Why I Oppose a Grand Jury Investigation of Anti-War Activists


A contradiction to ponder:

  1. A three-year investigation by the Department of Justice into the CIA operatives who carried out waterboarding, filmed the acts on 2 men, and then destroyed the tapes, ended this past November – with the government deciding not to prosecute anyone. Jason Leopold, in Special Prosecutor Declines to File Criminal Charges Over Destruction of CIA Torture Tapes wrote:It is widely believed that the videotapes were destroyed to cover up torture. It is also believed that the tapes were destroyed because Democratic members of Congress who were briefed about the tapes began asking questions about whether the interrogations were illegal, according to Jane Mayer, author of the book, “The Dark Side” and a reporter for The New Yorker magazine.
  2. A two-year secret federal investigation of the U.S. anti-war movement has been conducted by the Obama administration, apparently with a federal grand jury in Chicago hearing evidence from Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, looking into “possible links between U.S. anti-war groups and foreign terrorist organizations,” according to the Chicago Tribune.  Fitzgerald issued subpoenas beginning in September 2010, delivered via FBI raids to their homes, for activists to appear before the grand jury.  With all the records sealed by court order, it is impossible to know about the scope and intent of the probe.

But knowing what we know about how the “war on terror” has been conducted, one can be suspicious that the aim of the first investigation was to find no crimes, while the aim of the second is to manufacture crimes.

23 anti-war activists have now been targeted by the FBI, many through September raids that confiscated a wide range of personal material. In FBI Raids Anti-War Activists Homes in Midwest, Revolution newspaper reported after the initial raids:

The FBI spokesman in Minneapolis was quoted in the Chicago Tribune, “The warrants are seeking evidence in support of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism.” This was a charge which activists immediately dismissed as illegitimate and unjustified. No arrests have been made and the FBI admitted that there was no “imminent danger” to the public.

9 of the 23 activists have subpoenas compelling them to appear before the grand jury on Tuesday, January 25.  Their profiles and background are posted by The Committee to Stop FBI Repression.  According to the site:

These activists are involved in many groups, including the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. These activists and many others came together to organize the 2008 anti-war marches during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

The Committee’s site continues in a section on Grand Juries:

Some of those targeted have traveled to other countries to understand our government’s role in places like Palestine and Colombia. While there, they met with people to learn about their experience facing brutal repression from U.S. sponsored regimes, and brought their stories back to people in the U.S. Hearing about the reality of U.S. military aid is not a crime, and yet this appears to be the target of this investigation.

The Committee’s demands are:

  • Stop the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists.
  • Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, etc.
  • End the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.

Grand Juries as Politically Repressive Tools

It’s important to know how grand juries are used in political investigations in this country.  Glen Ford, in President Barack “Midnight Raid” Obama: End Your Wars at Home and Abroad writes

Grand juries are places where rights are butchered, and we can clearly see the broad outlines of a mass prosecution strategy unfolding, in which grand juries are the engines of political destruction.

Revolution newspaper gathered resources from the Center for Constitutional Rights in The Grand Jury – The Grand Inquisition and summarizes:

The person who has refused to testify [before a grand jury] can be brought back before the judge and held in what is known as “civil contempt” of the court. Without a trial, the judge can imprison the person for whatever is the length of the grand jury. Grand juries are normally 18 months, but there are special federal grand juries that are empanelled for 36 months, and this can be extended because it is “special.”

Historically, the Justice Department and the FBI have used the subpoena power of the federal grand jury, coupled with compulsory immunity, to jail activists who refuse to cooperate with government investigations. In the 1960s and well into the ’80s, there were many instances of courageous people who refused to testify before grand juries.

Joe Iosbaker, one of those originally subpoenaed said in October,

“We have nothing to say to a Grand Jury. Most people do not understand how secretive and undemocratic the Grand Jury is. I am not allowed to have my lawyer with me. There isn’t even a judge. How strange is that? It is the U.S. prosecutor with 23 people they hand picked to pretty much rubber stamp whatever the prosecutor says. A person is defenseless in that situation.”

Maureen Murphy received a subpoena on December 21 to appear on January 25.  In explaining why she will not testify, she cites the danger not only to the activists in the United States by giving legitimacy to the investigation, but principally to those they could be forced to testify about in other countries

I have no intention to participate in the government’s witch hunt. It is very clear that no crime has been committed and that the government’s motivation in issuing these subpoenas is to have us name the names of other activists not only here in the United States, but also in places like Palestine and Colombia, where many of us have traveled to learn about the human rights situations in those places. We can only assume that the US government shares intelligence with the governments of Israel and Colombia, whose repressive military rule the US bankrolls at the US taxpayer’s expense. And it is essentially a prison sentence or worse for human rights activists in Palestine and Colombia to be singled out and identified in this way. And I have no intention in playing any role in that.

Jess Sundlin, another whose home was raided, said

“If our friends choose not to testify, they could be imprisoned. It could be for months or even years, like in the case of Professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who faced the same prosecutor we face and who was investigated of violating the same law we are confronting. Before he was acquitted of the charges against him, Dr. Ashqar was sentenced to criminal contempt for refusing to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury in Chicago. The punitive sentence against him was more than 11 years. Again, he was acquitted of the crimes the grand jury was investigating.”

Needed: A Wave of Support for Antiwar Resisters

On Tuesday, January 25, The Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and affiliated organizations are holding protests of the grand jury investigation in dozens of cities.  I’ll be in Chicago that day, outside the Federal Building, in support of those refusing to testify.

Jill McLaughlin, in Reality And Morality: Standing Up To Repressive Forces While Standing Up For Humanity expressed the mission of World Can’t Wait in opposing this dangerous and repressive investigation.

We cannot allow these repressive attacks to deter us from righteously opposing and resisting the crimes of our government. We must have courage.

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  1. #1 by Theresa Viselli on January 20, 2011 - 8:36 pm

    Anti-war activists have the right to express their disagreement with the ongoing genocides and illegal and immoral invasions. I strongly oppose the actions of their freedoms being taken away. War criminals should be investigated and charged.

  2. #2 by David Duckworth on January 21, 2011 - 11:33 am

    Under Obama’s hand the Fascists have risen. This is not democracy. This is a police state.

  3. #3 by Robert Palmer, II on January 21, 2011 - 4:40 pm

    A democratic society can not be democratic if expressing differences of opinion regarding social policy is suppressed. Those of us who see a brighter future for our planet if those in power would help turn swords into plowshares have to stand tall and walk the higher road by being creatively expressive of our dissent to the present wars and global assault. The founding fathers expect no less from us.

  4. #4 by Kris E. Orr on January 22, 2011 - 9:57 pm

    A Grand Jury is One of the Ways in Which the Average American can Defend Liberty.A grand jury is one of the ways in which the average American can still fight the power.The existence of theses juries has shown up in history dating back many many centuries.The English can claim holding the first recorded one way back in 1166.. legal system that requires more than the word of the prosecuting attorney in order to bring official charges against a person.The prosecuting attorney has to convince a panel that there exists some form of reasonable suspicion or probable cause against the defendant that mandates pressing charges.Unlike a trial the opposing attorneys are not present as witnesses are questioned because everything is done in a secretive manner.Upon hearing all the evidence the panel will then return either a true bill or no true bill decision true bill meaning they see enough to warrant a full investigation and the pressing of charges and no true bill that there is insufficient cause to press the case further.Jurors are chosen similarly to the way they are chosen for a normal trial.Without the need for presenting their case in front of the grand jury prosecutors would be able to press charges with as little as their word that someone committed a crime.While some may think this slows up the process it is a very important step.

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