FBI illegally interrogated anti-war activists

FBI illegally interrogated anti-war activists
Washington Post article reveals flagrant civil liberties violations
Defend free speech rights!

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We encourage everyone to read and circulate this email that features a Washington Post story from April 3, 2007. The article reports on information uncovered from a lawsuit filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ) in defense of anti-war protesters who were arrested in Washington DC on April 20, 2002 and then illegally interrogated by an FBI Intelligence Unit. The ANSWER Coalition had organized a mass demonstration of over 100,000 people that day in support of the Palestinian people. Those arrested were simply participating in a mass assembly protest and were detained and interrogated by the FBI when they went back to the parking garage where their vehicles were parked. The demonstrators were young and "dressed in black" which made them the target of this now exposed FBI secret police tactic.

The Partnership for Civil Justice is a member group of the ANSWER Coalition Steering Committee. PCJ attorneys have filed a number of groundbreaking legal actions on behalf of wrongfully arrested demonstrators, in support of the right to use Central Park for mass assembly protests in New York City, the right of anti-war protestors to demonstrate along the parade route at the Inauguration of George W. Bush, and in a host of other major Free Speech battles. To get more information and regular email updates about this and other legal actions in defense of the Bill of Rights you can go to http://www.justiceonline.org/and sign up for email updates. Only the aggressive action of the people, in the courts and in the streets, can serve as defense against the repressive actions of the government.

Police Log Confirms FBI Role In Arrests
Group Detained, Questioned During D.C. War Protest

Click to see the article on the Washington Post website

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007; B01

A secret FBI intelligence unit helped detain a group of war protesters in a downtown Washington parking garage in April 2002 and interrogated some of them on videotape about their political and religious beliefs, newly uncovered documents and interviews show.

"The revelations, combined with protester accounts, provide the first public evidence that Washington-based FBI personnel used their intelligence-gathering powers in the District to collect purely political intelligence. "

Washington Post,
April 3, 2007

For years, law enforcement authorities suggested it never happened. The FBI and D.C. police said they had no records of such an incident. And police told a federal court that no FBI agents were present when officers arrested more than 20 protesters that afternoon for trespassing; police viewed them as suspicious for milling around the parking garage entrance.

 But a civil lawsuit, filed by the protesters, recently unearthed D.C. police logs that confirm the FBI's role in the incident. Lawyers for the demonstrators said the logs, which police say they just found, bolster their allegations of civil rights violations.

The probable cause to arrest the protesters as they retrieved food from their parked van? They were wearing black -- a color choice the FBI and police associated with anarchists, according to the police records.

FBI agents dressed in street clothes separated members to question them one by one about protests they attended, whom they had spent time with recently, what political views they espoused and the significance of their tattoos and slogans, according to interviews and court records.

 Ultimately, the protesters were not prosecuted because there wasn't sufficient evidence of trespassing, and their arrest records were expunged.

Similar intelligence-gathering operations have been reported in New York, where a local police intelligence unit tried to infiltrate groups planning to protest at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and in Colorado, where records surfaced showing that the FBI collected names and license plates of people protesting timber industry practices at a 2002 industry convention.

Several federal courts have ruled that intelligence agencies can monitor domestic groups only when there is reason to believe the group is engaged in criminal activity. Experts in police conduct say it is hard to imagine how asking questions about a person's political views would be appropriate in a trespassing case.

The Washington case centers on activities that took place April 20, 2002 -- a day of three cacophonic but generally orderly rallies that drew an estimated 75,000 people to the Mall. They included groups demonstrating against the prospect of war in Iraq, numerous supporters of the war, and Palestinians and others rallying for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and for peace in the Middle East.

The police logs for that day show how events developed: Secret Service agents had some concern about a group near the JBG Co. building's garage at 1275 K St. NW just after 5 p.m.

"Intell 53 advises that five members of the anarchist group have entered a parking garage," reads an entry from 5:12 p.m.

Ten minutes later, an entry notes the FBI's role.

"FBI, JOCC advises that an FBI intell team is responding to area of 13th and K/L Streets regarding a report of alleged anarchists in the vicinity," it reads. "There are reportedly 15 anarchists at 13th and K being interviewed. The subjects reportedly had a passkey to a building, but it's unknown how they came to be in possession of it."

The entry notes that D.C. police also were at the site. The protesters were detained at the garage for more than an hour, logs show, until police decided to arrest them for alleged unlawful entry.

D.C. police officials acknowledged in 2003 that the department had a secret intelligence unit that infiltrated and monitored protest groups in the Washington area, even if authorities had no evidence of criminal activity. The practice drew complaints from the D.C. Council, and police promised to develop guidelines.

The Partnership for Civil Justice, a civil liberties group, helped 11 protesters sue D.C. police in 2003 and the FBI last year, alleging that the questioning and detentions violated their civil rights.

In response to the suit, D.C. police at first said that no police intelligence officials were involved in the arrests. Last year, city officials revealed under additional questioning that five members of the police intelligence unit were present.

The plaintiffs argue that the newly released police logs make clear that the FBI, working hand in hand with local police, is engaged in a concerted effort to spy on and intimidate U.S. citizens who are lawfully exercising their free-speech rights. They contend that this is a national effort that abuses the FBI's broad counterterrorism powers and equates political speech with a risk to national security.

"It really is a secret police: This is an effort to suppress political dissent," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice. "If this was happening in another country that the U.S. was targeting, U.S. officials at the highest levels would be decrying this as a violation of human rights,"

FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said the agency stands by its assertion in court filings that it maintains no records of the incident.

A law enforcement official familiar with joint operations during protests said it would be typical for the FBI to hand over records of questioning to the lead agency -- in this case, the D.C. police.

D.C. police said authorities only recently found the logs of police responses to that day's events. That discovery came after three years of police assurances in federal court that no such records or logs existed showing the FBI's role.

The records turned up on the eve of a deposition in which a police records technician was to be questioned about the existence of a routine log that his office is responsible for maintaining during any mass protest in Washington.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman, referred questions to the D.C. attorney general's office.

Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the city's lawyers never intentionally misrepresent evidence to the court and come forward when discrepancies turn up.

"We have to rely upon information that the client gives us," Hughes said, adding that police turned over the log as soon as they learned it existed.

In November, as the Partnership for Civil Justice continued to try to get police records of the event, the FBI officials argued that the lawsuit against the agency should be dismissed. They said that the bureau had no relevant records and that if the FBI ever had any records, they had been disposed of when protesters' arrest records were expunged, or "they remain unidentifiable for other reasons." Justice Department attorneys noted, however, that questioning people in a criminal investigation was not improper.

In their lawsuit, the partnership and protesters said the FBI's political and religious questioning was "wholly unrelated to any legitimate activities of law enforcement" and violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment. They noted that some of the protesters had parked their van in the garage and were merely retrieving food.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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