Refuse & Resist!

Just Say NO to Grand Jury Attack on the Anti-War Movement

A Statement from the National Office of Refuse & Resist! February 9, 2004

Revolutionary Worker #1230, February 22, 2004, posted at

This month, the federal government issued outrageous legal orders to antiwar individuals and organizations in Iowa. The federal authorities claimed that they were investigating an unnamed person who allegedly attempted to scale a fence during an antiwar demonstration at a federal facility.

On that flimsy and openly repressive basis, a subpoena demanded that Drake University officials turn over records about the Drake chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) which sponsored an antiwar conference during November 2003. Federal agents demanded membership and leadership lists, annual reports, location of organizational offices and any records from campus security that might describe "the content of what was discussed at the meeting."

In a particularly Orwellian move, a sealed court gag order also legally barred Drake officials from talking about the case.

Subpoenas also summoned four local activists -- Wendy Vasquez, Elton Davis, Patti McKee and Brian Terrell -- before a federal felony grand jury. The subpoenas were served by a deputy who is a member of the FBI-Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The RW received the accompanying statement on this dangerous development -- which was issued on Feb. 9 by the National Office of Refuse & Resist.

On February 10, the day the "Des Moines Four" were ordered to testify, a crowd of over 200 supporters outside the courthouse heard the exciting news that the government had withdrawn these subpoenas at the last minute. A federal judge lifted the gag order on Drake officials.

NLG President Michael Avery said, "The government was forced to back down in this case and it shows that people can and should stand up to the government when it is abusing its powers."


Meanwhile, the New York Times reported (Feb. 11): "The Justice Department is demanding that at least six hospitals in New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere turn over hundreds of patient medical records on certain abortions performed there.. The department wants to examine the medical histories for what could amount to dozens of the doctors' patients in the last three years to determine, in part, whether the procedure, known medically as intact dilation and extraction, was in fact medically necessary, government lawyers said. But hospital administrators are balking because they say the highly unusual demand would violate the privacy rights of their patients.. A federal judge in Manhattan last week allowed the subpoenas to go forward and threatened to impose penalties, and perhaps even lift a temporary ban he had imposed on the government's new abortion restrictions, if the records were not turned over."

For the first time since the Vietnam War, a university has been ordered to turn over records concerning an anti-war program on campus to a federal grand jury. Four anti-war activists have also been subpoenaed to appear before that same grand jury on February 10. On top of this, the university has been issued a gag-order, preventing it from saying anything about the whole sordid affair.

What so provoked the ire of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft gang was a conference on November 15, 2003, on the Drake University campus titled "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!" The conference was followed the next day by a righteous demonstration at the headquarters of the Iowa National Guard in Johnston, Iowa. This is precisely the kind of action the times call for if we are going to stop the government's juggernaut of war and repression.

Stung by popular resistance, the government issued a subpoena on February 3 to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, calling for the turning over all records and documents in the possession of Drake University relating to the anti-war conference held on campus. The conference was sponsored by the Drake Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG).

The subpoena commands the university to turn over all records "relating to the scheduling of the conference," the identity of all "persons that actually attended the meeting, the identity of the officers of the Drake chapter of the NLG," all "meeting agenda or annual reports of this organization filed with the University since January 1, 2002," and all "records of Drake University campus security reflecting any observations made of the November 15, 2003 meeting, including any records of persons in charge or control of the meeting, and any records of attendees of the meeting."

In other words, the university is being commanded to act as an arm of the state in spying on political dissent (the assumption is made that the campus cops already did so!) and it is ordered not make any public comment or protest about it.

The Grand Jury Is a Tool of Repression

The popular illusion is that grand juries exist to protect citizens from malicious prosecution by the state, by hearing the state's evidence in private to ascertain if there is sufficient reason for a trial to be held. In the 1950s and '60s, however, grand juries were regularly used to both harass political dissenters and threaten people with being sent to jail if they do not snitch on their associates in secret proceedings. For example, baby doctor Benjamin Spock and Yale chaplain William Sloan Coffin were indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy to obstruct the draft after they had signed a statement against the Vietnam war and the draft.

Grand jury testimony used to be secret. Now under the USA Patriot Act, "secret" grand jury testimony can be shared with the FBI, CIA, and other agencies asserting an interest in an "anti- terrorism" investigation, but witnesses cannot get a transcript to prove what they did or did not say. So what goes on behind the closed doors is only a secret from the movements of resistance, not from the political police.

When you appear before a grand jury, you may not be accompanied by your attorney, there are no public spectators, and the federal attorney asks the questions. You can -- and should--assert your Fifth Amendment right not to testify. But you cannot do this selectively. That is, once you begin answering questions, you must answer them all or go to jail. Finally, the government can strip you of your Fifth Amendment protection by giving you immunity from prosecution for what you say. If this happens, you must tell the government snoops what they want to know or go to jail.

Too often people subpoenaed think they can outfox the grand jury and "find out" what the investigation is really after. This is a very big mistake. The trained federal attorney has no intention of tipping the government's hand. If you give testimony--even seemingly innocuous testimony--it can be used after you leave the room to "corroborate" a bogus story being fed to the grand jury. Also, if your associates are later indicted, you have no way of proving that it was not on the basis of your testimony. The watchword in dealing with the agents of repression is always DON'T TALK.

The Politics of Repression

This sudden resurgence of federal grand juries against antiwar protests highlights some ugly trends and dangerous possibilities. Besides the chilling of dissent against the U.S.'s "war on the world" by threatening people with grand jury subpoenas, there is a larger pattern of a grab for power by the federal government as concentrated in the executive branch. First of all, why is the federal government involved at all?

There is a move underway to paint anti-war protest as illegal support for "terrorism" under the USA Patriot Act and it raises the specter of using anti-dissent federal laws from World War I that are still on the books. Those laws sought to criminalize the promotion of "disaffection" among the armed forces or impede military recruitment. The Sedition and Espionage Acts were used during that period to jail hundreds of antiwar activists and ban anti-war publications from the U.S. mail.

What we are seeing is a pattern of selectively "federalizing" local law enforcement, literally making "a federal case" out of local dissent, and creating federal "dissent verboten" zones around the President and federal institutions.

Finally, colleges and universities have historically been integral to movements for rights and social progress. In attacking a university the government seeks to wield its tremendous power to shut down avenues of questioning and facilities for the organization of protest. Added to this is a totally unjustified gag order of a type that has been made "standard operating procedure" in the USA Patriot Act.

The Importance of Saying NO!

Refuse & Resist! calls on all progressive movements and organizations opposing the Bush regime's "war on the world" to adopt guidelines and practices that will frustrate the activities of the federal snoops. We urge all those served with these political harassment grand jury subpoenas to seek legal counsel, expose these attacks to the public, and to resist compliance by every appropriate means. Responding to these attacks is not a "distraction" from our movements; it is an integral part of our struggle and wins people to understanding more clearly the nature of what we are up against.

As Refuse & Resist! says in its founding statement, "we renounce all allegiance to this hateful `Resurgent America' program, and encourage all others in its vociferous and determined renunciation. There can be no communality of purpose, healing of divisions, or coming together as one nation behind this new course. To acquiesce further in silence is to be complicit."

We call on everyone to dare to do what is necessary and organize to stop the war on the world and its police state measures at home. Give your full support to the anti-war community of Iowa and the National Lawyers Guild. Support the demand that Federal Attorney Stephen Patrick O'Meara and Federal Judge Ronald E. Longstaff quash these politically motivated subpoenas. Join the protest demonstrations at the federal courthouse. And wholeheartedly stand with all who refuse to comply.

Contact Refuse & Resist! at 212-713-5657 or Further updates on this important battle will be posted at Statements of protest and support can be forwarded through Refuse & Resist!