WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of the Green Party have joined other Americans protesting the manipulation of fears about terrorism in order to violate basic liberties and constitutional rights of due process and fair treatment under the law.
“From the round-ups of hundreds of Americans of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims to the application of the word ‘terrorism’ to unrelated allegations, we’re beginning to see suppression of rights similar to McCarthyism and the hysteria over communism,” said Anita Rios, an Ohio Green activist and national steering committee member.
Greens see special danger in the agenda of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has tried to crush democratic dissent by suggesting that U.S. citizens who criticize Bush policy only “aid terrorists.”
In Florida, West Virginia, and Indiana, students have been expelled from school for criticizing the war. Journalists and activists have been harassed and have lost jobs for not backing the war effort. Sami Al-Arian, a tenured professor of computer science and activist for Palestinian rights, was recently fired from the University of South Florida for having made statements against Israel in 1988.
A column in Forbes magazine by Cato Institute fellow Steve H. Hanke titled “Barbarians at the Gate” (October 29, 2001) accuses nearly every kind of civic organization of terrorism, including churches, when they oppose free trade or support measures to improve the lives of working people. Hanke urges Bush to target dissent as a menace to “the core of Western civilization.”
Even before September 11, nonviolent protesters were increasingly being hit with huge bails and fines, multiple counts, harassment by police and U.S. Marshals, and the threat of many months, even years, behind bars. At the 2000 Republican Convention, some demonstrators were held on one million dollars bail for organizing legitimate rallies or for being seen talking on their cell phones.
Accusations of terrorism have been extended to cases that represent no threat to security. In San Francisco, AIDS activists Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli were jailed for over two months, with bail set at $500,000 and $600,000 respectively, on a litany of felony and misdemeanor charges, allegedly for harassing telephone calls made to officials in protest of what they call repressive public health measures and inaccurate information being used to frighten the public. After more than two months in custody, a second judge reduced the bail in the face of public protest, and the two were recently released to await trial.
In a display of what Greens call bipartisanship at its worst, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) requested investigation of Petrelis and Pasquarelli — her own constituents — under the ‘USA PATRIOT’ Anti-terrorism Act, which allows the suspension of due process and other constitutional guarantees. Greens allege that the act, which Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, would not pass the scrutiny of a court.
“Do the allegations merit investigation and possible prosecution?,” asked Starlene Rankin, media coordinator of the Illinois Green Party and organizer of the growing national Lavender (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) Greens Caucus. “Yes. But do they constitute a terrorist threat to national security, justification for excessive bail, arbitrary upgrading of charges from misdemeanors to serious felonies, and abrogation of due process? No.”
“Public officials, with the support of political and organizational leaders — especially those who’ve been stung by Petrelis’s whistleblowing AIDS Accountability Project and exposure of organizational improprieties and inflated salaries — have found a convenient way to banish gadflies and a tactic for chilling dissent,” added Rankin. “Petrelis and Paquarelli deserve fair treatment by the legal system, in proportion to the alleged harms. Regardless of one’s opinion about the accusations or the accused, the implications are frightening for anyone who engages in political protest and civil disobedience.”
Greens call for close public scrutiny to hold law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and courts accountable for violations of constitutional rights in the investigation and prosecution of political activists.
“When President Bush named Tom Ridge head of the Office of Homeland Security on October 8, Ridge said ‘Liberty is the most precious gift we offer to our citizens.’ Gov. Ridge was wrong,” said Tom Sevigny, a Connecticut Green and member of the party’s national steering committee. “Liberty, like democracy and other basic rights, is the foundation of our nation, not a ‘gift’ from an indulgent government.”
“The willingness of the Bush Administration to rescind basic rights and freedoms, with the complicity of Democrats, puts the basis for our democracy into a state of peril greater than any threat from outside terrorism. It’s an exercise in homeland lawlessness in the name of security.”
The Green Party of the United States http://gpus.org http://www.greenpartyus.org
Details, petition, and debate on the Petrelis-Pasquarelli case http://www.openletteronline.com/cgi-openletteronline/aget3.cgi?feat=23
“Barbarians at the Gate” by Cato fellow Steve H. Hanke http://www.cato.org/dailys/10-16-01.html