Ashcroft’s War on Greenpeace

by KURT NIMMO

Imagine: one of the members of your peace group is arrested for blocking a parking lot driveway at a federal building. He or she may have or may not have blocked the driveway intentionally; regardless, the police arrest the person. There’s a court appearance and a fine to pay. But ten months later your organization is ordered to court again, this time with the intervention of Ashcroft’s Justice Department. Seems the feds believe your organization endangered the lives of federal employees. A misdemeanor turns into a serious felony. If convicted, your organization could lose its tax-exempt status and be forced to report its activities to the government.

Sound ludicrous? Not in America, you say?

Think again.

In April, 2002, Greenpeace activists boarded a commercial ship off the coast of Florida. The ship was transporting mahogany illegally exported from Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The activists unfurled a banner stating: "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging." The activists did not engage in violence or destroy property. Minor charges against individual activists were settled last year.

Enter Ashcroft and the Justice Department.

In July 2003, the Justice Department filed criminal charges in Miami federal court against the entire Greenpeace organization under an obscure 1872 law originally intended to end the practice of "sailor-mongering." In 1890, an Oregon court described the purpose of the sailor-mongering law as preventing "the evil" of "sailor-mongers [who] get on board vessels and by the help of intoxicants, and the use of other means, often savoring of violence, get the crews ashore and leave the vessel without help to manage or care for her."

"This prosecution is unprecedented in American history," complained John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace in the United States. "Never before has our government criminally prosecuted an entire organization for the free speech activities of its supporters. If this prosecution succeeds, then peaceful protest — an essential American tradition from the Boston Tea Party through the modern civil rights movement — may become yet another casualty of Attorney General Ashcroft’s attack on civil liberties."

If convicted, Greenpeace could not only lose its tax-exempt status, but be forced to regularly report its activities to the government. "Such a prospect must secretly delight many people in the administration who see the group as an ever-present irritant," writes Jonathan Turley of the Los Angeles Times. "After all, it was Greenpeace that held the first demonstration at the president’s ranch after his inauguration, causing a stir when activists unfurled a banner reading "Bush: the Toxic Texan. Don’t Mess With the Earth.’"

The Bushites are steadfastly opposed to civil disobedience, an honorable form of activism with a long history — from David Thoreau refusing to pay war taxes to Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad and women earning the right to vote in the United States. Imagine participants of the Freedom Rides in the South and non-violent protesters against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama being charged as "sailor-mongers."

If Ashcroft and the Bush Justice Department had their way, there would never have been antiwar demonstrations during the Vietnam War, or an anti-apartheid movement. The Women’s Pentagon Actions, the Pledge of Resistance, nonviolent civil disobedience actions at Diablo Canyon, the Livermore Laboratories, and SAC bases — all would be criminalized and severely punished.

Imagine Pax Christi USA, an international Catholic peace organization, losing its its tax-exempt status and forced to report to the government. Imagine Detroit’s Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton serving time in prison like the three Dominican nuns who were charged with obstructing national defense for painting crosses on a Minuteman III missile silo (Ashcroft wanted the elderly nuns to spend 30 years in prison, essentially a death sentence). Last year, Gumbleton urged the Pax Christi USA National Assembly to sign a civil disobedience pledge in opposition to Bush’s impending invasion of Iraq. The pledge was sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, Education for Peace in Iraq Center, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, National Network to End the War against Iraq, and Voices in the Wilderness.

In fact, the Bushites have already attacked Voices in the Wilderness, the organization that brought humanitarian aid and medical supplies to the people of Iraq. Ashcroft and the Justice Department assessed a $20,000 fine against Voices in the Wilderness for violating the Iraqi Sanctions Regulations enforced under the international Emergency Economic Powers Act, which prohibits the delivery of goods and services to Iraq except under special license of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. "Voices will not pay the fine, and we don’t want anyone else to pay the fine for us," said a defiant Kathy Kelly, confounder of the organization.

Is it possible, due to growing opposition to Bush’s USA PATRIOT Act, that the Justice Department has decided instead to use arcane laws to go after its enemies? Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act stipulates that a person or organization can be considered terrorist if they engage in activity intended "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population" and "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." In the above example, blocking the driveway of a federal building may very well be considered "intimidation or coercion" by the Justice Department.

Ashcroft and USA PATRIOT have come under increasing fire — and that’s why the Justice Department organized a 16-city tour to "correct misinformation" about the draconian aspects of the law. On the final day of this closed-door, invite-only dog and pony show, more than 1,200 demonstrators in Boston and 2,500 in New York City made their displeasure known.

Ashcroft and the Justice Department will likely continue to plumb the depths of out-dated law and fashion iron-fisted responses to the environmental and peace movements. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, organizations such as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni — founded by none other than Lynne Cheney and the neocon Senator Joseph Lieberman — and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism will continue to target "groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing," in other words professors, legislators, authors, columnists, and activists who exercise their rights under the First Amendment and oppose the homicidal madness of Bush and the neocons.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”