Protests continue over FBI raids, new subpoenas of peace activists

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CHICAGO - Alarmed by the blatant fishing expedition and government intimidation of antiwar activists, more than 100 protesters held an emergency picket line at the Dirksen Federal Building here on Dec. 6. The picket line was called after hearing three more peace and justice activists were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury seeking evidence of "material support for terrorism."

According to the recent Supreme Court ruling, "material support" could include giving legal advice or other nonviolent and lawful services.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has condemned the laws and says "these material support provisions violate the First Amendment as they criminalize activities like distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy and donating cash and humanitarian assistance, even when this type of support is intended only to promote lawful and nonviolent activities."

"We know this is just an attack on the peace movement," said attorney James Fennerty. "These people go and visit Non Governmental Organizations who are funded by the United Nations and some countries in Europe. What's the crime in that?"

Fennerty warned the subpoenas are a threat to the First Amendment and freedom of speech and association.

Many of those subpoenaed are involved with the Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago, Students for a Democratic Society, the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Colombia Action Network, Fight Back! newspaper, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera.

Sarah Smith, 24 years old, was one of the new activists subpoenaed to testify about a trip she took last summer to Israel and the Occupied Territories. While a high school student, Smith was recognized by Crain's Chicago Business as one of the city's 100 most influential women for her desire to travel widely and deep curiosity in other cultures.

Her father, Stan, read a statement she wrote in which she recounted her trip, the aim of which was to get a first hand view of life in the Occupied Territories. Smith, who is Jewish, went with two Palestinian sisters from Chicago, both of whom were also subpoenaed.

"You'd think that Palestinians and Jews going to Israel and the Occupied Territories would be something the Administration would be encouraging," she wrote. "Instead we are now being ordered to appear before a Grand Jury."

Stan Smith angrily denounced the subpoenas and called upon authorities to apologize to his daughter.

"It is indeed a sad occasion when people can't get together to protest without being threatened with a subpoena, said Matt Brandon, secretary-treasurer of  Service Employees International Union Local 73, who delivered solidarity greetings on behalf of the union. "It once was the labor movement; it once was the Civil Rights movement. And now it's the peace movement. It's any movement where all people come together."

"We believe in equal rights for all. SEIU will not stand by and watch as people are targeted, dragged from their homes and their belongings are searched and seized. We'll be with you until the end." he said.

In addition to SEIU, those subpoenaed have received hundreds of messages of support and donations from unions, community, religious, peace and justice organizations. Delegations have visited members of Congress, some who are outraged by the raids and subpoenas.

Stephanie Weiner, who along with her husband, Joe Iosbaker, had their house raided by FBI agents in September, and were then subpoenaed. She reiterated the new subpoenas were aimed at frightening, intimidating and dividing the peace and justice movement. She said those subpoenaed were not just active in the peace movement, but included labor and community activists.

Speaking on behalf of the The Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Weiner urged supporters to contact their elected officials, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and condemn the use of the grand jury to repress the anti-war and solidarity movements. Fitzgerald's telephone number is 312-353-5300.

On Dec. 9, two more activists were subpoenaed, bringing the total to 19 who have been called before a grand jury since September. The activists, who have a history of engaging in solidarity with the people of Colombia and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, have all said they will refuse to testify. They now risk being jailed for the life of the grand jury, even though none have yet been charged with any crime.

Photo: (John Bachtell/PW)

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  • These assaults on common decency and the constututional rights to freedom to peacefully associate and freedom of speech must be opposed by progressives everywhere. An injury to one is an injury to all.

    Posted by Ron Johnson, 12/26/2010 7:05pm (4 years ago)

  • This is sounding more and more familiar! In San Antonio certain organizations and marches have to pay to use our own streets for peaceful protests namely the International Women's March, the Cesar Chavez March while the Spurs, MLK March (now sponsored by the City of San Antonio, because it promotes a particular view of the City) do not. We have taken to mobilize enough people and just take over the streets without a permit!
    Whose Streets? Our Streets!
    This is what democracy looks like!

    Posted by Laura Parra Codina, 12/20/2010 12:44am (4 years ago)

  • This harrassment of the peace movement by the forces of reaction brings to mind the worst features of the cold war. Dragging innocent people before grand juries is reminiscent of the HUAC and the attack on progressive movements must be opposed by all of us.

    Posted by Ron Johnson, 12/19/2010 5:25pm (4 years ago)

  • Why aren't progressives calling President Obama to account on this matter? Does he support this kind of prosecution/persecution? Or has he lost control of his government?

    Posted by John Whiskey, 12/13/2010 5:37pm (4 years ago)

  • It is unlikely that we will ever recover from the 8 Bush years. It seems more and more probable that the Republicans will regain the Senate and the White House in 2012. If they do, we will be in for a nightmare of such policies described in this article.

    I am afraid for the future of this country. The Republicans are no friends of liberty and justice for all.

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 12/13/2010 11:10am (4 years ago)

  • What can we (ordinary citizenS) DO?

    Please give us names, email addresses, postal addresses, telephone numbers...

    Posted by Lynn Biddle, 12/12/2010 9:13pm (4 years ago)

  • Since 9/11 the Bush/Cheney war mongers have fought tirelessly to usurp the rights of American citizens as they uncaringly seek to destroy other countries for Greed and Oil Money! The FBI has become the worst enemy of the American People and if not reined in , Land of the Free will no longer apply as a Motto!

    Posted by Georga Grivois, 12/11/2010 2:22pm (4 years ago)

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