Washington Backs Off Case Targeting Peace Movement
liberties groups Tuesday hailed the withdrawal of subpoenas issued
last week to four peace activists by federal prosecutors in Des
Moines, Iowa as a significant victory, but insisted that the government
must explain why they were issued in the first place.
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in particular, wanted to know
why the Justice Department had undertaken such an apparently sweeping
investigation of a recent seminar sponsored by the National
Lawyers Guild (NLG) at Drake University.
the two years since 9/11, we have heard one refrain from the Justice
Department every time the executive branch seeks to arrogate more
power to itself: 'trust us, we're the government,'" said Benjamin
Stone, executive director of the Iowa ACLU. "But if it is going
to be issuing secretive, slapdash subpoenas and then rescinding
them to save face, how can we trust that more expansive surveillance
and investigative powers will be used properly?"
group questioned whether the aborted investigation was designed
to frighten antiwar activists in Iowa and the rest of the nation
and discourage them from taking part in public protests or demonstrations.
initial subpoena was issued by the FBI 's Joint Terrorism Task Force
last Wednesday to Drake University, demanding that it turn over
all records relating to the November 15 seminar, as well as information
about leaders of the NLG's Drake University chapter, the location
of NLG's local offices, its membership rolls, and any annual reports
issued since 2002.
also requested "all records of Drake University campus security
reflecting any observations made of the November 15, 2003 meeting,
including any records of persons in charge or control of the meeting,
and any records of attendees..."
other subpoenas were issued to the former director of the Iowa Peace
Network and members of the Catholic Peace Ministries who had played
a role at the November 15 seminar.
following day, the investigation expanded as prosecutors subpoenaed
a fourth activist to appear before a grand jury, while, at the request
of the Task Force, U.S. District Judge Ronald Longstaff issued a
sealed order that reportedly prohibited Drake University employees
from commenting on its subpoena. The subpoenas were delivered by
a country deputy sheriff attached to the FBI-Joint Terrorism Task
November forum, entitled "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa
Guard Home!" consisted primarily of training in nonviolent
civil disobedience and was reportedly attended by only 21 people.
It was open to the public and even reported by the organizers in
advance to the local police department in the event that officers
wished to attend.
following day, some of those who took part traveled to an Iowa National
Guard base in a nearby town, where they staged a demonstration in
which 12 people were arrested on trespass charges. Citing "federal
authorities," the New York Times reported Tuesday that
one of the group tried to scale the fence at the base, although
the organizers said they did not see such an event.
maintained silence after the subpoenas were issued last week. But,
in the face of growing public protest and consternation and moves
by both the University and the Lawyer's Guild to challenge the subpoenas
in court, they appeared to back away from the investigation this
Monday, they issued a statement insisting that the investigation
was limited to the alleged fence-climbing incident and whether participants
at the Nov. 15 training session had conspired to break the law.
They also insisted that the case was not related to the USA Patriot
Act or any "anti-terrorism" investigation.
also announced that the grand jury appearances of those subpoenaed
had been delayed by a month, while the FBI said the individual who
had delivered the subpoenas may have improperly identified himself
as representing the Joint Task Force.
Tuesday, all subpoenas were withdrawn.
activists welcomed these developments, they said they remained puzzled
and concerned about the case and what the government was pursuing.
any retreat by the Iowa US Attorney," said Stone, "there
remain serious questions about the scope of this particular investigation.
If it was just a trespassing investigation, why seek the membership
records of the National Lawyers Guild? If this was an attempt to
chill protests through the aggressive policing of a run-of-the-mill
crime, we've got a serious problem in America."
Senator Tom Harkin also expressed concern. In a letter to Attorney
General John Ashcroft Tuesday, he called for prosecutors to "be
particularly vigilant about using extraordinary steps in cases when
such a treasured American value as free speech is at stake."
law-enforcement measures are disproportionate to the activities
they target, or when they appear to target activities that are legitimate
expressions of dissent, then those law-enforcement measures have
a chilling effect. They stifle liberty instead of protecting it,"
NLG also recalled that it had been targeted during the McCarthy
period, of which the week's events were an uncomfortable reminder.
"In the 1950s, our members suffered harm from disclosure of
their associational relationship with the Guild," said Heidi
Boghosian, the NLG's national director. "The Guild is in the
business of fighting illegal government activity, and we will fight
to protect our membership information. We will also work to support
and defend the rights of the other activists targeted by the subpoenas."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World