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AI Opposes Bush Plan to Revive FBI Surveillance

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BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A
from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine
"Between The Lines"
http://www.btlonline.org
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A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media

For release Dec. 10, 2001

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Amnesty International Opposes Bush Plan to Revive FBI Surveillance of U.S. Political and Religious Groups

* Fears grow that the U.S. government will re-institute the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which targeted activists in the 1960s and 70s.

As the war in Afghanistan enters its third month, human rights groups are scrutinizing the conduct of forces fighting the fundamentalist Taliban government. A rebellion of prisoners held by the Northern Alliance near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif resulted in the deaths of some 450 Taliban soldiers, a number of guards and an American CIA officer. Amnesty International is calling for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the rebellion and the force used to put it down.

Closer to home, Amnesty has expressed concern about the erosion of civil liberties resulting from some Bush administration anti-terrorist measures. These include the mass detention of immigrants, eavesdropping on conversations between some defendants and their attorneys and the authorization of secret military tribunals for foreign nationals suspected of terrorism. Spain, which has recently arrested individuals that may be connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, has refused to extradite suspects to face military trials. The latest White House proposal, lifting restrictions on FBI surveillance of domestic political and religious groups, has also stirred similar opposition.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Curt Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, who explains why his group and many other civil libertarians oppose government spying on civilians engaged in legal political and religious activity as a threat to basic human rights protections.

Curt Goering: The government has the responsibility to take the measures that are necessary to deal with the special situation we are facing, but these measures have to be taken in a way that respect fundamental human rights. As soon as we begin to infringe on these basic liberties in our war on terror, then we begin to destroy, I think, the very values that make our society worth protecting. So I think the government has to tread very, very carefully, here.

Between The Lines: What are some of the lessons that we should have learned in terms of surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, those who opposed the Vietnam War and other political policies at the time? What are the concerns you have about another era where we are again letting loose government agents to spy on Americans?

Curt Goering: Well, if we return to a kind of FBI-COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) which infiltrated groups in the past, Amnesty International was concerned then, that people were being held on false charges. Sometimes information was manufactured, withheld from the courts. People like Geronimo Pratt ended up serving long, long prison terms, on the basis of information with which the FBI had manufactured or withheld from the courts. It was really impossible to know how widespread that was, but the amount that we do know, was very, very disturbing. After nearly 30 years, Geronimo Pratt was released without any of the charges against him being substantiated. There are others still in prison on the basis of FBI conduct and information, which is seriously questionable. I have in mind the case of Leonard Peltier, the Native American leader imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth who is being held on charges of murder. Again in that case, the FBI knowingly used perjured testimony to obtain his extradition from Canada. There are a whole range of questions about the case that the FBI has against Leonard Peltier.

Between The Lines: What is the reaction in Congress to all this? Are you encouraged that some people are recovering from the shock of the terrorist attacks to really look at the long term implications for our Bill of Rights and civil liberties coming out of the White House?

Curt Goering: Well, there are some very strong voices of concern. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) held hearings in the judiciary committee on the tribunals and the detainees. He himself has indicated his discomfort with the secret trials and the possibility of summary executions without the possibility of judicial review for foreign nationals. He is asking some very important questions at a very difficult time, under difficult circumstances. But there aren't enough like Sen. Leahy who are willing to ask the difficult questions that need to be asked; people who take the time to review the proposed legislation at times of national emergency and especially in moments of nationalistic fervor when a president has an approval rating of over 90 percent. These are times when I think civil society and the legislative branch has to be very, very vigilant in authorizing or rubber stamping what legislation is being proposed. They have a duty and a responsibility to look closely at and consider the perspectives of the legislation and the measures that are being handed down. One of the alarming facts to us was that the Patriot Act, which was the first piece of legislation that the administration worked through Congress after Sept. 11, was passed with one dissenting vote and many members of Congress in both the House and Senate indicated they hadn't even read the legislation.

For more information, call Amnesty International USA at 1-800-AMNESTY or visit their Web site at http://www.amnesty.org

See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: www.btlonline.org

for the week ending 12/14/01.

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Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Dec. 14, 2001.

To subscribe to Between The Lines Q&A, e-mail btlqa-subscribe@topica.com


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