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FBI On Trial in Judy Bari Bombing Case

Its about time...

Jury selection began yesterday in a suit filed by Judi Bari and fellow Earth First activist Darryl Cherney against the FBI in connection with the 1990 bombing of their car which left Bari permanently disabled. The jury will eventually decide whether the FBI and Oakland police violated the civil rights of deceased environmental activist (Judy Bari died of breast cancer in 1997) and her companion. Lawyers for Earth First will argue that investigators violated the pair's rights by ignoring the evidence and treating them as terrorists. "Our lawsuit will hopefully increase public awareness so we can put pressure on our government so we can hold our FBI accountable," Cherney said. "We are charging the FBI knew for a fact that we were innocent, and yet blamed us for bombing ourselves because of our political position as environmentalists." In previous rulings that the case could go forward, several judges have criticized the investigation and denied officers and agents immunity. "The Department seemed to have no interest in investigating anybody except the people who were bombed," wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt in a 1999 ruling that kept the suit alive.

Twelve years ago, in the spring of 1990, it was Judi and Darryl who faced impending charges, based on a series of outright lies told in the immediate aftermath of the bombing by Oakland Police officers and FBI agents. As Judi clung to life in the critical care unit, and Darryl was interrogated repeatedly without a lawyer, the police and FBI ignored or covered-up every piece of evidence that might lead them to the real perpetrators. Instead, they used the blast as an opportunity to vilify nonviolent activists who had become a thorn in the side of the big timber corporations.

There is concern now about how fair the trial involving persons labeled by the FBI and the Oakland police as "terrorists" can be in present day America. Indeed, a number of potential jurors during questioning Monday said they might have qualms about sitting in judgment of a case involving alleged terrorist tactics. Judge Claudia Wilken declared the case will be limited to questions of police misconduct. "The FBI is not on trial here. The United States government is not on trial. At issue is the conduct of the officers who investigated this case and whether in the course of that investigation they violated the rights of the plaintiffs," Wilken said. Many disagree with that narrow assessment. In 1999, Wilken tried to further limit the legal issues surrounding the case by ruling that the individual officers were entitled to "qualified immunity," a liability exemption generally granted to law enforcement authorities in their routine handling of criminal investigations. A three judge appeals panel overturned that ruling.

Outside the federal building in Oakland where the trial is being held more then 500 people rallied in support. Judi's 21 year old daughter told those gathered, "What happened in my mother's case was a long time ago, but the implications today in the face of civil liberties being eroded to combat terrorism ring true," she said. "I think it's as important as ever that this case go to trial."

Even the mainstream Sierra Club views this trial as critical. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope urged national support for the lawsuit and solicited other national environmental leaders to join him in sending a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to continue hearings into FBI abuses. Citing "FBI handling of situations such as Ruby Ridge, Waco, Wen Ho Lee, and the Oklahoma City bombing," he urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate the Judi Bari/Darryl Cherney case. Pope stated in his letter to Sen. Leahy: "No freedoms are more important to the people of the United States than the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This includes the right to carry out nonviolent protests against policies and practices, which citizens believe are wrong or destructive. The Redwood Summer Campaign which Judi and Darryl were organizing when the bombing occurred, was such a nonviolent protest."

"It was all a big lie," Cherney said last week. "The FBI never wanted to catch the bomber. They wanted to destroy Earth First."
Sources: Sacramento Bee, SF Gate News, IMC/SF, Arm the Spirit, Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)


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