizen’s library records or email and FBI “sneak and peek” search and seizure of private property.[7]

Unconstitutional suggests that American citizens might find themselves affected by the PATRIOT Act, even without any connection to terrorist activity.[7][6] Law professor David Cole also points out that “when we treat others like this in the name of fighting a war... others fighting us can treat our soldiers like this.”[4]

The film makes its arguments through an “army of talking heads,”[8] including civil liberties advocates, Republican lawmakers,[7] Democratic politicians, bi-partisan lawyers,[6] and some of the individuals who have been impacted by this law.


Though Unconstitutional presents information from both conservative and progressive interviewees, it has generally been characterized as possessing a left-leaning viewpoint.[7][2] According to the New York Post, the film is “preaching strictly to the converted;”[8] however, the film was a Washington Post “Editor’s Pick.”[9] More sympathetic reviewers call it a “66-minute incitement to anger”[6] that “sheds light on discrimination.”[7]



  1. ^ "Unconstitutional: the War on Our Civil Liberties". Fandango. 2004.
  2. ^ a b DelVecchio, Rick (15 October 2004). "Berkeley: Film Festival has a political bent, featuring final part in trilogy about Bush". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  3. ^ a b c d Krust, Kevin (8 October 2004). "3 documentaries lambast Bush team". The Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ a b Akrum, Nora (15 October 2004). "Cinematic Convergence: The 11th Annual Austin Film Festival". The Austin Chronicle.
  5. ^ a b c Martel, Ned (1 October 2004). "Attempts to Sort Out and Make Sense of History". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c d Jane, Ian (26 October 2004). "Unconstitutional- The War on Civil Liberties". DVD Talk.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Devine, Dan (24 November 2004). "Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties". PopMatters.
  8. ^ a b Lumenick, Lou (1 October 2004). "Viet War Documentary Pumps Up Kerry". New York Post.
  9. ^ "Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties". The Washington Post.

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