CHICAGO - Peace and solidarity activists targeted by the FBI and subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury Oct. 5 said they would refuse to testify.
Speaking at a press conference in front of the federal building here, one of the subpoenaed activists, Stephanie Weiner, read a statement from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and then told reporters she and her husband, Joe Iosbaker, will "exercise our right not to participate in this fishing expedition."
"Now it's in the hands of the Department of Justice," she said. "They could cancel the grand jury, or they could send a subpoena again and send us to jail."
On Sept. 24, the FBI raided six homes of activists in Minneapolis and two homes in Chicago "seeking evidence" that the activists gave "material aid" to organizations on the U.S. government's terrorist list. The FBI made no arrests and charged no one.
Yet, the feds did subpoena 14 activists. Yesterday, all 14 declared they would not testify, and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights.
The statement read by Weiner outlined the undemocratic history of grand juries and how they are used against social movements.
Jurors are "handpicked by prosecutors," all evidence is presented in a "cloak of secrecy" and witnesses have "no right" to have a lawyer in the room, she said.
The raids and subpoenas seem to center on the government's contentious definition of "material aid" to groups on the U.S. terrorist list.
The government definition of "material aid" goes beyond money or other assistance that can be used to perpetrate violence, and into the realm of "services" or "expert advice" unrelated to terrorist violence.
The right-wing-dominated Supreme Court recently upheld the government's definition in its 6-3 decision on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. Constitutional rights lawyers and advocates were deeply troubled by the ruling.
Attorney David Cole with the Center for Constitutional Rights said, "In the name of fighting terrorism, the court has said the First Amendment permits Congress to make human rights advocacy and peacemaking a crime."
Civil rights activist Emile Schepers said the Supreme Court threw away precedents from earlier legal cases involving the government's attempt to outlaw political speech.
Holder v. Humanitarian Law "revolved around precedents set in the 1950s and 1960s," Shepers said, with the government's effort "to criminalize membership in the Communist Party USA" with the trumped up charge that Communists advocate the violent overthrow of the government.
Despite the Cold War and McCarthy hysteria, federal courts ruled it was "unconstitutional to prosecute individual Communists for mere membership in the party or for either advocacy or material support of the part of its program that the courts considered 'legal'," Schepers said, calling it a big victory for the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.
Activists say today's FBI raids and grand jury are ways to intimidate and harass law-abiding activists who disagree with U.S. foreign policy.
It seems the government is fishing around for information on the activists' ties to groups and individuals in Colombia and the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
At the Oct. 5 press conference, lawyer Jim Fennerty reminded the press that during the Reagan administration, the U.S. government considered South Africa's African National Congress a terrorist group.
Activists say they have not broken any laws, and they don't support terrorist violence. But the raids are not about national security, they say.
"We believe we have been targeted because of what we say and who we know," Weiner said. This sets a "dangerous precedent" and "endangers the rights of every person," she said. "It goes beyond this corner and those subpoenaed."
Weiner said she is confident that the American people do not support this kind of intimidation.
At least 60 demonstrations have been held across the country protesting the raids. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is urging all concerned to call U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-353l-1555 or write an e-mail to AskDOJ@usdoj.gov with the following message:
- Stop the repression of antiwar and international solidarity activists.
- Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, etc.
- End the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.
To get involved, send messages of support or make a donation, go to: stopfbi.net.