Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th November 2010
As advertised here and elsewhere, activists convened at the Washington Friends Meeting House last Saturday afternoon for education and brainstorming about the recent troubling FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas of peace and solidarity activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan. Search warrants indicated the FBI was looking for evidence of “material support” for foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) in Colombia, Palestine, and elsewhere — but as forum-goers were to learn, the idea of ‘material support’ has been stretched past the breaking point. A diverse and engaged crowd of some forty people attended the forum, and peppered each of three speaker panels with questions before brainstorming together about the next directions they could take.
A video of the first panel is shown to the right. This video and two more like it are displayed on an “11/6 forum videos” page together with links to news items, analyses, and documents referred to by panelists.
The first panel, “What’s Going On and What Are the Legal Rules in Place?,” was led off by Sue Udry, of the Defending Dissent Foundation, who spoke about the raids themselves, the shifting legal predicaments the activists involved are in, and the background of ever more intrusive, expanding uses of surveillance to address ‘terror threats’ allegedly emanating from nonviolent peace, animal rights, and environmental groups, to name a few. Using the Inspector General report on the FBI, and revelations from Pennsylvania, Iowa, and elsewhere, Ms. Udry made clear that the FBI raids are not isolated incidents, but an escalation of an already deteriorating situation.
Ms. Udry was followed by ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson. Like Ms. Udry, Ms. Richardson noted how the expanding surveillance undermined both the Constitution and real counterterrorism efforts by “dumping more hay” on the haystack, instead of focusing on searching for needles. She described the United States as a surveillance society “collecting 1.7 billion records and communications a day. … When you get to 1.7 billion, that’s not about the government going to a judge and saying “I have a suspected terrorist, I’d like to read his emails,” that’s about our government turning its extraordinary computer powers loose on the American people.“ Charity and Security Network executive director Kay Guinane focused on the recent Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project ruling, which she and others believe probably green-lighted the raids on the peace activists. John Hardenbergh of the National Lawyers Guild discussed the grand jury process, acknowledging the old saw that prosecutors could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich — though he got a laugh with the observation “it depends what the ham sandwich is accused of doing.”