Saturday, May 12, 2007

RE: FBI Questioning Protesters

----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: Wendy Bird
Date: May 11, 2007 2:14 PM


http://www.metrojustice.org/Newsletter%20May%2007FBI.htm

FBI Questioning Protesters
By Carol D. Leonnig, The Washington Post

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.

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.

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.

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. 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 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,"

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