Workers Vanguard No. 966
8 October 2010
War on Terror Witchhunt
Protest FBI Raids on Leftists, Union Activists!
OCTOBER 5—In a series of dawn raids on September 24, FBI agents in Minneapolis and Chicago invaded seven homes and an office of leftists and labor activists. The Feds spent hours ransacking their homes, seizing cell phones and passports and carting away vanloads of boxes filled with personal papers, address books and computer disks. The activists were slapped with subpoenas to testify this month before a witchhunting grand jury. Subpoenas have also been served against individuals in North Carolina and Michigan. The government seeks to pin charges of “material support to terrorism” on the activists and others associated with them based on their political activities in solidarity with the oppressed in the Near East and Latin America. Today, an attorney for the activists announced that all 14 of those hit with subpoenas in the Midwest will refuse to testify before the grand jury in Chicago.
Most of the victims of the raids are well-known leftists. Jessica Sundin is a longtime antiwar activist in Minneapolis, a supporter of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) and member of the Anti-War Committee, whose office was also raided. Joe Iosbaker is a chief steward and executive board member of Service Employees International Union Local 73 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he acts as an adviser to the Students for a Democratic Society. Mick Kelly is the editor of the FRSO’s newspaper, Fight Back! Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian American antiwar activist, is executive director of the Arab American Action Network.
It is vitally necessary for the labor movement to come to the defense of these activists and demand an end to the witchhunt. For decades, the capitalist rulers have sought to tar leftists as “terrorists”—i.e., people with no rights the state is bound to respect and to whom the government can do anything. The recent FBI raids open a sinister new front in that effort. Paving the Feds’ way, a June 21 Supreme Court decision expanded what can legally be considered “material support to terrorism” to include a wide range of activities deemed as somehow aiding proscribed foreign organizations.
In a protest letter issued the day after the raids, the Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, denounced the Feds’ attempt to chill the political activities of those who protest government policies at home and wars abroad. The letter stated: “From its inception under the Bush administration, the ‘war on terror,’ which initially victimized Arab and Muslim immigrants, set into motion repressive measures that also target leftists, trade unionists, and black people. Now the Obama administration is escalating these wholesale attacks on civil liberties with these neo-McCarthyite raids.”
The PDC and a number of other organizations have demanded that the subpoenas be withdrawn, that no charges be filed and that all belongings seized by the Feds be returned immediately. On September 27, the San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution condemning the raids, and protest rallies have been held in cities across the country.
Almost to a man, liberal organizations and the reformist left had promoted the illusion that Barack Obama would represent some kind of “change” from the George W. Bush regime. But as we pointed out, what drove Obama’s promises to clean up some of the Bush gang’s most blatant “excesses” was his commitment to wage a more effective “war on terror.” In office, Obama has embraced every one of the repressive tools handed down to him by Bush (and Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton)—and then some: detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo; domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency; invocation of “state secrets” to quash lawsuits exposing U.S.-sponsored torture; kangaroo-court military commissions to try “terror” suspects; endorsement of indefinite detention, a hallmark of police-state regimes. While Bush broadened the FBI’s legal authority to launch “terrorism” investigations based solely on one’s political views, the Obama government has taken this a big step further with the concerted raids against leftists.
“War on Terror” Targets All of Us
The same day as the FBI raids, the left-wing National Lawyers Guild released a report titled “The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the U.S.” that pointed to “a highly orchestrated curtailment of personal and political liberties” in the nine years since the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The report denounced the government’s stigmatizing activists as terrorists and its use of “fear-based techniques against those who dare speak out against government policies.”
The purpose of “anti-terror” witchhunts is...to instill terror in the population. The country’s rulers fan fears of constant threat from the likes of Al Qaeda in order to garner popular support for (or acquiescence to) an immense expansion of police powers. As the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee argued in an amici curiae brief filed in July 2003 on behalf of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen seized and detained by the government as an “enemy combatant”:
“The ‘war against terrorism’ is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality. It is a political crusade conducted in the name of ridding society of a perceived evil. It is no more a ‘war’ in a military sense than ‘war against cancer,’ ‘war against obesity’ or a ‘war against immorality.’ Like the ‘war against communism’ and the ‘war against drugs,’ this ‘war’ is a pretext to increase the state’s police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population.”
It did not take long after the September 11 attacks for the government to demonstrate that its campaign for “national unity” against “terrorism” targeted a much wider swath than immigrants from Islamic countries, not least the labor movement. In December 2001, striking school teachers in New Jersey were pilloried as Taliban. The following year, Tom Ridge, then head of Homeland Security, personally intervened to warn West Coast longshoremen organized by the ILWU that any strike action would be treated as a threat to national security. Even such liberal pacifists as the Quakers and the Catholic Worker group have been spied upon in the “anti-terror” witchhunt, as documented in a report issued last month by the Justice Department’s Inspector General.
The SL/PDC amici brief pointed out: “The Executive’s declaration that its ‘war against terrorism’ forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents ‘for life’ from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents.” The brief continued, “The Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing.” Taking this “right” to its logical conclusion, the Obama administration earlier this year gave legal authority for the targeted assassination of a U.S. citizen living abroad—Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is accused of being an Al Qaeda operative and is believed to be hiding in Yemen.
How the “anti-terror” laws and other measures could be used for political witchhunts was on display in the police mobilizations that met protesters at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2004 and 2008. Civil disobedience and disruptions caused by a few anarchoid youth—trivial acts that used to be vindictively charged as “disorderly conduct”—were now defined as acts of terrorism. In the lead-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC), eight protest organizers were arrested on “terrorism” charges. Since then, charges have been dropped against three of the “RNC 8” and another has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. While “terrorism” charges have been dropped against the remaining four, they still face trumped-up conspiracy charges that carry with them the threat of years in prison. With the trial for the four due to begin this month, we demand: Drop all charges against the RNC protesters!
While the country’s rulers have a long history of harassing and criminalizing leftist dissent, the designation of political opponents as terrorists is a threat of greater magnitude. To be declared a terrorist is to be declared an individual outside of society, for whom democratic rights have no application and who the cops have license to gun down, or disappear, without any purported reason. In the 1960s, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover’s declaration that the Black Panther Party constituted the “greatest threat to national security” gave police nationwide a green light to blow Panthers away. Thirty-eight Black Panther Party members were assassinated in the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO campaign and hundreds of others railroaded to prison. Begun in the 1950s, COINTELPRO was vastly expanded under Democrat Lyndon Johnson and his attorney general, Ramsey Clark (long a leading light in the Workers World Party’s International Action Center).
Democrats, Republicans Criminalize Dissent
The government’s prohibition of “material support to terrorism” originated with the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act under Clinton and was expanded by Bush’s USA Patriot Act. The law proscribes providing money, personnel, services or training to some 40 foreign organizations designated by the Secretary of State as terrorist.
One measure of the threat that “anti-terror” laws pose for the rights of the population as a whole can be seen in the case of leftist attorney Lynne Stewart. Along with her legal assistant Ahmed Abdel Sattar and translator Mohamed Yousry, Stewart was convicted in 2005 of frame-up charges of support to terrorism for her determined legal defense of blind Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was imprisoned for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. At stake in Stewart’s case was the very right to legal representation. This July, Obama’s Justice Department succeeded in pressing the courts to vindictively increase her sentence to ten years—a virtual death sentence for a 70-year-old woman who suffers from breast cancer.
The June Supreme Court ruling expanded what constitutes “material support” to include the exercise of the rights of speech and association, which are supposedly protected by the First Amendment. The ruling was in response to a case brought by the Humanitarian Law Project and other groups and individuals who wanted to advise the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on how to appeal to the United Nations for peaceful resolution of their struggles. The LTTE and PKK had long been targets of the wars waged by the U.S.-supported Sri Lankan and Turkish governments against the oppressed Tamil and Kurdish national minorities.
The Court’s decision essentially criminalized any activity that is considered as giving legitimacy to “terrorists.” This could include anything from donating money to Muslim charities to interviewing a guerrilla fighter for the press (see “Supreme Court Decision Shreds First Amendment Rights,” WV No. 961, 2 July). The secular nationalist LTTE and PKK had made it onto the State Department hit list because they fought a desperate struggle against regimes allied with the U.S.
In ruling against the Humanitarian Law Project, the Supreme Court declared outright: “Providing foreign terrorist groups with material support in any form also furthers terrorism by straining the United States’ relationships with its allies.” A mere three months later, the Feds launched their attack against leftist activists. Freedom Road, which cheered Obama’s 2008 campaign, is hardly a radical leftist outfit. However, the FRSO and others became targets of government repression on the basis of their support to the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the secular-nationalist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The FARC has been embroiled in a long struggle against Washington’s Colombian puppet regime and its paramilitary death squads, who specialize in killing union activists. Some of the leftists targeted in the FBI raids have been active in the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera, a political prisoner in the U.S. who, as a leader of the FARC, was tracked down and arrested in Ecuador with the help of U.S. agents.
For the U.S. imperialists, who carry out mass terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere on a daily basis, the designation of “foreign terrorist organization” is elastic and constantly shifting. The last domestic “terrorism” witchhunt, under the Republican Reagan administration, was aimed at mobilizing the population for war against the Soviet Union. We wrote in “Why Reagan Needs ‘Terrorism’,” (WV No. 347, 3 February 1984): “For the bourgeoisie, ‘terrorism’ is violence associated with causes of which they disapprove, the use of force outside their own monopoly of violence: strikers defending their picket lines, black people protecting their communities against racist nightriders, Central American peasants fighting back against the landlords’ army and hired killers.”
Washington’s terrorist designation has included the Irish Republican Army and Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress during the reign of apartheid in South Africa. Included on today’s list are the Basque nationalist ETA, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Real IRA. Although the Islamic reactionaries of Al Qaeda are currently at the top of the U.S. hit list, when these forces were throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the U.S. government hailed them as “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union. The Soviet military intervention in that country had opened the road to the liberation of its horribly oppressed peoples, and particularly women. The Kremlin bureaucracy’s treacherous withdrawal of troops in 1988-89 allowed the mujahedin cutthroats to eventually take power, after which the likes of Osama bin Laden turned on their former U.S. paymasters.
The Workers Party Has a Right to Organize!
That Obama has stepped up Bush’s attacks on civil liberties should come as no surprise. The Democrats’ posture as the friend of labor and minorities makes them often more effective in carrying out attacks on the working class and the oppressed. It was Democrat Woodrow Wilson who ordered the arrest and imprisonment of members of the Industrial Workers of the World as well as Eugene Debs and members of his Socialist Party for their opposition to the interimperialist First World War. The Wilson administration also carried out the deportation of thousands of foreign-born radicals in the 1919 Palmer Raids, which came on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was liberal icon Franklin D. Roosevelt who interned 120,000 Japanese Americans in World War II and imprisoned 18 Trotskyists and Minneapolis Teamsters union leaders under the Smith Act for opposing U.S. imperialism’s entry into the war. His successor, Harry Truman, carried out the Smith Act prosecutions of Communist Party members in the late 1940s.
Where before the government raised the spectre of communism, today it paints its witchhunt targets as “terrorists” and their supporters. In any case, the point of these campaigns is to strengthen the apparatus of the bourgeois state, which is a machinery of repression and violence against those the capitalists exploit and oppress.
In our fight to build a revolutionary workers party that will act as a tribune of the people, we Marxists are intransigent in our opposition to any infringement on democratic rights. In the mid 1980s, we successfully challenged the FBI’s Domestic Security/Terrorism guidelines, which equated left-wing political activity with terrorism and organized crime. In announcing our suit against the FBI, we wrote in WV No. 340 (21 October 1983):
“We are compelled to undertake this legal battle, not only to defend ourselves against the new FBI red-hunt but also to fight to preserve the existing democratic rights of the working-class movement. We do not intend to be blown away—faceless, nameless victims in the dead of night. As the organization which embodies the continuity of revolutionary Marxism in the U.S. today, our task is too important: the liberation of the workers and oppressed from the chains of this decaying, racist system through victorious socialist revolution. A Workers Party Has a Right to Organize!”
As a result of our lawsuit, the government conceded the central aim of our legal challenge—that Marxist advocacy cannot be equated with violence or criminal terrorism. The FBI changed its definition of the SL to one that describes what we are—“a Marxist political organization.” Our suit struck a modest but genuine blow to the government’s efforts to criminalize leftist political dissent. But, as we wrote when we announced the victory of our suit, “We have no illusions that the government’s secret police have stopped or will stop their harassment, infiltration and disruption of Marxist political organizations and other perceived political opponents of the government” (“FBI Admits: Marxists Are Not Terrorists,” WV No. 368, 7 December 1984).
A longstanding low level of class and social struggle has given the rulers a virtually free hand in implementing their attacks on democratic rights and the rights of labor. Bearing the lion’s share of responsibility for this situation are the capitalists’ lieutenants in the labor bureaucracy, who have acceded to wage cuts and union-busting while saluting the imperialists’ “war on terror” in the name of “national unity.”
As we have always insisted, the ultimate target of “anti-terror” and other measures of repression is the multiracial working class, which has the potential social power and class interest to be the gravediggers of the capitalist order. Short of the overthrow of capitalist rule, none of the rights and gains that working people hold dear are secure. The Spartacist League fights to build the vanguard workers party needed to lead the exploited and oppressed in a socialist revolution that sweeps away murderous capitalist-imperialism and establishes the rule of the working class.