Monday, July 18, 2005

Deja Vu

I remember the '60s and '70s. I remember taking part in my share of demonstrations for civil rights and against the Viet Nam war. I also remember my embarrassment when my older brother's security clearance was held up for a while because my "file" with the FBI troubled someone at the Pentagon.

Fortunately, my brother was able to convince the government that while I was a bit odd, I was an essentially harmless idealist, and that those arrests were just a little 'youthful indiscretion.'

When I applied for admittance to the State Bar of California, I openly disclosed my activities of the '70s and my arrest record (trespassing, all charges dismissed), which apparently satisfied the Bar because I was admitted. Still, I was worried. See, I knew that I hadn't been youthfully indiscrete, nor had any of my friends. We knew what we were doing. And I didn't regret anything I had done. I still don't.

That's why the article in today's New York Times caused me to shiver.

WASHINGTON, July 17 - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected at least 3,500 pages of internal documents in the last several years on a handful of civil rights and antiwar protest groups in what the groups charge is an attempt to stifle political opposition to the Bush administration.

The F.B.I. has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace, an environmental group that has led acts of civil disobedience in protest over the administration's policies, the Justice Department disclosed in a court filing this month in a federal court in Washington.

It appears that the government is back to the collecting and keeping of information of citizens engaged in exercising their First Amendment Rights. I had sincerely hoped that such attempts to bully citizens into silence over governmental overreaching had died with J. Edgar Hoover. My hope was obviously misplaced.

Protest groups charge that F.B.I. counterterrorism officials have used their expanded powers since the Sept. 11 attacks to blur the line between legitimate civil disobedience and violent or terrorist activity in what they liken to F.B.I. political surveillance of the 1960's. The debate became particularly heated during protests over the war in Iraq and the run-up to the Republican National Convention in New York City last year, with the disclosures that the F.B.I. had collected extensive information on plans for protests.

Still, the debate over the F.B.I.'s practices intensified last year during the presidential campaign. The F.B.I. questioned numerous political protesters, and issued subpoenas for some to appear before grand juries, in an effort to head off what officials said they feared could be violent and disruptive convention protests. And the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation and subpoenaed records regarding Internet messages posted by critics of the Bush administration that listed the names of delegates to the Republican convention.

Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 1,000 antiwar groups, said she was particularly concerned that the F.B.I.'s counterterrorism division was discussing the coalition's operations. "We always assumed the F.B.I. was monitoring us, but to see the counterterrorism people looking at us like this is pretty jarring," she said.

Pretty jarring, indeed. I think we need to remind this maladministration that 9/11 did not change everything. And I think Congress should look into this and consider the effect of the Patriot Act on the lives of citizens actively concerned with the continuation of the freedom that has always been the hallmark of this country.


Blogger Desi said...

I'm starting to feel as though I just can't be shocked anymore.

6:34 AM  

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