A week ago, I wrote that ”the government has secured the cooperation of a reluctant witness in a grand jury investigation of two 2008 arsons targeting faculty members at UC Santa Cruz, according to IndyBay.org.”
A new post on Indybay takes issue with the characterization of earlier reports of activist Ariana Tanabe’s conduct as “cooperation.” Written by “Ben Rosenfeld, Attorney,” the post says:
I am not Ariana’s attorney, but I have knowledge that the characterization that she cooperated with a grand jury is misleading and unnecessarily divisive. While testifying does not constitute resistance, it does not automatically constitute cooperation. After Ariana and her attorney vigorously challenged a series of subpoenas over a four year period, she appeared before a grand jury and answered a limited set of questions which the government previewed to her attorney, rather than go to jail. She did so because (a) she had no information regarding the incidents the government was investigating, and (b) she knew in advance the questions they would ask her.
As I argued last week, grand juries are used by prosecutors and investigators to repress political dissent by coercing activists who have not been charged with any crimes to become informants on their social movements on pain of imprisonment. Accordingly, radical activists in the anarchist, environmental and animal rights communities have developed a culture of resistance to grand jury subpoenas, which often leads to jail time. The charge of “cooperation” is understandably a highly sensitive one.
The grand jury to which Tanabe was subpoenaed centers on two 2008 firebombing attacks that targeted two UCSC scientists. Though the FBI and the university hastily blamed animal rights activists for the crimes, no underground animal rights group claimed responsibility, as is typically their practice, the bombings do not conform to well-known guidelines of Animal Liberation Front activists that explicitly prohibit attacks on human targets, and federal prosecutors have thus far made no convictions and publicized no suspects, though they did secure indictments in 2009 of four activists who were not charged with direct participation in the arsons and whose “crimes” included chalking sidewalks, chanting, and printing the home addresses of vivisectors on a leaflet that was found in a nearby café. All four indictments were thrown out by a federal judge the following year.
A separate grand jury hearing that has received a great deal of media attention was convened in Seattle earlier this fall, ostensibly related to an investigation into vandalism at a May Day rally. Two activists have been locked up for about six weeks now for refusing to participate (another activist was also recently subpoenaed, and pled the Fifth). A third activist, Leah-Lynne Plante, was released in less than a week and refused to answer questions as to why, and then left town, provoking widespread suspicions that she had cooperated with the investigation, as well as criticism of such speculation as unfair, divisive, and playing into the government’s hands.
Of grand jury resistance, Rosenfeld writes:
Nevertheless, the issues are complex and the solutions scarce, as they often are in the face of powerful state repression. Real support has to entail something more than lionizing those who resist and vilifying those who testify.
Rosenfeld’s post is worth reading in its entirety.