On September 24, 2010, in an action that has outraged civil libertarians and social justice activists across the country and the world, the FBI raided and conducted searches of seven homes and the office of an anti-war organization in the Midwest. Fourteen activists in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan received subpoenas to testify before a grand jury. The â€œcrime(s)â€ they committed are non-existent. In December nine more were added to the list of subpoenaed. All 23 are active in either the anti-war or the international solidarity movement. The groups targeted included the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, The Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and Students for A Democratic Society. In addition to the commitment these groups have to peace and human rights, what unites them is their presence, in an affirmative but not violent manner, at the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul.
Immediately after these actions concerned citizens formed a national Committee to Stop FBI Repression. The Committee has received support from individuals and organizations who see the governmentâ€™s action as intended to intimidate with the purpose of silencing anti war and Palestine community and solidarity activity. The governmentâ€™s action further puts in jeopardy freedoms of speech and assembly.
Local Committees have also been formed or are in formation. On January 25th, the Los Angeles Committee held an afternoon long demonstration in front of the Federal Building and put the government on trial for denial of First Amendment rights. Demonstrators were encouraged to tell of their experiences of harassment. Sister demonstrations took place on that day in 55 cities.
The Committee makes three demands: Stop the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists; Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, etc., and end the grand jury proceedings against anti-war and Palestinian Solidarity activists.
The activists also believe that the government wants to make this a test case for the June 2010 Supreme Court decision Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) v Holder.The decision expanded the definition of providing material support to terrorists and, as a corollary, expanded the governmentâ€™s purview into what it deemed politically incorrect activities. In the aforementioned case, HLP proposed to work with two groups, the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), to provide legal advocacy and assist them in bringing their grievances to the United Nations. The Supreme Court, in a devastating 6-3 decision, deemed this legal assistance to be â€œmaterial support of terrorism.â€
One of the leading figures in human rights work on behalf of Palestinians is Hatem Abudayyeh. Hatem is the Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago. The AAAN is a social services organization founded in 1995. Their activities include (but are not limited to) teaching English as a second language, providing comprehensive social services, and youth development programming.
Hatem said that six of the nine subpoenaed in December are Palestinian community organizers while the other three are Palestine solidarity activists, and that the government was specifically targeting activists who traveled to Palestine.
This FBI targeted activist made a West Coast tour. He was kind enough to grant The Muslim Observer an interview.
Hatem went to the oPt for the first time as an activist in 2003. Then he visited Gaza, went up and down the West Bank and visited Israel behind the Green Line. An organization he co-founded, The Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) sends a group to the oPt every summer.
TMO: Hatem, when you found out you had been targeted, what were your first thoughts.
Hatem: I was concerned about my wife, Naima, and five-year-old daughter, Maisa, because I wasnâ€™t home when the FBI began its raid. I was with my mother, who is battling cancer, but when my wife finally reached me on my cell, I sped home, grabbed my crying daughter, and took her into her room, where I proceeded to try to explain what was happening and calm her.
Also, I couldnâ€™t help thinking that this was something to be expected, amongst those of us who challenge U.S. foreign policy, especially in regards to Palestine and the Arab World.
TMO: How have you been received during your West Coast tour?
Hatem: The trip was amazing. I met some incredible organizers and activists, and although we do not want people to put their current political work aside (in fact, that is what the U.S. government wants us to do when it perpetrates these acts of repression), most organizations that co-hosted our tour made a specific commitment to add the Committee to Stop FBI Repression defense work to their immediate future plans.
TMO: During your West Coast tour have you given many interviews to members of the Main Stream Media?
Hatem: There was an exclusive AP interview I did that was published the day I left Chicago, and I was able to do a couple of spots on Pacifica Radio before, and one during, the tour. The other media opportunities were with independent and cable access outlets, and we greatly appreciate the opportunity to project our stories to other activists and organizers.
TMO: Do you feel that the Main Stream Media on the West Coast and in the Midwest, the focus of the investigation, have dealt fairly with you and your fellow involved activists?
Hatem: The â€œmainstreamâ€ media were all over the stories of the raids on September 24th and the few days immediately thereafter, because those were the â€œsexyâ€ stories with images of FBI agents carrying boxes of our belongings out of our homes. But these outlets have not covered much of our political defense work since.
If they had, people all across the country would know that some of the top labor unions in the country, including Chicagoâ€™s largest, the Chicago Teachers Union, have passed resolutions in support of the 23 activists; that over 50 mainstream civil liberties organizations, and Arab and Muslim civil rights groups, wrote a letter to Attorney General Holder demanding that he stop the grand jury proceedings and end his officeâ€™s repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists; that representatives of dozens of faith-based institutions have signed and distributed a petition on our behalf; and that the Students for a Democratic Society and Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across the country, as well as prominent academics from U.S. colleges and universities, have signed statements of support.
There are millions of people on our side who recognize that this is a government attack on social justice work, free speech, free assembly, and peaceful dissent. But the mainstream media is not telling that story.
TMO: All the targeted activists have invoked their 5th amendment right to not testify to the grand jury. Could you tell us in a few sentences what feelings and sentiments prompted this act of unity? Hatem: The grand jury is a â€œfishing expeditionâ€ and a â€œwitch huntâ€ that only serves at the whim of the governmentâ€™s prosecutors. The intent is for the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s (in this case, Patrick Fitzgeraldâ€™s) office to compel people to inform on their friends and colleagues in their respective social justice movement. It has been used as a repressive tool for decades to target activist members of the Black Panthers, and others in the anti-war, Womenâ€™s rights, Black liberation, Chicano liberation, American Indian, Puerto Rican independence, environmental rights, and Palestine liberation movements, amongst many others.
None of us believes that there is anything â€œillegalâ€ about our activities; and we will not testify against our movement, or allow the government to â€œcriminalizeâ€ our important work.
But although we have all invoked our 5th amendment right to not testify at the grand jury, your readers must also understand that the lawyers of 3 women amongst the 23 activists, Minnesotans Anh Pham, Sarah Martin, and Tracy Molm, have been contacted again by the U.S. Attorney.
They now may be forced to accept something called â€œuse and derivative useâ€ immunity (which means that their own testimony cannot be used against them, but they could still be prosecuted, should the U.S. Attorney acquire evidence independent of their testimony) and forced to testify. At that point, if they still insist on not testifying, they could be put in federal prison for civil contempt for the life of the grand jury (which normally are impaneled for 18 months at a time). This proves the coercive nature of the process and the danger of complying with it.
Lastly, despite our resistance to the grand jury process, and the incredible support for us that I described above, our attorneys believe that indictments and arrests are imminent, so all conscientious people across the country need to continue to put pressure on U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald, Attorney General Eric Holder, and even President Obama to immediately end this â€œwitch huntâ€ against us, and stop the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists in general.
TMO: What would you like to tell your readers about your activities and your plans to continue the struggle?
Hatem: We believe that one of the main reasons that this is happening right now is because our work is effective and has had great impact. The anti-war and international solidarity movements in this country have done a great job of publicizing the horrors of the U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. interventions in Colombia, Haiti, the Philippines, Pakistan, Honduras, and elsewhere.
These movements are building a growing resistance to these wars and interventions, especially at a time when the tens of billions of dollars that fund U.S. war plans can be used to balance state budget deficits and support the growing social services, employment, and health needs of working people here.
In Palestine, the Arab World, and across the globe, Palestinian community organizers and solidarity activists are winning the political battle in regards to the Arab / Israeli conflict. People in the U.S., like they already do around the world, are beginning to realize that Israel is a criminal and pariah state, and this is because the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement against Apartheid Israel is successfully reaching millions.
Hampshire College is the first in the U.S. to divest from Israel (and other campuses are organizing to replicate this victory), the PSG is leading an important campaign (www.psgchicago.org) to demand that Chicago drop Israel from its Sister City program, and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (http://www.pacbi.org/) is using anti-South African Apartheid movement tactics to gain boycott endorsers, recently including legendary folk musician Pete Seeger.
And of course, the Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, the 1948 territories, refugee camps in the Arab World, and the Diaspora are continuing to resist Israeli settler-colonialism, occupation, racism, and oppression. These communities are refusing to accept the corrupted Palestinian Authorityâ€™s (PAâ€™s) concessions to the U.S. and Israel, and will continue to promote national unity under the immutable demands of self-determination, independence, an end to Israeli occupation of all of historical Palestine, and the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Four regional conferences took place in Oakland and Chicago on February 12th, and in North Carolina and New York on February 19th. Eight hundred people in total attended these organizing opportunities to make emergency plans for the immediate future. On the days of the expected arrests, massive actions will be held.
Accompanying Hatem Abudayyeh was Los Angeles activist Carlos Montes. Carlos is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. Carlos has been to Colombia twice to meet with labor and human rights activists about the killing of labor organizers and serious human rights violations committed by the military and paramilitary groups of that nation. The United States under its plan USPlan Colombia has funded these violations.
There have been several forums on Colombia in the Los Angeles area. A fundraiser is being planned for the near future.
The formal name of the organization dedicated to Colombian human rights is Colombia Action Network. Carlos also helps organize Latinos Against the War. He is a writer, organizer and distributor of Fight Back News.
Plans and activities are fluid. Readers should access the Committeeâ€™s web site at: www.stopFBI.net.