Anti-war activists refuse to testify

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2010 - 11:53 PM

Activists whose homes were raided by FBI say summons to testify equals a political "witch hunt."

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Jess Sudin (holding microphone) of Minneapolis protested with her 6-year-old daughter Leila Yorek, Angel Buechner (right) and about 100 other people at the FBI office in Minneapolis.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Twin Cities anti-war activists whose homes were recently raided by FBI agents won't testify before a grand jury, calling the investigation a political "witch hunt."

"We're all going to plead the Fifth to exercise our First Amendment rights," said Minneapolis activist Tracy Molm, who was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in Chicago on Oct. 12.

Attorneys for the 14 activists from the Twin Cities and Chicago whose homes or businesses were raided on Sept. 24 have coordinated their responses and agreed no one will testify, Melinda Power, an attorney for a Chicago couple whose home was searched, said Tuesday.

All the protesters also have written letters informing the prosecutors they don't intend to testify.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, declined to comment about the case.

Molm and other protesters said they don't want to testify because they don't know what or who the investigation is focused on. "I've done nothing wrong," Molm said. "And I don't have any interest in making a case against myself or others. ... The grand jury is a place that's not safe."

Minneapolis activist Jess Sundin, whose home was raided, also criticized the grand jury proceedings. She joined a protest Tuesday outside the federal building in Minneapolis, while others activists protested outside the federal building in Chicago, where the grand jury was to convene.

"I don't get to have an attorney in the room with me,'' Sundin said. "I don't know if I'm the target of the grand jury or a witness against someone else. There's not even a judge in the room to be a neutral party. The whole court is run by the prosecutor."

Minneapolis attorney Jordan Kushner, who has represented political activists in the past but not in this case, agrees with the protesters' decision not to testify. "It's their only option," he said. "It's a political witch hunt. ... This is a new era of political oppression. It's meant to have a chilling effect on political activists and their efforts opposing U.S. foreign policies. This is a repeat of the McCarthy era, but instead of communists being the buzzword, now it's terrorists."

Under the Fifth Amendment the activists have a right against self-incrimination without risking a contempt charge, said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago attorney with no link to the case.

As a next step, the government could reissue subpoenas -- possibly this time with an offer of immunity. If they are granted immunity, however, a grand jury witness is required to answer questions, Pissetzky said. If the activists decline to appear then, a judge could hold them in contempt and the activists could land in jail.

Material support

The homes of three other longtime Minneapolis anti-war activists, Anh Pham, Mick Kelly and Meredith Aby, were also among those searched last month.

The warrant for Kelly's home sought evidence on travel he did as part of his work for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and information on any travel to Colombia, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria or Israel.

Sundin said the authorities took her computer, papers, books, CDs, photos and financial information, pointing out that investigators may be interested in her trip to Colombia 10 years ago.

Just after the raids, FBI spokesman Steve Warfield said the bureau was seeking evidence related to "activities concerning the material support of terrorism."

That concerns Sundin.

"The broadest interpretation of the material support law includes expressing views, printing statements,'' she said. "It's not limited to what most people think of as material support -- i.e. money or materials -- none of which I've done. But it could be applied to my peace work and to me advocating views that are opposed to the government that support a different policy toward places like Colombia and the Middle East. I don't want to participate in a process that puts free speech on trial."

Molm, who has traveled to Palestinian territories, also said she hasn't contributed any money or aid to terrorist groups. "We're clerical workers and cooks," she said. "I make $26,000 a year. It's hard paying your rent and living in the Twin Cities on that. I have 20 bucks in my pocket right now."

Molm said she's a bit scared about the prospect of going to jail if she's held in contempt of court.

"It will break my mom's heart," she said. "But she believes in me."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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