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Why I will not testify – Maureen Murphy

Ma’an – 25/01/2011

I have been summoned to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago on Jan. 25. But I will not testify, even at the risk of being put in jail for contempt of court, because I believe that our most fundamental rights as citizens are at stake.

I am one of 23 anti-war, labor and solidarity activists in Chicago and throughout the Midwest who are facing a grand jury as part of an investigation into “material support for foreign terrorist organizations.”

No crime has been identified. No arrests have been made. And when it raided several prominent organizers’ homes and offices on Sept. 24, the FBI acknowledged that there is no immediate threat to the American public. So what is this investigation really about?

The activists who have been ensnared in this fishing net work with different groups to end the US wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to end US military aid for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and US military aid to Colombia, which has a shocking record of repression and human rights abuses. All of us have publicly and peacefully dedicated our lives to social justice and advocating for more just and less deadly US foreign policy.

I spent a year and a half working for a human rights organization in the occupied West Bank, where I witnessed how Israel established “facts on the ground” at the expense of international law and Palestinian rights. I saw the wall, settlements and checkpoints and the ugly reality of life under Israeli occupation which is bankrolled by the US government on the taxpayer’s dime. Many of us who are facing the grand jury have traveled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Colombia to learn about the human rights situation and the impact of US foreign policy in those places so we may educate fellow Americans upon our return and work to build movements to end our government’s harmful intervention abroad.

Travel for such purposes should be protected by the first amendment. But new legislation now allows the US government to consider such travel as probable cause for invasive investigations that disrupt our movements and our lives.

The June 2010 US Supreme Court decision Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project expanded even further the scope of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 to include first amendment activity such as political speech and human rights training.

Even former President Jimmy Carter feels vulnerable under these laws because of his work doing elections training in Lebanon where one of the main political parties, until earlier this month a member of the ruling coalition, is listed as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the US State Dept. “The vague language of the law leaves us wondering if we will be prosecuted for our work to promote peace and freedom,” Carter has said.

Former FBI officer Mike German, who now works with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the television program Democracy Now! that the subpoenas, search warrants and materials seized from activists’ homes make it clear that the government is interested in “address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials, first amendment sort of materials.” He added, “unfortunately, after 9/11, [investigation standards] have been diluted significantly to where the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start an investigation.”

The US government doesn’t need to call me before a grand jury to learn my activities and my beliefs. I have often appealed to my elected representatives to take a principled stand on foreign policy issues, protested outside federal buildings and have written countless articles over the years that can be easily found through a Google search.

Witnesses called to testify to a grand jury have no right to have a lawyer in the room and the jury is hand-picked by government prosecutors with no screening for bias. It is the ultimate abuse of power for a citizen to be forced to account to the government for no other reason than her exercise of constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association.

This is why these grand jury proceedings are a threat to the rights of all Americans, and why those of us who have been targeted, and others in the movements we work with, call them a witch hunt. And, even though it means I risk being jailed for the life of the grand jury, I will not be appearing before it.

The grand jury has been scrapped in virtually all countries and more than half the states in this country. There is a long American history of abusing grand juries to launch inquisitions into domestic political movements, from the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement to labor activists advocating for an eight-hour work day to the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years.

We have done nothing wrong and risk being jailed because we have exercised our rights to free speech, to organize and hold our government accountable. It is a dark day for America when people face jail for exercising the rights that we hold so dear.

The author is a journalist and Palestine solidarity activist who lives in Chicago.

January 25, 2011 - Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism

3 Comments »

  1. Indeed, it is a very dark day for those who love Justice, however it is ALWAYS the darkest before the light of dawn.

    Comment by Joyce/No lies | January 25, 2011 | Reply

  2. It is a sad state of affairs that one can now see the once honorable and respected organisation, the FBI to actioning crimes against the likes of Maureen. A witch hunt if ever there was one.

    Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the fact that such organisations can be manipulated for political reasons, in this case dictated to by foreign, unpatriotic fifth columnists whose claim over what can be said and not said by over 200 million people seems to becoming firmer every day.
    This together with the erosion of the Constitution, a once admired document, before Bush that is, has made America an unrecognisable country with values brought and sold like commodities, all the while it is the unaware people who lose through through the diminution of rights and privileges, once enschrined in the Constitution, valuable indeed.

    Maureen, you are right not to testify in this political show trial, harkening back to the days of Nazi Germany. No one but those people who are active on the web, reading of the criminal acts by your government, would support your ideals. The rest are asleep, sadly

    Hand in there. Internationally, you are greatly respected.

    Comment by rexw | January 25, 2011 | Reply

  3. I also support your stand in this matter. No person living in the US should have to bow down to those with an agenda that is not in the best interests of their country. Free of speech is everyone’s right. The hypocrisy of the recent criticism of the Chinese premier over their human rights when the US people are being downgraded as individuals and their rights diminished daily by such acts as this.

    Comment by rhys | January 25, 2011 | Reply


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