Feds Win Right to War Protesters' Records
DES MOINES, Iowa (Feb. 7) - In what may be the first subpoena of its kind in decades, a federal judge has ordered a university to turn over records about a gathering of anti-war activists.
In addition to the subpoena of Drake University, subpoenas were served this past week on four of the activists who attended a Nov. 15 forum at the school, ordering them to appear before a grand jury Tuesday, the protesters said.
Federal prosecutors refuse to comment on the subpoenas.
In addition to records about who attended the forum, the subpoena orders the university to divulge all records relating to the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a New York-based legal activist organization that sponsored the forum.
The group, once targeted for alleged ties to communism in the 1950s, announced Friday it will ask a federal court to quash the subpoena on Monday.
"The law is clear that the use of the grand jury to investigate protected political activities or to intimidate protesters exceeds its authority," guild President Michael Ayers said in a statement.
Representatives of the Lawyer's Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union said they had not heard of such a subpoena being served on any U.S. university in decades.
Those served subpoenas include the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House, and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002.
They say the subpoenas are intended to stifle dissent.
"This is exactly what people feared would happen," said Brian Terrell of the peace ministry, one of those subpoenaed. "The civil liberties of everyone in this country are in danger. How we handle that here in Iowa is very important on how things are going to happen in this country from now on."
The forum, titled "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!" came the day before 12 protesters were arrested at an anti-war rally at Iowa National Guard headquarters in Johnston. Organizers say the forum included nonviolence training for people planning to demonstrate.
The targets of the subpoenas believe investigators are trying to link them to an incident that occurred during the rally. A Grinnell College librarian was charged with misdemeanor assault on a peace officer; she has pleaded innocent, saying she simply went limp and resisted arrest.
"The best approach is not to speculate and see what we learn on Tuesday" when the four testify, said Ben Stone, executive director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, which is representing one of the protesters.
Mark Smith, a lobbyist for the Washington-based American Association of University Professors, said he had not heard of any similar case of a U.S. university being subpoenaed for such records.
He said the case brings back fears of the "red squads" of the 1950s and campus clampdowns on Vietnam War protesters.
According to a copy obtained by The Associated Press, the Drake subpoena asks for records of the request for a meeting room, "all documents indicating the purpose and intended participants in the meeting, and all documents or recordings which would identify persons that actually attended the meeting."
It also asks for campus security records "reflecting any observations made of the Nov. 15, 2003, meeting, including any records of persons in charge or control of the meeting, and any records of attendees of the meeting."
Several officials of Drake, a private university with about 5,000 students, refused to comment Friday, including school spokeswoman Andrea McDonough. She referred questions to a lawyer representing the school, Steve Serck, who also would not comment.
A source with knowledge of the investigation said a judge had issued a gag order forbidding school officials from discussing the subpoena.
On the Net:
Drake University: http://www.drake.edu/
National Lawyers Guild: http://www.nlg.org/
02/07/04 14:07 EST