Few terrorism cases are lost by the government prosecutors in the United States, whether at the federal level or, in rare instances, at the state level. However, last week, a jury came to a verdict in the “NATO 3″ trial that acquitted three young men of all the terrorism charges they had faced.
It was a huge defeat for Illinois State’s Attorney of Cook County, Anita Alvarez, who angrily refused to admit the state had lost during a press conference after the verdict was announced.
Alvarez emphasized that the “NATO 3″ had still been found guilty of possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit arson as well as two mob action offenses. However, the state did not bring this case as an arson or mob action case and all along the public had been led to believe that these were “terrorists” on trial. And they were so dangerous that the men were going to be charged with offenses under a largely untested state terrorism statute.
Rather than react to the outcome in the trial by examining the decision by Alvarez to abuse her authority and bring this case as a terrorism case when there was no shred of evidence for such charges, the Chicago Tribune editorial board published a state-identified editorial on February 10 that was a fervent defense of all that Alvarez and other prosecutors did in this case. It stood in sharp contrast to an editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times, which stated, “The Chicago Police and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez almost comically overreached.”
The Tribune editorial board seemed to argue that defense attorneys were the ones who erred, not prosecutors or police. “Defense attorneys were way out of line when they stepped to the microphones, post verdict, to bash Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for pursuing terrorism charges,” according to the editorial.
The notion that this case “trivialized” terrorism or that this was a “politically motivated prosecution” was outright dismissed, as the Tribune editorial board followed the example of prosecutors and pulled more comments from recorded conversations to further demonize them. The editorial board also repeated this wild notion that an attack on four police stations was ever going to happen, even though prosecutors never put forward evidence to prove there had ever been such a plot to attack Chicago police.
Alvarez’s press conference remarks after the verdict were quoted. “Let me ask you: What do you think they were going to do with these devices?” she asked. The Tribune editorial board said, “That’s a very good question.”
It is actually “a very good question.” It was the job of prosecutors in the trial to answer the question with evidence, especially because they were the ones bringing charges. Lucky for prosecutors, they were able to convince the judge to give the jury an “entrapment” instruction that would help members downplay the role the undercover police officers played in the construction and possession of Molotov cocktails.
Fear, innuendo and the existence of the beer bottles managed to be enough to convince the jury to convict the three men of arson charges. They found words from recorded conversations—seemingly disparate, said during different days yet linked together by prosecutors—to be enough to discern some “intent” to commit a crime, and prosecutors did not totally lose the case.
But the facts brought out during trial showed that Officer Mehmet Uygun had been the only one to talk about “terrorizing” Chicago. He is the one who raised the idea of buying gas when he said he had $2 for gas. He cut the bandannas to make the wicks for the Molotov cocktails, and he had control of the Molotov cocktails, hiding them from the “NATO 3″ so they would be found when police raided the apartment. And, on the day of May 16, when the Molotov cocktails were made, it is undercover Officer Nadia Chikko, who first raised the idea of making them.
The Tribune editorial board does not appear to be interested in the facts brought out during the trial. They instead put forward an answer driven by the same confirmation bias that led Alvarez to wrongly pursue this case as a terrorism case.
In fact, this excerpt of the editorial is reflective of what was most foul about the case:
Church, Chase and Betterly [the "NATO 3"] came to Chicago looking for trouble. A lot of people did. Remember that week? Thousands of protesters aired countless grievances — about everything from capitalism to European austerity measures to the Keystone pipeline — against the backdrop of the summit, at which heads of state met to discuss international security issues.
Most of the protesters were peaceful, and city officials went to great lengths to facilitate their right to assemble. But police took lots of abuse from the self-described anarchists, who curiously advocated violence as an antidote to war.
Remember the masked agitators, dressed in black, snaking their way to the front of the parade ranks as the Sunday afternoon protest stepped off? Remember the hours long standoff between police and demonstrators bent on storming the summit after the veterans’ anti-war ceremony? Remember how the officers assigned to keep things safe and orderly turned the other cheek as the marchers chanted “One, two, three! (Expletive) CPD!”?
So, when Chase remarked that gasoline “smells like victory” as he assembled Molotov cocktails in the dark, should police have discounted the danger because he cluelessly requested a lighter so he could see better? No. [emphasis added]
In those four paragraphs, the Tribune editorial board reassure the public that the “NATO 3″ were “dangerous” and would have plotted violence because there were apparently others like them, who were part of a tense standoff with police at a protest that was supposed to be peaceful. This is what prosecutors did throughout the trial—expressed their bias against the “NATO 3″ as if it were evidence of crimes.
The paragraphs inaccurately suggest the police were peaceful. Here is a photo of a shirt a plainclothes officer was seen wearing:
Beating the crowds is what some police eventually did as they swung batons at a front line of protesters frantically and violently on May 19 during a mass demonstration against NATO.
The scene prompted CNN’s Don Lemon to say on air, “Every time I see it, I just can’t imagine being any of the people who are on the ground or in front of those police officers. I don’t know. Does anybody deserve that?”
Better, can any reasonable person call this “turning the other cheek”?
How about this clip? Keep in mind the police have riot gear and instead of using that protection to go in and grab anyone they might see throwing anything at them, this group of police decided to just rage against protesters:
On May 9, 2012, ten days before the NATO meeting, police stopped the three men in their car. Video was recorded of police saying, “See these guys know, ’68, these guys know all about ’68.” Another officer asked, “What did they say back in ’68?” ”Billy club to the fucking skull,” a cop added. When race was mentioned, an officer said, “Okay, now we’ll beat your white ass.” And, once the “NATO 3″ were free to drive away,” after one of them said they would see the police next weekend,” an officer said, “We’ll come look for you, each and every one of you.”
There was no reasonable basis for the stop other than the fact that the officers knew they were out-of-town protesters.
The Tribune editorial board’s use of the phrase “masked agitator” has deep roots in Chicago history. “Agitator” was what one would use to describe the rabble-rousers they thought would bring about worker violence when labor was struggling for rights. The editorial board believes “masked agitators,” like the “NATO 3,” would have provoked significant protester violence and so police state powers used against demonstrators are called for in the same way they were urged by press against anarchists, communists, socialists or other radicals in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
As expressed later in the editorial:
…When a 20-year-old calls himself an anarchist in such a setting, you don’t question whether he’s man enough to mean it…
Such a statement basically says you are not allowed to be an anarchist during major events like the NATO meeting when large demonstrations will occur. Your political beliefs are such that you should be targeted by domestic police spying operations and tracked by police to neutralize and suppress you as you seek to engage in your First Amendment right to express your anger with the system. And it accepts the myth that anarchists will commit violence no matter what, refusing to accept the reality that police are often the first to provoke and invite a violent reaction by fostering a climate of repression through their actions and heavy-handed presence.
Notably, there is no nod to the history in Chicago of police targeting and suppressing radical protesters through Red Squad operations in the 1960s or 1970s or in the aftermath of the Haymarket incident, which touched off an anarchist scare. There is no reflection on the part of the editorial board on the issue of prosecuting dissenters as if they are terrorists. However, with this case, all of that seemed to be resurrected by police and prosecutors, as they executed a “public safety mission” ahead of the NATO meeting that really was a modern-day Red Squad operation that included infiltrating Occupy Chicago.
It apparently does not bother the Tribune editorial board that prosecutors asked a judge to give the “NATO 3″ a $5 million bond for each defendant. The judge granted the state a $1.5 million bond to keep each of them in prison. They were brought into a courtroom during an early hearing in shackles and chains and treated in a way that murderers are not even treated. They were held in “protective custody,” which essentially means authorities were able to keep them in conditions that amount to isolation since they were terror suspects in the eyes of the state.
Zealously, the Tribune editorial board urged the judge to “throw the book” at the “NATO 3″ and put them in prison—for a long period, one presumes. Nearly two years and being treated as “terrrorists” is not enough “justice” for the editorial board.
Finally, even though the men were acquitted of all terrorism charges, the editorial board endorsed Alvarez’s invoking of the Boston marathon bombing:
“Have we forgotten about Boston here?” Alvarez said after the verdict, adamantly defending her decision to pursue terrorism charges. “Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks? We were able to stop people from being hurt, and I would do it again.”
We should all rest easier knowing that.
Actually, we should not. We should not rest easy if it means denying there was a massive abuse of prosecutorial discretion in this case. We should not rest easy if it means that Alvarez would do this all over again and if a major newspaper’s editorial board in Chicago, which had a diligent reporter covering the trial, walked away after the verdict with a conclusion that everything is okay and there is no one in power who should have to answer for anything.
Molly Armour, one of the defense attorneys in the case, when she was asked if “overcharging” was a justifiable strategy for winning the case, plainly stated, “A prosecutor’s job is to do justice. The prosecutor’s job is to evaluate the case. And they did not because if they had they could have seen clearly what 12 jurors saw, which is there was no terrorism here.”
Such institutionalized delusion and willful ignorance on the part of police, prosecutors or the press is likely to cause more pain and suffering for individuals in the future when prosecutorial discretion is blatantly abused again. That, primarily, is why none of what the Tribune argued should be accepted.