For decades the US Grand Jury system has been used to criminalise dissent of one kind or another. Over the last two years its application has accelerated, targeting alleged whistleblowers (and their publishers – e.g. Wikileaks) as well as protesters generally and even supporters of persons arraigned, so setting a new benchmark in the way the US Government asserts its control. Below, we provide a summary of how the Grand Jury system works, together with an outline of three very different cases that act as portents of darker times to come – unless…
Breaking… Anarchists in north-west USA have taken US military to court over alleged infiltrator – court hearing on November 5th (Anarchist Day – no joke!). See below for details.
1. How the Grand Jury works
At a Grand Jury you have no right to remain silent, no right to be represented by an attorney and no right to a trial should you be jailed. In fact, you can be jailed for up to 18 months without even being charged for a crime. A Grand Jury consists of 16 to 23 jurors who are not screened for bias. The purpose is not to determine guilt or innocence but to decide whether there is probable cause to prosecute someone for a crime. The Grand Jury operates in secrecy and the normal rules of evidence do not apply. The prosecutor runs the proceedings and no judge is present. Defense lawyers are not allowed to be present in the Grand Jury room and cannot present evidence, but may be available outside the room to consult with witnesses. The prosecutor and the Grand Jury members may not reveal what occurred in the Grand Jury room and witnesses cannot obtain a transcript of their testimony. Those called before the Grand Jury may be compelled to answer any question, even those relating to lawful personal and political activities. If a witness asserts their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, they may be forced to accept immunity or go to jail for contempt as refusal to speak can be considered civil contempt.
Here is a flowchart on what someone should do if forced to attend a Grand Jury.
Over the years grand juries have been used as a tool to intimidate political activists, create mistrust and pressure people to inform on their friends. Not everyone is capable of standing up to this kind of pressure. And repression against activists in the USA is not new, of course: from the McCarthy “investigations” in the 1950′s, to the counterintelligence programs of the 1960′s and ’70′s, to the Grand Jury investigations of Puerto Rican, Black liberation and white anti-imperialist movements in the 1980s.
2. Three examples of how the GR system is being applied today.
Each of the people featured in the cases below are, in their different ways, idealists, fighters for justice, exposing truth and seeking a better, fairer world – yet instead of being rewarded for their efforts they are victimised.
A. Example 1: The protesters who merely wore the ‘wrong ‘ clothes .
On July 25th, the FBI conducted a series of coordinated raids against activists in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle. FBI agents had search warrants for “black clothing,” “flag-making material” and “anti-government or anarchist literature”. Soon after, Matthew Kyle Duran, Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik and Leah-Lynne Plante were subpoenaed to Grand Jury hearings, where they were asked about their political opinions and the political circles and individuals they associated with. Duran, Plante and Olejnik have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing. The FBI later justified the raids and the use of the Grand Jury as being a response to the May Day protest in Seattle. However, Freedom of Information requests showed that the Grand Jury was convened on March 2 – two months before the May Day protests took place. Matt Duran was subsequently jailed on September 12 after refusing to speak at a Grand Jury hearing. Kteeo Olejnik also refused to testify at a Grand Jury hearing on September 27 and was sent to prison. Leah-Lynne Plante was sent to prison for refusing to testify on the 11th of October but was released a week later.
In a recent development, on October 28, two FBI agents served Matthew “Maddy” Pfeiffer with a subpoena in Olympia. Pfeiffer is scheduled to appear before the Grand Jury in Seattle on November 7. Also, we should recall that it was in Olympia where the notorious infiltrator, John Towery, was based: he was working for the Force Protection Unit and Fusion Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and gained access to names and email addresses of local protesters – for more on Towery, click here and for an update on a court hearing re. his activities, click here .
Note, too, that the Committee Against Political Repression has released a statement withdrawing support from Leah-Lynne Plante until she clarifies the exact circumstances of her release from custody. Here is another comment on this by Kevin Gosztola of The Dissenter. Whatever happened here, Leah-Lynne Plante, like her co-defendants, remains a victim of the GJ system, which is designed to put people under intense pressure and sow seeds of distrust and thereby create divisions.
Here are details of how police are using drones to spy on activists in Seattle.
B. Example 2: When the Grand Jury net can spread beyond the USA .
On March 5, 2012, Jeremy Hammond was arrested by FBI agents in Chicago ahead of a Grand Jury indictment. It did not stop there: Hammond was but one of six people from the United States, England and Ireland who were indicted, due largely to a cooperating witness (i.e. grass) known online as Sabu. Hammond and the others were arrested in connection with cyber attacks, allegedly organised by the hacktivist collectives Anonymous and LulzSec. Hammond was subsequently charged with hacking into the computer system of intelligence firm, Strategic Forecasting Inc., stealing the information of 860,000 clients, including a former vice-president and a former CIA director, whose names were redacted from the original complaint, and publishing the information of 60,000 credit card holders and using stolen credit card information to charge up to $700,000. The infamous ‘Statfor files’, also known as the ”GIF” (Global Intelligence Files) , were allegedly passed to Wikileaks and revealed embarrassing information about governments worldwide. If convicted, Hammond faces up to 10 years in prison.
C. Example 3: When a Grand Jury can be used against a defendant’s supporter .
A Federal Grand Jury was convened in Alexandria, Virginia, in November 2010, to investigate connections between WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, and U.S. Army Private, Bradley Manning, who was arrested six months earlier and accused of being a whistleblower. But it didn’t stop there… Grand Jury subpoenas were subsequently issued to members of the Bradley Manning Support Network (BMSN) and others in the Boston area. One was David House, who refused to answer questions when called before the Grand Jury in June 2011. He invoked his Fifth, Fourth, and First Amendment rights to not testify. Though he answered no questions other than about his identity, House took notes and later conveyed details of the apparent investigation to his and other defense attorneys. The questions focused on what House knew about Manning, WikiLeaks, Jacob Appelbaum and other researchers in the U.S. It was a daunting experience. This Grand Jury investigation is ongoing.
Thus, the Grand Jury system is little more than the equivalent of a Soviet-style show trial. It is the antithesis of justice. If allowed to remain it may well be emulated in other parts of the Western world. This must not happen.
3. Even more information
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