Revolution #224, February 6, 2011

Update: The Net Widens in Federal Grand Jury in Chicago

Fishing Expedition against Antiwar and International Solidarity Activists Escalates! Subpoenas Increase to 23!

There have been dramatic new developments in the government's attacks on antiwar and international solidarity activists. September 2010 saw FBI raids on the homes and offices of activists in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and in Chicago. Grand jury subpoenas were issued to 14 people active in the antiwar movement and in building solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian and Colombian people. The government's rubric for these attacks on political activists is an investigation into so-called "material support for foreign terrorist organizations." This is a pretext for a broad and sweeping attempt at political suppression aimed at people who are exposing and opposing the crimes committed by the U.S. in different parts of the world.

In addition to the 14 people who were issued grand jury subpoenas in September, nine more people in Chicago were subpoenaed at the end of 2010, and some were ordered to appear on January 25, 2011. This latest round of subpoenas appears to focus on activists involved in the movement for solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.

One of the newly subpoenaed activists is Maureen Murphy, an organizer with the Palestine Solidarity Group and also the managing editor of the Electronic Intifada website. Another person who had been ordered to appear in January is Sarah Smith, a young Jewish woman from Chicago who traveled with a delegation to Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine along with two friends who were brought up in Chicago, but are of Palestinian descent. These two Palestinian friends have also been subpoenaed.

At a December 22 press conference Michael Deutsch, a prominent Chicago attorney who has spent decades opposing the improper use of the grand jury as an instrument of political repression, called attention to the fact that this has become the most sweeping grand jury investigation aimed at political activists he has witnessed in 40 years. Deutsch based this conclusion on both the numbers of people who've been subpoenaed as well as the breadth and content of what is being gone after by the U.S. Attorney in this case.

All Subpoenaed Witnesses Refuse to Participate in Fishing Expedition

The 14 people who were issued grand jury subpoenas in September informed the U.S. Attorney's office, through their attorneys, that they were asserting their right to remain silent and would not testify before the grand jury. The U.S. Attorney's office responded by withdrawing all those subpoenas, but said nothing about their future intentions. Then, in early November, the U.S. Attorney notified attorneys that three women from Minneapolis (who were among the original 14 who declined to appear) were now being issued new subpoenas to appear before the grand jury.

But this was just the beginning. Throughout November and December, at the direction of the U.S. Attorney, FBI agents delivered a whole new round of subpoenas to nine more people. Some were ordered to appear to testify before the Chicago grand jury on January 25, 2011.

Attorneys for all of the newly subpoenaed activists have now informed the U.S. Attorney that they too are asserting their right to remain silent. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression initiated a call for protest rallies at federal buildings and FBI offices across the country on that date to oppose and resist the issuance of these subpoenas and the grand jury witch hunt. [See article online for more coverage of these demonstrations.]

The three women activists in Minneapolis who were re-issued subpoenas are continuing to refuse to testify before the grand jury or cooperate with the U.S. Attorney. The government could force on them a "limited immunity" from prosecution. Under current law this essentially wipes away their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. When people are given "limited immunity" and then refuse to testify, they can be immediately jailed (without a trial) and held in jail for the life of the grand jury, which can be months—or even years. The government has historically used grand juries not only to go on political witch hunts, but as a means of punishing those who defy their orders to testify.

A Very Serious Attack

The government's pretext for the raids, subpoenas and federal grand jury witch hunt is an investigation into so-called "material support for foreign terrorist organizations. (FTO's)."

The definition of "material support" is being stretched very broadly by the U.S. Supreme Court.1 Even former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has said that the work of his organization, the Carter Center, is threatened by a recent Supreme Court decision. Carter wondered if he could be prosecuted for monitoring elections in Lebanon, since one of the parties in the elections was a group designated as a FTO. In an interview with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights on the Law and Disorder radio show, Deutsch explained that the government's attack is on "protected political work on behalf of solidarity with Palestine or Colombia… We're dealing with advocacy and associations. Despite Holder v. The Humanitarian Law Project we believe that it's totally a violation of the First Amendment and a violation of people's political rights that's going on here."

Not a single person has been charged with any crime over these past months of raids and subpoenas. Add to this the fact that activists have recently revealed that prosecutors conducting the grand jury investigation confirmed the involvement of at least one undercover law enforcement agent who spent two and a half years infiltrating the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis and then later joined Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO).

Jess Sundin, of Minnesota, said in a January 12 press statement that the agent who infiltrated the Anti-War Committee since 2008 had access to their activities, office, bookkeeping records, etc. Sundin makes the point: "Even after two and a half years of this full access, there are no charges against anyone. Instead, nearly two dozen people are being dragged through an intimidating grand jury process, a fishing expedition. If there were truly criminal activity happening here, Agent 'Sullivan' would have known all about it. The only crimes committed here were the abuses of our rights carried out by 'Karen Sullivan' herself." Sundin's home was raided last September.

A Repressive Witch Hunt Widens

During the initial FBI raids huge amounts of political and personal material, cell phones, computers, and contact lists were scooped up indiscriminately. At least one of those whose house was searched said that FBI lists of things seized from her home included items she knows were not in her home. People have been cornered in their homes and offices by agents armed with grand jury subpoenas. These agents have tried unsuccessfully to badger and intimidate people into talking with them.

In the latest round of subpoenas, nothing is said about why people who have received them are being compelled to appear, what laws are involved, what they are being commanded to testify about, or anything else. People are just ordered to appear. This is in itself very unusual.

In the interview on the Law and Disorder radio show Michael Deutsch spoke to the significance of this:

"Well, unlike the first series of subpoenas which did ask for documents to be produced, these subpoenas only talk about coming to testify and it seems to me what's going on now [is]...they are trying to gather information. So it's particularly a fishing expedition in terms of gathering information about people's political work and association.... [They do not] say what it's about. [They] just say you're subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury, January 25. [They don't] even say the statute which they are investigating."

Later in the interview Deutsch drew attention to the blatant trampling on the Constitutional rights connected with this witch hunt:

"'s totally a violation of the First Amendment and a violation of people's political rights what's going on here. One of the things I would mention is that one of the U.S. attorneys said, 'Oh, you know these Freedom Road people [members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization] are Marxists-Leninists. They call each other comrade and they want to overthrow the U.S. government.' This is kind of the underlying tenor of their whole prosecution—to go after people and this organization because of their political ideology.... I've been through all this Grand Jury stuff and this attack. I've never seen something that's so ideological on its face and so broad."

These Attacks Must Be Defeated

As it was analyzed in an earlier article in this newspaper, "In the Age of Obama, Criminalizing Political Opposition to U.S. Aggression and the FBI raids on Anti-war Activists":

There is an irony that all this is being done by the administration of the "constitutional scholar" President, Barack Obama. But the irony is not that the President "forgot" what he once taught at the University of Chicago. It is that many allowed themselves to believe that the wrappings he came in made him fundamentally different than Bush. These raids show the reality of how this system works —no matter who runs it at any given time. When the political representatives of this imperialist system deem it necessary to use the tools of dictatorship—their political police, courts and prisons, in this case—they will not hesitate to violate the democratic precepts marked down in their Constitution....

The cold truth is this: The ruling class, and Obama, do not let rights supposedly guaranteed by law get in the way of what they perceive to be the interests of [U.S.] imperialism. But this does NOT mean that people should not fight for these rights. Far from it. What it does show is that we must struggle all the harder and without illusions against this repression, exposing both the cruel nature of the policies these raids are enforcing (and the interests behind those policies), and the ways in which these raids are totally illegitimate—a violation not only of fundamental rights and of fundamental beliefs of many, many people as to what is just, but of the actual laws as written.

Protests erupted last September when people in 60 cities across the country showed up in front of FBI headquarters and federal buildings in emergency protest rallies. Since then there have been rallies and many other forms of protest nationwide, including statements from progressive religious groups and union resolutions—all condemning the grand jury investigation. The Chicago Teachers Union recently passed such a resolution. Nationwide protests were held on January 25 to coincide with the date those subpoenaed were ordered to appear before the grand jury. This attack by the government must be defeated. The stakes in this are indeed very high.

1. See the article "Holder v Humanitarian Law Project: A Supremely Bad Supreme Court Decision," Revolution #221, October 15, 2010, which discusses the draconian court decision that upheld and strengthened a federal statute granting the government expanded powers to ban and punish what it—the government—deems or defines to be material aid to foreign terrorist organizations. [back]

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