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Why is gov’t spying on us?

by Tim Wheeler Saturday, Dec. 11, 2004 at 11:13 AM

Peace, religious groups protest infiltration

PORTLAND, Ore. — Peace and justice leaders across the nation hailed an American Civil Liberties Union project, announced Dec. 2, to spotlight FBI spying and infiltration of grassroots organizations that oppose the Iraq war and other right-wing policies of George W. Bush.

The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FBI in 10 states and the District of Columbia asking for release of files of illegal FBI surveillance of law-abiding organizations over the past four years. Attorney General John Ashcroft seized on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to ram through the USA Patriot Act, and FBI spying and infiltration was drastically escalated.

“We have evidence that the FBI and local police — working through so-called Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) — are spying on environmental, political, and faith-based groups,” the ACLU said in a statement. “We think the public deserves to know more about who is being investigated and why.”

Benjamin Stone, executive director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, told the World in a phone interview from his Des Moines office, “Making government accountable is one of the ACLU’s highest priorities. We want to help the citizens of this nation understand the kind of tactics the FBI is using in the name of ‘war on terrorism.’”

He recalled the subpoenas obtained by the FBI task force in Des Moines last February targeting a peace group at Drake University as well as the Iowa Peace Network and Catholic Peace Ministries. The sub-poenas ordered Drake University to turn over any records, including surveillance by campus security, about a Nov. 11, 2003, campus meeting titled “Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home.” The following day, 12 people were arrested on “trespassing” charges while peacefully protesting the Iraq war at a nearby National Guard base. The nationwide outcry against the subpoenas was so loud that the subpoenas were withdrawn.

“Surveillance of innocent people is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” Stone said. “We still live in a representative democracy. People need to remember that because if we forget, it’s going to be hard to hold on to it.”

The Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society, is one of dozens of Chicago-based leaders who joined in the FOIA request filed by the Illinois Civil Liberties Union. “People are treated as suspects because their views are contrary to those of the administration,” Morris told the World. “The administration proclaims a ‘state of emergency.’ But we are not in that situation at all and we should challenge that assumption. Freedom is not served when we become a police state, when we become like those we are struggling against.”

Kareem Irfan, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, charged that Ashcroft and the FBI put the Arab and Muslim communities “under siege” with massive religious and racial profiling in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Thousands have been detained and interrogated solely based on their religion or national origin. “While all of us, as Americans, desire a safe and secure homeland, we simply cannot tolerate members of our community being singled out for FBI spying and investigation on the basis of racial or ethnic background or simply for practicing our faith or speaking out on matters of public concern,” he said.

Here in Portland, the City Council is scheduled to debate Dec. 22 whether to renew cooperation by the Portland Police Department with the FBI’s JTTF. Oregon ACLU Executive Director David Findanque said 17 peace and justice groups in Portland are demanding that the FBI lay bare its spying and infiltration against Oregon’s Muslim community and peace movement.

Among the victims is Lumumba Ford, whose parents are respected leaders of Portland’s African American community. Ford has a master’s degree from The John Hopkins University Center in Nanjing, China, and is fluent in Chinese. He is married and the father of a child. He converted to Islam several years ago. FBI stoolpigeons testified in the “Portland Seven” trial that he was a member of Al Qaeda.

Ford is now serving an 18-year sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. His “crime” was being arrested in China on his way to Afghanistan. “They never accused my son of a single act of terrorism,” said Sandra Ford. “But they said he is a ‘member of Al Qaeda.’ They know it is a lie. The government has decided that anyone who is a Muslim is a terrorist. It’s another case of railroading you if you are poor and Black.”

The U.S. Attorney in Portland had agreed to a plea bargain, setting the sentence for Ford at seven years. “But the Justice Department intervened. They wanted to make an example of him. We are now in the process of setting up a defense committee,” Sandra Ford said.

Last spring, the city was rocked by the FBI’s arrest of Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim convert falsely accused of involvement in the Madrid train bombing. He was jailed for weeks without legal representation. He was released and the FBI apologized for falsely accusing him of terrorism.

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