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Why Does Our Government Still Spy On, Arrest and Persecute Dissidents?

One needn't return in time to the McCarthy Era to find many individuals who have been investigated and persecuted for holding vilified opinions.
 
 
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Recently, an American Civil Liberties Union report pointed out, "Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as ‘low level terrorism’.”

Although DoD officials removed the offensive section at the urging of ACLU members, the DoD stance is still troubling since a longstanding practice to designate peaceful, law-abiding activists as dangerous and treasonable still exists in many government departments and agencies.

Indeed the participants of the first antiwar protest against the Vietnam incursion, put together in the mid-1960's using Gandhi's Salt March as a model for a nonviolent demonstration, faced government operatives filming them face by face from rooftops as they moved en masse down Broadway to the UN Plaza.

(My mother, a pacifist married to a World War II Conscientious Objector, and I, a child at the time of the march, both were in attendance. When the film crew focused on us, she stood tall, faced the agents with their telephoto lens, glared in disdainful defiance and, simultaneously, threw the corner of her coat over my face. Afterwards, she muttered, "How dare they try to intimidate us!") 

With that history in mind, it shouldn’t be assumed that the treatment of Nobel Peace Award winner Aung San Sui Kyi in Myanmar would be all that different if she were leading protests in the United States. While it's commendable that U.S. spokespersons object to her most recent arrest, they still might seem to be a bunch of hypocrites.

For instance, a number of Nobel Peace Award recipients, such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have had difficulties of their own on American soil.

"AFSC’s work, always open and resolutely nonviolent, has been under government surveillance for decades. The Service Committee secured nearly 1,700 pages of files from the FBI under a Freedom of Information request in 1976,” the AFSC said in seeking more recent “war on terror” records.

“These [earlier] files show that the FBI kept files on AFSC that dated back to 1921. Ten other federal agencies kept files on AFSC, including the CIA, Air Force, Navy, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, and the State Department. The CIA has intercepted overseas mail and cables in the 1950s, and some AFSC offices (and even its staff's homes) have been infiltrated and burglarized in the late 1960s into the 1970s."

AFSC associate general secretary for justice and human rights, Joyce Miller, asked, “How can we speak of spreading democracy in Iraq while dismantling it here at home?” She further remarked, “Political dissent is fundamental to a free and democratic society. It should not be equated with crime.”

Add to the AFSC problems, those pertaining to Nobel Peace Award recipient Nelson Mandela, who only a year ago had the designation "terrorist" removed from his name, under protest by the State Department, so that he no longer suffered travel restrictions from the U.S. government.

Yet his travel curtailment was not nearly as awful as was Ramzy Baroud's blockage. He, the editor of Palestine Chronicle, had his U.S. passport seized by a consular officer at an overseas American Embassy. Similarly, Sen.Edward Kennedy was, also, flagged by the U.S. no-fly list.

Then again, Ted Kennedy received much less harassment than did Nobel Peace Award winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire after her flight from Guatemala had been directed to Ireland through Houston:

"She was probably tired and ready to get back to Belfast, where her attempts to bring about an end to The Troubles in 1976 made her at 32 the youngest Nobel Peace Prize-winner ever,” according to an article in the Houston Press.

“Since then, she's been given the Pacem in Terris Award by Pope John Paul II, and the United Nations selected her (along with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jordan's Queen Noor and a dozen or so other fellow Nobel Laureates) as an honorary board member of the International Coalition for the Decade.