For ten years, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, have been used as a pretext for endless war — tens of thousands dead in Afghanistan; more than a million killed in Iraq; and a campaign of repression at home, carried out against thousands of Arabs, Muslims, and now, even the peace movement. The road from 9/11 led the FBI to my door, with an early morning raid on my home, and a secret grand jury investigating two dozen peace activists on terrorism charges.
When the Bush Administration used the events of September 11 to justify war against Afghanistan, I joined thousands to march against that war. How many of us knew it would become the longest war in US history? Costing tens of thousands of lives, and nearly 500 billion dollars, this war has lost the support of the majority of Americans. Even so, the Obama Administration continues Bush’s war, making it his own. Under his command, the war has expanded into Pakistan, and the “war on terror” is still offered as justification for aggressive military policies across the globe.
After 9/11, a war was launched on civil liberties inside the US. In an effort to clear the way for endless war abroad, the government created fear of an enemy within. I watched in shame as this unfolded first within Arab and Muslim communities — thousands of immigrants were rounded up and questioned, many detained or deported. This has become a permanent campaign of repression and it has now expanded beyond the Muslim immigrant community.
The PATRIOT Act, with 160 provisions, opened the door for unrestrained spying on American residents and citizens, authorizing the FBI and other agencies to tap our homes, read our emails, and comb through our trash. It laid the groundwork for a network of undercover agents hiding within our own communities, from mosques to peace groups. At the same time, we witnessed massive scale racial profiling, especially at airports, where Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs and South Asians were questioned and searched, sometimes denied boarding onto flights they had paid for.
Under the guise of counter-terrorism, domestic spying mushroomed. There are now more than 164,000 suspicious activity reports maintained by the FBI without criminal cause, and a mounting list of so-called terror plots manufactured by the FBI and ensnaring individuals not suspected of involvement in any other criminal activities. The dangers of collaboration between local, state, federal and private agencies are highlighted by last month’s shocking reports that the CIA is operating in violation of the law, to spy on Americans through the New York Police Department.
A legal campaign has targeted Arabs and Muslims engaged in political or charity work that runs counter to official US foreign policy. Dr. Sami Al Arian of Tampa, Florida, was an outspoken defender of civil liberties for Arabs and Muslims in the US, and worked for the cause of the Palestinian people. Since his very public arrest in February 2003, Dr. Al Arian has spent five and a half years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement. He has now been under house arrest for 3 years. All of this, while government prosecutors failed to win a single guilty verdict against him for charges stemming from his political organizing. In another important case, The Holy Land Foundation was the biggest Muslim charity in the US when its leaders were brought up on charges of material support to terrorism. They were convicted and sentenced to 15 to 65 years each, for the crimes of sending money, food, clothing, medical and school supplies to Palestinian charities.
Even while I was aware that some of this was happening, I never imagined that I could be next. But at 7am last September 24, 8 FBI agents burst through the door of my home, and spent 5 hours going through every room, searching for evidence that I had given material support to foreign terrorist organizations. The search warrant entitled them to seize any property associated with my political activism, organizations I’ve worked with and anything about Colombia or Palestine — evidence of what I believe, what I say and who I know.
Before my phone was seized, I insisted on the right to call an attorney. He got the word out, and supporters began to gather outside my house. I soon learned that coordinated raids were being carried out at 5 Minneapolis homes and the office of the Anti-War Committee, as well as two homes in Chicago. At the same time, agents from 5 different FBI district offices were trying to question political colleagues across the country, from Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arizona and California.
Our family was stunned. My partner and daughter were still in their pajamas when the agents stormed in, and I was still upstairs in bed. For hours, we couldn’t move freely in our home, without being accompanied by an agent. As we got dressed, went to the bathroom, or made our six-year old daughter’s breakfast, we were under constant guard. They said that we were not detained, but it seemed wrong to leave these strangers alone in our home, and our daughter’s school day did not start until 10am. So we tried to shelter her from them as much as we could, playing cards in the front yard with community members who came to stand with us.
Reporters came by, asking me to comment on the raid while it was under way. With my invaded home as a backdrop, I tried to explain. It was clear that my anti-war activism was the target of the raid, especially my work in solidarity with the peoples of Colombia and Palestine. The search warrant zeroed in on international travel to these two war-ravaged nations, as well as the Anti-War Committee, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Without a script, or any chance to speak with others whose homes were targeted that morning, I began the work of defending myself, the organizations I work in, and the movements I have helped to build. On one hand, I and my colleagues were well-known in our communities as leaders of the movements protesting U.S. wars and militarism. On the other hand, local and national news reports named and pictured me, caught up in a high-profile terrorism investigation. So early that Friday morning, it was a rude awakening that the war on terror had come to my home.
Before the FBI left my home with a truck full of my belongings, still not returned a year later, they left me with a subpoena to appear before a Chicago grand jury just a few weeks later. To date, a total of 23 activists from Chicago, Grand Rapids and Minneapolis have been issued subpoenas for that grand jury, and in May the FBI initiated another raid on the home of a colleague from Los Angeles. All of us are standing up and speaking out against what is happening to us.
We have been standing up and speaking out in opposition to the “war on terror” since the day it was launched. We have protested every US war and aggression. We have extended the hand of solidarity to the peoples targeted in these wars, and resisted the criminalization of liberation struggles around the world. It is this very work that put us in the crosshairs of a government investigation that has criminalized international solidarity as a whole. Like Dr. Al Arian and the Holy Land Five, the government will claim that sending a few dollars to support kindergartens in Palestine is a crime, and that motive for our crimes can be found in our own words, when we have spoken out for the rights of people to resist war and demand justice. Our political work in opposition to the aggressions of the US government has made us targets.
Since last September, we have learned more about how the “war on terror” extended its reach to our doorsteps. Just as has been the case with those targeted earlier on the home front of this war, we were spied on, infiltrated, and now we are being pursued for what we believe and who we know. Like so many of them, we have now been placed on air travel watch list, and are subjected to pat downs and having our belongings rifled through every time we fly. While many of them had their immigration status threatened, I’ve had my passport seized.
And just like many of them, we have refused to help the government make its case against us or our friends.
At this point, almost a year since our homes were raided, we still wait to hear what the government has planned for us. None of us has spoken to that secret grand jury in Chicago, and the prosecution has not yet brought charges against us. But they have sent a clear message that we remain in the crosshairs: The prosecutor has told our attorneys that they are seeking multiple indictments (they won’t say against which of us). They have refused to return most of our property or our passports, no doubt holding it as evidence against us.
Jess Sundin is a mother and activist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her home was one of those raided by the FBI in September 2010, as part of an investigation of anti-war and international solidarity activists for allegedly providing material support (more…)
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