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October 11, 2003

Bush War on Dissent Continues

Greenpeace has made its mark on the world taking the civil disobediance of Martin Luther King Jr. onto the high seas. In a typical example in April 2002, they sought to board a cargo ship and unfurl a banner accusing the ship of illegally importing mahogany from Brazil, a violation of bans meant to protect the rainforests.

What was not typical was the government's response. As normal, the protesters were individually arrested for trespass and sentenced. But then, fifteen months after the incident, federal prosecutors are seeking to indict the whole organization under an obscure 19th century law banning early boarding of a ship before docking.

The organizational indictment of a non-profit is a clear attempt, following the pattern of the Patriot Act, to revive conspiracy-like charges to suppress dissent. As the article notes, this kind of prosecution has recent precendents:

Legal experts and historians said that the prosecution may not be exactly unprecedented, citing, for instance, legal efforts by state prosecutors in the South to harass the NAACP in the 1950s and 1960s. But they said it was both unusual and questionable.

"There is not only the suspicion but also perhaps the reality that the purpose of the prosecution is to inhibit First Amendment activities," said Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh who has studied the history of civil disobedience in America.

Oh, and despite the fact that even a minor organizational conviction could profoundly effect the non-profit's tax status and in other ways, the prosecutors are asking the judge to deny Greenpeace the right to a jury trial.

No free speech, no right to a jury.

Welcome to John Ashcroft's world.

Posted by Nathan at October 11, 2003 07:50 AM