A New Fishing Expedition
THREE ANTIWAR activists who were threatened with government subpoenas in late September as part of an investigation into alleged "material support for terrorism" have been notified that they will be forced to testify--or face contempt charges that could keep them in jail for up to a year and a half.
In late September, the FBI raided at least seven homes and one office of Twin Cities and Chicago-area antiwar activists and socialists, including members of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, Students for a Democratic Society, Colombia Action Network and Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
Fourteen activists were served with subpoenas to come before a grand jury and offer testimony relating to possible "material support for terrorism," possibly stemming from solidarity work with activists in Colombia, Palestine and Lebanon.
While the charges remain vague, the government investigation seems to center on whether activists gave unspecified material support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Lebanese Islamic group Hezbollah--all groups on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
But in a courageous move, all 14 announced that they would refuse to testify, citing their Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution. Protests were held in dozens of cities, with hundreds of activists mobilizing to defend civil liberties and the rights of those targeted.
In the meantime, the government quietly dropped the subpoenas while the term of the initial grand jury ran out.
Now, however, the government has served three of the Minnesota activists--Anh Pham, Sarah Martin and Tracy Molm--with new subpoenas, offering them immunity from prosecution. In essence, this eliminates their ability to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and exposes them to contempt charges--and potentially lengthy prison sentences--if they continue to refuse to testify.
"They don't have a specific date, but they are being told that basically they will be called back in front of the grand jury," Bruce Nestor, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who represents some of the activists targeted in Chicago, told the Washington Post. "They all have individual counsel, and those individual counsel are in the process of discussing with the U.S. attorney the details as to how proceed...The government is not saying much, and they kind of hold all the cards at the moment."
As Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, explained in an interview with SocialistWorker.org last month:
The raids have all the earmarks of a fishing expedition--both the search warrants as well as grand jury subpoenas. They all claimed to be investigating "material support to terrorism," in particular around both the Middle East and the country of Colombia. It appears to be a fishing expedition because the materials that were authorized to be seized and the subjects about which questions were to be asked were quite broad...
It's something like looking for a needle in a haystack, in which they destroy many lives and chill people's rights--and there may not even be a needle. And because of that, they are clearly encroaching on the First Amendment rights of people who are doing antiwar organizing and working to change U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and in South America.
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AT A November 18 press conference in Minneapolis, Tracy Molm, a union organizer and one of the activists who has been served with a new subpoena, told the crowd that she is planning on standing strong in spite of the new threat. "I will continue to speak out against war and injustice. I will not be intimidated by FBI raids or the threat posed by the grand jury," she said.
As Bruce Nestor explained to Democracy Now! earlier this month:
Three people are now being [faced with] reappearing in front of the grand jury and likely being forced with the choice between talking about who they meet with, what the political beliefs of their friends and allies are, or perhaps risking contempt and sitting in jail for 18 months.
These are people who are deeply rooted in the progressive community in Chicago and Minneapolis. These are grandmothers, they're mothers, they're union activists. They were some of the organizers of the largest antiwar march at the 2008 Republican National Convention...
[A]nd they're being prosecuted under this material support for terrorism law, a law that was really enhanced under the Patriot Act and that allows, in the government's own words, for people to be prosecuted for their speech if they coordinate it with a designated foreign terrorist organization.
What you run the risk of there is that even if you state your own independent views about U.S. foreign policy, but those views somehow reflect a group that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, you can be accused of coordinating your views and face, if not prosecution, then at least investigation.
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is calling for a week of action from November 29 to December 3 in support of the activists. As a statement from the group reads, "We are urging activists to focus on U.S. Congress people, demanding that they take action to stop the grand jury. Go to their congressional offices, or if that is not practical, to your Federal Building."
As Mick Kelly, one of the activists initially subpoenaed, said in a statement, "The FBI campaign against antiwar activists is a major threat to anyone who questions U.S. policies around the world."