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Activists denounce FBI ‘fishing expedition’

Community leaders will join lawyers and subpoenaed activists at a press conference at the Dirksen Building tomorrow at 4 p.m.

Veteran anti-apartheid activist Prexy Nesbitt, SEIU Local 73 president Christine Boardman, and Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey will join representatives of Chicago’s Arab-American and Puerto Rican communities speaking in support of anti-war and solidarity activists subpoenaed to appear before a federal grant jury tomorrow.

Of nine activists called to testify tomorrow, six are Arab-Americans and the remaining three are Palestine solidarity activists (see previous post for more). In a statement, the subpoenaed activists said, “We will not take part in this fishing expedition.” One of them, Maureen Murphy, called the grand jury investigation “an attempt to criminalize solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Fitzgerald to be ‘subpoenaed’; FBI infiltration revealed

Marking Martin Luther King’s birthday by recalling the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of the civil rights leader, local students will deliver a “people’s subpoena” to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tomorrow morning, calling for an end to a federal investigation of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis.

“Fitzgerald is leading the outrageous political witchhunt against antiwar activists, international solidarity activists, and Palestinian-Americans, in an attempt to intimidate and criminalize those who speak out against U.S. foreign policy,” said Chapin Gray of the UIC chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.

Members of local SDS chapters, Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul and UIC, and others will  deliver the subpoena at the Dirksen Federal Building on Friday, January 14 at 9 a.m.

Three DePaul students who are active in Students for Justice in Palestine are among nine activists, most of them Palestinian-Americans, who have been subpoened to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on January 25.  One of them, Sarah Smith, will speak on Sunday (January 16, 2 p.m.) at Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington, on the topic, “Can Travel Be Criminal?”

The three students traveled to Israel and Palestine last summer; a statement from Smith is posted on the website of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

The new subpoenas are on top of 14 issued in September (see previous post for background) when activists’ homes were raided in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere.

Details of investigation

The students’ “street theater” subpoenaing of Fitzgerald comes two days after a press conference in Minneapolis where subpoenaed activists revealed they’ve learned “in conversations with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago” that a law enforcement agent known to them as Karen Sullivan infiltated the Anti-War Committee of Minneapolis and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Video of the press conference is available at Twin Cities Indymedia Center.

At the press conference, Jess Sundin of AWC said it  appears that Fitzgerald’s investigation is focused on small donations to the daycare and women’s center projects of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

“It appears the only thing they’re suggesting could have been criminal is this fundraising for the women’s union,” Joe Iosbaker, a target of the September raids, told Newstips.  “That’s the crime.”

“We were very open about our work to support the UPWC,” said Sundin in Minneapolis. The group “is registered with the Palestinian Authority and is not illegal under Israeli or international law,” she said.  It works for women’s equality and provides basic social services, she said.

Sundin said that Sullivan infiltrated AWC prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis – AWC organized antiwar protests during the convention – and subsequently became very active with the group, chairing meetings, representing AWC in local and national coalitions, and for the past year helping with bookkeeping.

“She had full access to membership lists, financial information, and decision making,” said Sundin.  “If there were any criminal activity happening here, agent Sullivan would have known about it.”  She added: “The only crimes committed here were the abuse of our rights by Karen Sullivan herself.”

Instead, “lacking any evidence to charge anyone with a crime, today people are being dragged through an intimidating grand jury process, which is a fishing expedition.,” said Sundin.

Looking for names

Iosbaker said that in inventories of materials seized in the raid on his home, “the single main thing they took were pieces of paper with names, phone numbers and email addresses.”

Speaking on Democracy Now in December, former FBI agent Mike German said the subpoenas mainly focused on “associational information…address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials – First Amendment [protected] materials.

“So that creates a huge chill beyond these activists and their associates to the entire advocacy community,” said German, who is now security policy counsel for the ACLU.

“It damages our democracy because people start to be afraid of participating in the political process,” he said.

Also on Democracy Now, local activist Maureen Clare Murphy noted the “irony” of a federal investigation of activists who have often protested at federal buildings and written to federal officials.

“We’ve been very vocal and public in our calls for a more just U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, so I don’t think the government needs to subpoena us to find out what we believe and what we do,” she said. “So that’s why we think this is really about trying to intimidate and silence our movement.”

Murphy, one of the nine subpoenaed for January 25, is managing editor of Electronic Intifada and active with the Palestine Solidarity Group.  She’s posted a statement at the Middle East project of the Nation Institute.

Electronic Intifada has noted that grand juries have become “a tool of political inquisition” in recent decades and called the current investigation “part of a broad attack on the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements and a threat to all of our rights.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, former FBI agent Colleen Rowley pointed out that protections were put in place to guard against political spying following revelations of widespread surveillance and disruption of progressive movements by the FBI under COINTELPRO, including actions against Martin Luther King.  But the safeguards were lifted following the attacks of September 11, 2001, she said.

“Those were the standards I operated on doing domestic terrorism investigations, and I found they were very helpful,” German commented  “It helped me focus on people who were actually doing bad things rather than people who were saying things that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with….

“After 9/11 these standards have been diluted significantly to where the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start and investigation….

“Your innocence doesn’t protect you any more.  They can literally start collecting information on anybody.”

The FBI and MLK

Under COINTELPRO, Martin Luther King was subjected to wiretaps, burglaries, harassment by poison pen letters and stories planted in newspapers by the FBI.  And after he criticized the FBI — he said the bureau’s civil rights investigations were hampered by the predominance of white segregationists in its southern offices – the group he headed, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was infiltrated.

ADD 1-14-11

According to CNN, tens of thousands of FBI documents show “the fanatical zeal with which the FBI tracked King” and “spell out in detail the government agency’s concerted efforts to derail King’s efforts on behalf of civil rights.”

After King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, an FBI memo cited by CNN called him “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country,” and FBI department heads met to discuss ways of “neutralizing King” – “without embarrassment to the Bureau.”

Historians including King biographer David Garrow (also author of “The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr.”) dismiss charges of goverment involvement in King’s assassination, as did a 2000 Department of Justice investigation.  An earlier House Select Comittee on Assassinations found the “likelihood of a conspiracy.”  And in 1999, a jury in a civil trial brought by the King family found there was a conspiracy involving “government agencies.”

Evidence brought by the King family in that trial – which generated almost no media coverage – suggested involvement by the FBI and military intelligence in planning and covering up King’s assassination.

Among the witnesses was former Representative Walter Fauntroy, who chaired the House Select Committee and testified that the committee was denied access to FBI files on the assassination.

One of the few reporters who covered the trial published an extensive report in Probe Magazine in 2000.

In 2004, Rev. Jesse Jackson told Democracy Now:  “I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.”

It is known that a year and a half after King’s assassination, the FBI helped plan the assassination of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.  An FBI infiltrator provided local police with a sketch of Hampton’s apartment, and it’s believed he drugged Hampton earlier in the evening.  The informer received a bonus and commendation from the FBI after Hampton’s killling.

Following King’s assassination in 1968, the FBI maintained surveillance on Coretta Scott King until 1972.

U.S. Palestinian conference spotlights alternative voices

Perspectives often neglected in media coverage of Israel-Palestine peace talks — and concerns about attacks on civil liberties here — will be highlighted at a national conference of Palestinian Americans this weekend in the Chicago area, which is home to the largest Palestinian population in the nation.

Haneen Zoabi

The Second Popular Palestine Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, opens Friday night at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca with a performance by world-renowned oud master and composer Marcel Khalife.

Keynote speakers (Saturday evening) include Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, and Attalah Hanna, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.

Zoabi, the first woman elected to the Knesset on an Arab party list, was on the ship that was was attacked by Israeli forces in May while carrying humanitarian aid and challenging the blockade of Gaza.

(In reports today, Israeli police denied charges that Zoabi was deliberately targeted with rubber bullets during a counterdemonstration against a march by rightwing settlers on the West Bank on Wednesday.)

Journalist Ghassan Ben Jiddo will host a live broadcast of Al Jazeera’s “Hiwar Mufta” (“Open Dialogue”) program from the conference Saturday at 5:45 p.m.

USPCN has called the Palestinian Authority leadership unrepresentative and criticized it for abandoning demands for a “right to return” for Palestinian refugees.

Noting that PA leaders’ electoral terms expired last year, local activist Hatem Abudayyeh said “the Palestinian Authority does not represent us” with a strategy of “negotiating for little, disconnected pieces of the West Bank.”  While the PLO once included a broad range of Palestinian organizations, the PA “now represents a tiny sector of a tiny part of the West Bank,” said Adubayyeh, a national committee member of USPCN.

He said this weekend’s conference will have participation from “all sectors of Palestinian society.”  A 2008 national conference in Chicago by the same group drew 1,000 participants.

A number of workshops and assemblies will address issues of civil liberties and political and personal attacks on Muslims and Arabs – including an FBI raid in September that targeted Abudayyeh and other local solidarity activists.

Local attorneys Jim Fennerty, Ora Schub, and Stan Willis will join local human rights activist Alejando Molina in a workshop on the raids on Saturday afternoon.

Abudayyeh, who is executive director of the Arab American Action Network here, called the raids “a continuation of three decades of a policy of repression against people who do work challenging U.S. policy on Palestine, Iraq, or other issues affecting the Arab and Muslim world.”

The U.S. Attorney withdrew subpoenas against 14 activists after they refused to testify.  Supporters are calling on the Obama administration and the U.S. Attorney to drop the investigation, which has been characterized as an attack on dissent.

The FBI’s ‘war on dissent’

[UPDATED 10-1-10]   FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley points out that last Friday’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 at Huffington Post.

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, tacitly or actively, 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.

Geoghegan: Learning from Europe

Of course, many Americans aren’t receptive to the notion that anyone else could do anything better.  And the charge of “European socialism” has often been flung at the middle-of-the-road Obama administration, which appears to be terrified by it.

But really – health care, transportation, taxation, labor standards, media policy, not to mention foreign relations, military budgets, and promoting manufacturing – don’t they do it better?  Could it have to do with the growth of labor parties following the defeat of fascism there, at a time when progressives were subjected to witch hunts here?  European social democracy, or what remains of it, is dedicated to capitalism with a human face.  America, let’s face it, not so much.

Tom Geoghegan talks about this – surely some of us can find it within ourselves to listen – in his new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, which gets a launch party Friday, August 6 at 5:30 p.m. in the Skylight Room of the Dan Haus German Cultural Center, 4740 N. Western.

(Here’s our review of a previous Geoghegan book, which we liked a lot.)

Report from Honduras

With the killing of journalists in Honduras the subject of a recent report – part of the emergence of death squads since the massive military repression which followed last year’s coup has ended – a delegation of human rights activists who visited Honduras last month holds a report back session Friday, August 6 at 8 p.m. at Decima Musa, 1901 S. Loomis.

The group travelled throughout the country and met with political prisoners, campesinos, indigenous leaders, human rights advocates, and a respected independent Catholic journalist who has received several death threats.

Honduras: “Impunity” in journalist killings

The murder of journalists is going uninvestigated in post-coup Honduras, creating “a climate of lawlessness that is allowing criminals to kill journalists with impunity,” according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Meanwhile local activists who travelled to Honduras to observe protests on the one-year anniversary of the coup on June 28 met with a Honduran journalist who visited Chicago in March, and who has received numerous death threats.

The CPJ report looks at the killing of seven journalists between March 1 and the middle of June this year, most of them “clearly assassinations carried out by hit men.”  It identifies motives related to the journalists’ work in several cases.

A New York Times article on the CPJ report mentions an official truth commission investigating the coup.  You have to read In These Times to learn that human rights groups are sponsoring an alternative truth commission.

The official truth commission is restricted to issues surrounding the coup itself, and is not charged with looking into human rights violations, according to Victoria Cervantes of La Voz de los de Abajo, a local solidarity group.  Only the alternative commission is investigating the killings, abductions, and torture that have followed in the wake of the coup, she said.

There is continuing “death squad-type activity” that is “very targeted, very deliberate, very specific,” Cervantes said.  And “there is no investigation, no action.  There is total, absolute impunity for violence against journalists and against resistance activists.”

Cervantes was part of the La Voz delegation in June, consisting of a dozen human rights activists, mainly from Chicago.  She said that despite violence, the movement resisting the coup continues to organize, forming neighborhood committees and assemblies in Tegucigalpa and other cities.

At least 100,000 Hondurans marched in protest on June 28, the anniversary of the coup, she said.  (See Kari Lydersen’s report from Honduras on the anniversary protest at In These Times.) In addition to demonstrations in smaller cities, protestors in the countryside blocked highways for hours, she said.

The Chicagoans visited Father Ismael Moreno (known as Father Melo), director of Radio Progreso in a small northern city.  The Jesuit priest has received several death threats – including a call on his cell phone telling him his head would be cut off – and no longer travels alone or at night, Cervantes said.

Moreno visited Chicago in March (see previous post).

Reports from the La Voz delegation are at the Honduras Resist blog.

Last month 27 members of Congress, including Representatives Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, and Jan Schakowsky, wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling on the State Department to investigate continuing human rights violations in Honduras (pdf).

The letter notes that nine journalists have been killed and others “have been tortured, kidnapped, and suffered death threats.”

Far from pressing for human rights improvements, the U.S. has been pushing for reinstatement of Honduras’s membership in the Organization of American States, which was suspended after the coup.

Cervantes said an OAS vote slated for this week may be postponed because other Latin American countries continue to oppose reinstatement.

Elephant sculpture on parade

Nomkhubulwane, a life-size elephant sculpture made of recycled truck tires by a South African artist – with the goal of catalyzing a conversation about  our changing relationship with the natural world – is in Chicago through July 30.

Sculptor Andries Botha will be in Chicago for the coming week and has several educational activities scheduled.

This Saturday, June 12, at 10 a.m., Botha will be joined by singer/songwriter Claudia Schmidt and Chicago artist David Csicsko for an interactive arts program for children at IIT’s Crown Hall, 34th and State, where the elephant has been located for the past two weeks.

On Tuesday, June 15 at 7 p.m., Botha will discuss “public intellectuals and public space” at the University of Chicago, 1100 E. 57th, joined by Theaster Gates, director of arts programming for the university.

Friday, June 18, at 11:30 a.m., Botha will be joined by Vance Martin of the WILD Foundation, a global organization focused on wilderness conservation, for a lecture titled, “Can We Live Without the Elephant?”  That’s at Rice Hall in the Field Museum.  (Pre-registration for the lecture, at, includes free admission to the museum.)

Nomkhubulwane moves to Merchandise Mart Sunday for next week’s Neocon design show, and on to the Field Museum on Thursday.  The sculpture, one of 17 created by Botha, began its journey to North America with a visit to Mexico for the World Wildlife Conference last September.  Its Chicago stay is organized by Imagine Chicago.

As the largest land mammal, the elephant “represents the power and vulnerability of the environment,” Botha has said.  His sculptures “represent the world of nature from which we have removed ourselves and for which we increasingly yearn.”  Kids like them, too.

The goal of Botha’s Human Elephant Foundation is to foster “collaborative conversations that bring about a more supportive relationship with a planet in crisis.”

“As the world becomes increasingly populated and territorial, threats to both elephants and humans increase.”

The world’s elephant population has dropped from between 5- and 10-million a hundred years ago to roughly 500,000 today.  Some African elephant populations are stable but some are threatened by illegal poaching; Chad’s elephant population has dropped from 300,000 to 10,000 since 1970.  Despite a 21-year ban on the ivory trade, there’s been “a dramatic surge in illegal trafficking since 2005,” according to AFP.

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