FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley points out that last week's raids on anti-war and solidarity activists in Chicago and Minneapolis came just days after a "scathing review" by the Justice Department's inspector general, which slammed the agency's post 9/11 "terrorism investigations" of peace and social justice groups.
The FBI is conducting a "war on dissent, rather than terrorism," she writes.
The IG report apparently "gave no pause to the FBI," which is "continuing to do more of the same," Rowley writes.
The FBI's "anti-terrorist" activities highlighted by the report (which covers 2002 to 2006) included investigations of pacifist groups such as Catholic Workers, Quakers and the Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh. Environmental and animal rights groups were put on terrorist watch lists.
The report reveals "shameful red-baiting at its worst," editorialized the Boston Globe, which argued that the net effect of the FBI's activities was to stifle dissent.
It's "a reminder of how easily civil liberties can be cast aside during suspicious frenzies," wrote the New York Times in its editorial column, noting cases in the report where the FBI "trumped up routine civil disobedience violations" as "potential terrorism."
And with federal officials commenting on the newest raids repeatedly referring to an "ongoing criminal case" and "a law enforcement investigation," it's worth noting that the IG report revealed that FBI Director Robert Mueller gave false information to Congress when he testified that surveillance of the Merton Center was "an outgrowth of an FBI investigation."
Instead, as the Globe noted, it was a "make-work assignment" on a "slow day."
The raids are being taken as a sign that the FBI is eager to exploit the huge opening afforded by a Supreme Court decision in June that found that a law banning "material support" for designated terrorist organizations could legally prohibit speech and advocacy - even advocacy in support of human rights and international law.
The court overruled repeated findings by lower courts that the law's provisions restricting speech are unconstitutional.
"For the first time ever, the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment permits the criminalization of pure speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity," wrote David Cole, Georgetown professor and attorney for the Humanitarian Law Project in the case.
He points out that by advising Hezbollah and other groups on election procedure, as he did in Lebanon last year, former President Jimmy Carter arguably committed a crime punishable by 15 years in prison, under the Supreme Court ruling. (Indeed, Carter spoke out against the ruling.)
Under the new "material support" interpretation, anti-apartheid and solidarity activists in the 1980s could have been subject to harassment and prosecution, as National Lawyers Guild 's Bruce Nestor points out. (NLG has opened a hotline and issued a know-your-rights guide for activists harassed by the FBI.)
Back then, U.S. activists communicated and worked with the African National Congress and the FMLN of El Salvador, both considered terrorist groups by the State Department -- while the U.S. government actively or tacitly backed large-scale, brutal repression by the existing governments of South Africa and El Salvador. Today, with repressive apparatuses dismantled, both the ANC and the FMLN are governing their nations through fair and free elections.
In 1991 a federal judge ruled that multiple FBI investigations of the Chicago chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, based on unsubstantiated charges of "terrorist" activities, violated the 1981 consent decree in the Chicago Red Squad case. That decree barred investigations of activities protected by the First Amendment. (It was vacated last year.)
If the FBI is serious about investigating material support for terrorism - and not cracking down on domestic dissent - they could raid the corporate offices of Coca-Cola. Several union leaders have been killed and hundreds of union members at Coke bottling plants in Colombia have been detained and tortured by paramilitaries working with plant management, according to the labor-backed Campaign to Stop Killer Coke.
Such a focus on real material support for terrorism by the FBI is not likely, alas, since earlier last month the State Department certified Colombia is "making progress" on human rights ("though there continues to be a need for improvement," the department reported to Congress, mentioning the small problem of impunity for human rights violations) -- and thus worthy of $30 million in military aid for fiscal year 2011.
This despite a recent report from the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the U.S. Office on Columbia showing that Colombian army units receiving U.S. aid "allegedly kill more civilians and frame the deaths as combat kills," as Global Post reports. This gets them "job perks and promotions."
Extrajudicial killings of civilians surged significantly in regions that received the largest increases in U.S. aid, the human rights groups found.
Talk about material support for terrorism. That's our tax dollars at work, friends.
From the Palmer Raids through McCarthyism and COINTELPRO and on to today, the FBI has policed and suppressed political dissent. The September 24 raids are just the opening chapter in the latest episode.
A dozen or so activists have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on October 5. There, as Nestor points out, they'll "have to answer questions: Who do you know? Who do you talk to? What do you think? And if you don't answer them you can sit in jail for 4 or 6 or 8 or 18 months until the grand jury term ends."
It's "an attempt by the federal government to criminalize anti-war organizing," writes Ron Jacobs at Counterpunch. The Grand Jury Resistance Project has called on the government "to end the use of grand juries as a political tool to suppress political dissent."
It's "a declaration of war on the activist left, in which grand juries are deployed as omnibus weapons of political persecution under an infinitely expandable anti-terrorism rationale," writes Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report. "The constitutional lawyer in the White House has tossed the founding document into the National Security State shredder."
The newly-formed Chicago Committee Against Political Repression has called a rally and vigil at the Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn, for October 5 from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. The national Committee to Stop FBI Repression says there will be rallies that day in dozens of cities.
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