October 5, 2010

Statement on Grand Juries from Committee to Stop FBI Repression

On September 24, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war and international solidarity activists and delivered grand jury subpoenas to activists across the country. The subpoenas claim that the grand jury is investigating violations of the 1996 law on the issue of “material support” of “designated foreign terrorist organizations.”

The activists targeted in the raids are people who have been very involved in the anti-war and international solidarity movements for many years. They all worked together to organize an anti-war protest attended by tens of thousands at the Republican National Convention in 2008. 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 grand jury subpoenas are part of the fishing expedition targeting these committed activists and organizers. The use of grand juries to conduct sweeping investigations dates back to the Nixon administration’s attack on the social movements in the 1970s. The grand jury is neither fair nor even handed, no matter who is in charge.

A grand jury is a panel of jurors who hear evidence from a prosecutor and decide whether or not to charge someone with a crime. The grand jury can subpoena pretty much anyone they want and ask about anything, and people can be jailed for contempt if they do not answer questions. The jurors are hand-picked by prosecutors with no screen for bias. All evidence is presented by a prosecutor in a cloak of secrecy. The prosecutor has no responsibility to present evidence that favors those being investigated. Grand jury witnesses have no right to have a lawyer in the room to object to how the prosecutor is conducting the proceedings.

The grand jury has been used as a tool of political repression against many movements for social change in this country. From the pre-civil war abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights movements, the movement against the war in Vietnam, the American Indian Movement, the Central America solidarity movement, the Puerto Rican Independence movement, animal rights and environmental movements, there have have been many targets of political repression and grand jury inquisition.

We believe we have been targeted because of what we believe, what we say and who we know. The grand jury process is an attempt to violate the inalienable rights under the constitution and international law to freedom of political speech, association and the right to advocate for change.

One does not even need to be opposed to U.S. foreign policy to recognize that the government is working here to establish a dangerous precedent in targeting us. This case endangers the right of every person in the U.S. to organize for and express their views.

We fear the the government may be seeking to use the recent Supreme Court decision in Holder vs Humanitarian Law to attack conduct that clearly falls under the realm of freedom of speech and that we never imagined could be construed as “material support for terrorism.”

Those with Grand Jury dates for October 5 and those whose subpoenas are pending have declared that we intend to exercise our right not to participate in this fishing expedition. The next legal step is in the hands of the Department of Justice. They could cancel the grand jury. They could carry on, but leave us alone. They could send subpoenas again giving us the option to talk or go to jail. We don’t know when they will take the next step, or what it will be. We do know what our next steps will be.

We will not be silent. We will not allow the harassment of activists to quiet our opposition to immoral policies. We will continue to speak out against the unjust investigation, the unjust law, and the unjust foreign policies of the US government. Our communities are strong, and are already showing amazing solidarity around the country with 60 demonstrations last week, many statements of solidarity and a very successful call in day yesterday. We will need that support to continue to push back against this attack.