Nearly two years ago, the FBI raided the homes of nine antiwar, labor and international solidarity activists in Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota. The activists, along with fourteen others, were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury empaneled to investigate the activists for providing “material support to terrorism.” Each activist refused to testify because they understood their activism on behalf of Palestinians, Colombians and others in the world was what the Justice Department was investigating and they have a right under the First Amendment to assemble, organize, engage in freedom of speech and dissent against the policies of the United States government.
The activists now call upon Attorney General Eric Holder and Acting US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Gary Shapiro, to close the investigation. As Michael Deutsch, an attorney representing some of the activists states, “Not one bit of evidence has been produced. Not any charges and yet they remain under this cloud of an investigation.” So all who have been targeted believe the government should announce the investigation is over, no criminal charges will be issued and everyone can continue to do their activism without interference from any law enforcement or government agency.
Palestinian solidarity activist and executive director of the Arab-American Action Network, Hatem Abudayyeh, was one of the twenty-three raided. The FBI still has yet to return personal property it seized from him and his family in the raid.
“Personal pictures of my wife and daughter’s vacation to Palestine are still in the hands of US Attorney Shapiro, as well as names, phone numbers and addresses of family and friends and colleagues,” says Abudayyeh.
The cloud of investigation hanging over these activists has not simply criminalized lawful activities of which Abudayyeh and other activists were participants.
“Not only is the US Attorney trying to criminalize my lawful acts and the acts of so many of us peace activists, but he is also gathering information on people, who just happen to be connected to us—my family, the sons of my dear friend Stephanie Weiner and Joe Iosbaker, who were raided as well in Chicago, six other children in Minnesota,” explains Abudayyeh. “All the partners, husbands and wives and extended families of all the subpoenaed are caught up in this horrible violation of our privacy and our civil liberties. “
According to Deutsch, “files and records of two anti-war groups in Minnesota were subpoenaed.” This has contributed to a “chilling effect” on all acts of dissent in America by people who speak out in solidarity with those fighting for human rights.
Each of the activists raided and subpoenaed were at the 2008 Republican National Convention to protest. They were part of organizing by the Twin Cities Antiwar Committee (TWAC), which was infiltrated by an FBI informant who called herself “Karen Sullivan.” It was the kind of infiltration condemned by the Inspector General of the Justice Department in a September 2010 report.
Bernardine Dohrn, a professor and human rights advocate who was once a member of the Weather Underground, supports the activists and the call for an end to the grand jury investigation. In May 1982, she was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury investigating New York robberies, which authorities believed had been committed by radicals. Dohrn refused to testify, was held in contempt, and though she was not charged with committing any crime, she was jailed for refusing to provide handwriting samples.
She understands “What these people have gone through having their homes raided, having their privacy upended and then having nothing happen but a continuing investigation.” They are victims of a secret, coercive fishing expedition. Grand juries are “a tool solely of the prosecutor.” It is a “greatly enhanced power of the executive,” she argues. The tool, abolished in England and in many states in America, “embodies fundamental violations of basic rights.”
What these activists have gone through is bigger than the activists in the case, according to Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, 7th District Commissioner, Cook County of Illinois. He believes this is about the meaning of “free speech,” “free press” and “freedom of association” in the United States. It is about “the right to privacy, to be secure against unwarranted search and seizure” and “the very definition of democracy,” which is measured in how well society “defends dissent.”
Garcia declares, “I will not be silent when the concept of dissent is threatened. As an American citizen, dissent is my sacred right and expectation, a sacred duty of every citizen. As an elected official, I am compelled to defend it and I will.”
It is bigger for Abudayyeh, who sees this as an attack on his nationality and his organizing. He concludes:
…It is about FBI and local enforcement entrapment and surveillance and informants sent to our mosques and our churches and our community centers and our workplaces. It is about our government to sell the notion that caring and talking and teaching about Palestine, that criticizing our government’s support of Israel, that asking Americans to boycott Israel and to end US aid to Israel is somehow a criminal act.
The Holy Land Foundation 5 are in prison for doing just that. Abdelhaleem Ashqar is in prison for refusing to testify to a grand jury. Muhammad Salah, right here in Chicago, is considered a specially designated terrorist for doing just that. The attacks on my community must end now and the investigation of us must end because we should not be investigated for our ideas, our beliefs and our political views….
What has happened is part of the general political repression of citizens who engage in dissent in the United States, a repression that Abudayyeh notes “victimizes Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, African-Americans, immigrants and other marginalized communities every day,” a repression that chills, dissuades and intimidates people in these communities from raising their voice against any perceived injustices because they fear they could be ripped away from their families and locked up for years, if not decades, simply for expressing unpopular views.
Press Conference Held in Chicago to Mark Two Years Since the Raids: