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Amy Goodman interviews subjects of Friday morning FBI raids on antiwar activists' homes; reactions from Colleen Rowley

I had not heard any news of these nationwide raids until I tuned in a bit late to Democracy Now!. At first I thought I was listening to a discussion of things which had taken place under BushCo, but were just coming to trial -- or a book had been written. These are very recent, 7AM, Friday morning, September 24, 2010.

These are Made in ObamaLand government raids on activists, searching, it appears, for antiwar groups' connections with terrists. From Amy Goodman's intro:

The FBI’s search warrants indicate agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. Most of the people whose homes were searched or who were issued subpoenas had helped organize or attended protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, two years ago.

The federal law cited in the search warrants prohibits, quote, "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations." In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups that said some of its provisions put them at risk of being prosecuted for talking to terrorist organizations about nonviolent activities. Some of groups listed by name in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters.

Friday’s raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006.

Colleen Rowley, the FBI whistleblower whose attempts to have one of the alleged 9/11 terrorists investigated prior to the attack on the Twin Towers, was on the broadcast and noted the First Amendment has been essentially gutted by the Bush and now Obama administrations' view of how the War on Terror must be "fought."

AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, you’re a former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Can you explain what you think is happening here? And also, put it in the context of this very interesting Justice Department IG—Inspector General—report that has just come out on their surveillance of whistleblowers—rather, the surveillance of activists over the last almost decade.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t really detail all of the legal factors that have changed since 9/11, but there simply has been a sea change. For instance, when I taught constitutional rights in the FBI, one of the main top priorities was First Amendment rights. And while this is not the first time that you’ve seen this Orwellian turn of the war on terror onto domestic peace groups and social justice groups—actually, we had that begin very quickly after 9/11, and there were legal opinions, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, that said the First Amendment no longer controls the war on terror—but even so, this is shocking and alarming that at this point we have the, you know, humanitarian advocacy now being treated as somehow material support to terrorists.

We’ve also just seen, ironically, four days before this national raid, we saw the Department of Justice Inspector General issue a report that soundly criticized the FBI for four years of targeting domestic groups such as Greenpeace, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, different antiwar rallies, even involving a finding that the FBI director had given them a falsehood to Congress as to the justification for the FBI to monitor a peace group.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happened in Iowa, Coleen Rowley?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another instance. And that one is actually after the scope of the IG investigation. The IG investigation only went to 2006. There have been requests for that IG to go further. Obviously there’s been four more years. And in 2008, we found out through a Freedom of Information request that there’s 300 pages of—I think it was four or five, six agents trailing a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars, restaurants. They even went through their trash. So, this is another reason why peace groups, and certainly law professors, have to be very concerned now about this misinterpretation that says advocacy for human-rights—I just have to mention, we have a famous Minnesotan who wrote Three Cups of Tea. And he obviously sets up schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His name is Greg Mortenson. Obviously, people like him and Jimmy Carter are even at peril, given this wide discretion now to say that anyone who works in a foreign country, even for peace or humanitarian, anti-torture purposes, could somehow run afoul of the PATRIOT Act.

AMY GOODMAN: The Church Committee in the 1970s really blew the lid open on CIA spying at home, and also guidelines then, regulations, were passed afterwards. How do they apply today, when Americans are being surveilled, infiltrated, spied on at home?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another one of the factors, besides this Supreme Court ruling. Right after 9/11, the Attorney General began to erode those guidelines. He basically said that FBI agents could go into mosques and places like that to monitor, so that was the beginning. The very—almost the last official act that Bush did in 2008 was that he totally erased those prior AG guidelines. There is really no need to even show factual justification now. The presumption is entirely reversed. And basically the FBI need only say that they were not targeting—that they were not targeting a group solely based on their exercise of First Amendment rights. So the presumption really did, again, a complete flip-flop.

And, of course, that’s why you see these various scandals now coming out. It should be no surprise to someone that if there’s no restraints, the green light is on, that you see, of course—I actually kind of sympathize with the FBI. I used to train these agents, and I can understand the enormous pressure they’re under. And, of course, this is why it’s so incredibly important to get the word to the officials who are in charge of using their discretion that they should use their discretion to look for real terrorists instead of to go after peace groups.

The raid subjects' computers, phones, and at least one passport were taken, along with personal papers and photographs. Children's diaries, art work, and papers were closely examined, along with books and music collections. When a Chicago labor activist, Joe Iosbaker, found 10 or so FBI agents on his doorstep Friday morning, he announced to his family that "the thought police are here."

Colleen Rowley was asked to compare the Bush and Obama administrations:

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t talk for another couple hours here, because that’s how long it would take me. I actually urged the FBI from early on—I even wrote a chapter, "Civil Liberties and Effective Investigation." And unfortunately, these warnings have just been largely—of myself and many others—have been largely ignored. Even the 9/11 Commission focused—three of their recommendations, out of forty-one, were on creating a privacy and civil liberties oversight board. And Bush pulled the rug from under that board early on. And Obama, two years later, has never appointed any people, any of the five seats to that board, which is just incredible in light of what’s gone on, even including the revelations of torture and warrantless monitoring.

What people need to do is to basically ask for more than just an IG investigation. They need to ask for Congress to actually take on something like a new Church Committee. And that’s actually been asked for. Barbara Lee, I think, actually had a proposal a year ago for something like that. So we should all contact our elected representatives and ask for Congress to take on greater oversight of this—what’s going on.

This is way beyond "hippie punching" or dissing the base; this is redolent of Nixon's unconstitutional actions. But, now, with the Roberts' Supreme Court, the unconstitutional can be rationalized as the executive's requirement to fight terror.

I wonder when they'll begin going after bloggers and blog commenters who write things which might be construed as giving aid to terrists. Are those of us who see Bush and Obama's actions as dangerous to the commonweal of the nation subject to being seen as giving aid to such administrations' perceived enemies? Next, reporters and editorial/op-ed writers with the "wrong" take on events?

Does it take a "constitutional scholar" to go to abrogating the Constitution?

"Audio, video, and full transcript available at Democracy Now!'s site.

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Comments

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

There are protests happening all over the country, please check out the website posted there, and participate! "First they came for..."

Submitted by Hugh on

Well, another Obama scandal to write up. It will be 191. The Supreme Court case was Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (item 166 on the list). It's important to remember that these raids are not the product of an out of control federal agency, well perhaps in an existential sense, they are actually quite controlled and purposeful. The aim quite simply is to intimidate any opposition and dissent into silence. If you want to see Obama's real response to his base, this is it. STFU is not just rhetoric. It's policy.