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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.

‘Demilitarize Chicago’

With state and local governments drowning in fiscal crisis across the nation, Mayor Daley recently illuminated the great blindspot of American governance:

“Just think of all the money that we spend on wars to save the world,” he said at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards in February. “Today we can’t save America. Why do we always have to go to war, continually, why can’t we rebuild America?” (See John McCarron’s report in the Tribune.)

While local budget cuts and mass layoffs leave vital human needs unmet and drag down prospects for economic recovery, we spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined.  And discussion of this fact is taboo in ruling circles.

Daley also asked what happened to the anti-war demonstrators – were they just against the wars when George Bush was president?

Well, they’re back (never went away, actually) – the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism is holding its annual protest marking the anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq with a rally at the Federal Plaza (5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 18) followed by a march down Michigan Avenue.

CCAWR, which welcomed Mayor Daley’s “conversion” in February, is calling on the Mayor to follow through by demilitarizing peace marches and schools.  Since 2003, peace marches have faced an intimidating array of hundreds of police officers in full riot gear.  And with ten military academies, open doors for military recruiters, and JROTC in nearly half the high schools, CPS is the most militarized school system in the nation, according to activists.  (See AFSC for more on schools.)

From Roseland to Oslo

In Roseland, the Developing Communities Project – founded in 1986 under the guidance of a young community organizer named Barack Obama, who served as its first executive director – will host school and community leaders for a viewing of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at 1 p.m. at Langston Hughes Elementary School, 103rd and Wentworth.

And at a community event this evening, DCP members will view the ceremony and President Obama’s address, followed by a program calling on a focus on Greater Roseland for youth and community development, jobs and vocational training, and violence prevention (Thursday, December 10, 5:30 p.m. at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th).

They’ll also be celebrating CTA’s approval of the Red Line extension, long advocated by DCP.

Labor against the war

U.S. Labor Against the War holds its national assembly this weekend at the Wyndham O’Hare Hotel, 6810 N. Mannheim in Rosemont, bringing together nearly 200 unions, labor councils, state federations, and local labor antiwar committees.

USLAW issued a statement opposing President Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, noting the Obama “is taking the path LBJ took in Vietnam and it cost him ‘The Great Society.'”

The weekend’s gathering includes a public program Saturday at 7 p.m. featuring Hassan Juma’a Awad, president of the Iraq Oil Workers Union; Rubina Jamil, chair of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation and president of the Pakistan Working Women Organization; and Toni Leon, secretary general of the Venezuelan Union of Oil Industry Workers.

In addition, Iraq Veterans Against the War organizer Aaron Hughes will report on the situation at Fort Hood in Texas since the mass shooting there last month.

Protest escalation in Afghanistan

Saturday is the eighth anniversary of U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and Chicagoans will protest current plans to send an additional 21,000 U.S. troops there — 1 p.m. on October 3 at Harold Washington Park, 53rd and Hyde Park Bvd.  Speakers will include Juan Torres, whose grueling effort to find the truth about his army reservist son’s death in Afghanistan five years ago was recently featured in the Reader.

Militarized schools

A national network of groups opposing the militarization of schools holds a conference this weekend in Chicago — which is considered the most militarized public school system in the nation.

Six CPS high schools are military academies, and Chicago’s Junior ROTC program is the largest in the nation — and students at military academies are twice as likely to join the military after graduation.

The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth conference opens with a Friday night program at AFCS, 637 S. Dearborn, and continues Saturday and Sunday at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan.

Speakers Friday night include Tyler Zabel, an Army National Guard member from Donovan, Illinois, who is seeking conscientious objector status, and UIC professor Pauline Lipman.

Also speaking is Denise Ferrusquia, an alumna of Kelly High School, where she participated in counter-recruitment activity with the school’s social justice club. She also has family members serving with the military in Afghanistan.

Writing recently at Truthout, Senn High School teacher Brian Roa described the presence of Rickover Naval Academy at Senn as an “occupation,” given widespread opposition from the school and community. Extra resources and privileges given to the academy create “a two-tiered system within the same building,” he wrote.

Palafox cited a recent report showing that students at military academies are twice as likely to join the military after graduation.

Mothers Day for Peace

Kristin Lems sings and members of veterans’ families present readings at a celebration of the origins of Mothers Day (in Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers Day Proclamation) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Church and Maple in Evanston.  Sponsored by the North Shore Coalition for Peace, Justice and the EnvironmentAmerican Friends Service Committee, and Code Pink.

Celebrating 100 years of hostelling

An open house Friday night at Hostelling International Chicago in the South Loop celebrates two major anniversaries and highlights the organization’s work supporting tourism — along with a much-expanded local educational role, promoting peace through innovative cultural programs for Chicago area students.

The “Peace, Love and Hostelling House Party” celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the hostelling movement in Europe and the 75th anniversary of the first youth hostel in the U.S. It takes place Friday, May 1, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Harris Family Hostel, 24 E. Congress. Opened in 2000, the hostel has been rated the best large hostel in the world in travelers’ surveys.

There’ll be free food donated by South Loop restaurants, world music spun by a d.j. and improv comedy, along with tours of the 500-bed hostel and information on volunteering there. After the party there will be excursions throughout the city — pub crawls, a jazz outing — like those offered every day by volunteers for hostel guests.

Hosting day and evening excursions is one of the major roles for the hostel’s many volunteers, said Thomas Applegate, executive director of HI-Chicago, which hosts over 85,000 overnight guests a year. Volunteers include current hostel enthusiasts living in Chicago — part of “the backpacking community” — as well as self-described “old-timers” from the days when the local group was an outdoors club, he said. Excursions range from walking tours of downtown and museum visits to “anything a volunteer likes to do.” Honky Tonk Bingo at the Pontiac Cafe in Wicker Park was popular for a long time, he said.

Joining volunteers, staff and travelers Friday will be teachers and high school students from among hundreds who participate in HI-Chicago educational programs over the year. These include neighborhood exchanges, where students (who Applegate says often know more about other countries than other Chicago neighborhoods) get to know more about the culture of their peers in a partner high school, with activities at schools and an overnight at the hostel.

In the Cultural Kitchen program, students choose a country and work in teams to create presentations about it, which they give to hostel guests on a Friday night. They also cook and share a meal from the chosen country with guests, take part in exercises to interact with travelers, and spend the night.

“It’s fascinating to see them engage and get excited about talking to travelers,” Applegate said. “On many levels we offer a travel experience” (minus the distance) for students who may never have stayed away from their families, including many who have never been downtown, he said. “You’re away from home, outside your comfort zone, meeting other people.”

Such programs develop leadership and work to prevent violence by fostering respect for and appreciation of differences, he said. And they “prepare people for life in a very diverse world.” Chicago “is very diverse but at the same time very isolated,” he said. “There are all these cultural pockets.” With HI-Chicago’s educational programs, “We try to get [students] to open up to their neighbors and to the outside world.”

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