Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Goin' Balls Out

This is absurd. But this IS America, so why should I be surprised?

Terrorism charges lodged against protesters at GOP convention
Prosecutors in Ramsey County, Minn., have formally charged eight alleged leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee -- one of the groups organizing protests at the GOP convention in St. Paul -- with terrorism-related charges, The Times' P.J. Huffstutter reports.

Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald and Max Spector, face up to 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge, which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty they could face.

It appears to be the first time criminal charges have been filed under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal Patriot Act.

The RNC Welcoming Committee is a self-described anarchist group that has worked for months planning disruptions at the convention. Police blamed the group for sparking violence during Monday's antiwar protest in St. Paul. Although most of the estimated 10,000 people at the march were peaceful, police say a splinter group of about 200 people harassed delegates, smashed windows and started at least one fire.

Police have arrested nearly 300 people during the confrontations this week, according to the Associated Press. Huffstutter reported on the protests for the blog Tuesday. And this morning, we told the story of journalist Amy Goodman's arrest at Monday's march.

-- Kate Linthicum

Protest and civil disobedience are now officially Terrorism in this country. As we knew would happen once Joe Biden's Patriot Act and all the various tweaks to the various surveillance bills had settled in.

Protest? Yes, sure, as long as you have the approval of the Government and protest in approved ways, about approved topics, under approved surveillance, and then return to your jobs and families.

Civil disobedience?

Off to Gitmo with you. Or to one of the domestic camps.

I've been in an uncommonly nostalgic mood these last few days, maybe ancestral memories of Chicago '68 roiling my brain, but these latest charges of terrorism for planning to protest and be disobedient, remind me a bit of the hoopla around the Lodi Terror Cell (that few remember) which was broken up by intrepid FBI agents and a paid informant. There was a trial. The Pakistani ice cream truck driver was released after a mistrial. His son, who had gone to Pakistan to fetch a bride, and was charged with attending a terrorist training camp, was convicted. On the testimony of the informant. And an FBI agent who lied.

A summary of the
sorry tale

Central to the case was a Pakistani immigrant and former Lodi resident whom the FBI recruited in Bend, Ore., where he was working as a convenience store clerk. The informant, Naseem Khan, 32, got the FBI’s attention a month after the terrorist attacks when he told agents he saw Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, worshiping and lecturing at the small mosque in Lodi, where Khan lived in 1998 and 1999.

In three later interviews, Khan said he saw two other terrorists – wanted in connection with the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – frequenting the mosque.

FBI agents said they quickly dismissed the claimed sightings as highly unlikely. Most terrorism experts and federal officials do not think that Zawahiri ventured outside Afghanistan or Pakistan after 1995.

But despite concluding that the claims were unreliable, the FBI in November 2001 hired Khan – who speaks Urdu and Pashto, two of Pakistan’s languages – to infiltrate Lodi’s large Muslim community.

During the three years leading to the arrest of the Hayats, Khan was paid nearly $230,000 in salary and expenses.

Defense attorneys Griffin and Mojadiddi relentlessly attacked Khan’s credibility in his multiple appearances on the stand. The approach eventually forced prosecutors to admit to the jury that they had no evidence Zawahiri had ever been in Lodi.

The prosecution, meanwhile, leaned heavily on the confessions of the two Hayats obtained after hours of interrogation at Sacramento FBI headquarters and on satellite photographs of a location in Pakistan that matched one of the varying descriptions of the camp that Hamid Hayat said he attended.

When the Lodi case broke last June, government officials initially said they had uncovered a full-blown terrorist cell.

Keith Slotter, then-head of the FBI’s Sacramento office, said that “various individuals connected to Al Qaeda have been operating in the Lodi area in various capacities, including individuals who have received terrorist training abroad with the specific intent to initiate a terrorist attack in the United States.”

An early U.S. Justice Department affidavit, later withdrawn, implied that the arrest of the Hayats was just the beginning, saying that “other individuals in the Lodi community” had been programmed in Pakistani camps to attack hospitals and food stores.

And the imams who supposedly led this cell of terror? They went back to Pakistan without charges.

Um. Hm.

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