ERICTOUREM and James Muhammad

Originally published, 12-25-2001

WASHINGTON ( – Political, civic and religious activists met here Dec. 11 to sound the alarm that not enough Black leaders are raising their voices to the fact that new laws limiting a range of civil liberties ultimately will target them.

At the call of the Rev. Al Sharpton-who is considering a run for the presidency–the group met at the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) legislative office. The dialogue focused on how to mobilize the community in response to the recent testimony by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft before a Senate Committee, the executive order recently signed by President Bush authorizing secret military tribunals and the Oct. 26 congressional legislation that broadens Justice Department powers of search, surveillance, detainment and incarceration.


Rev. Sharpton also announced a Jan. 26, 2002 march on Washington designed to pressure the Bush administration and lawmakers against passing legislation that robs the American public of its civil liberties, and laws that are a throwback to the COINTELPRO (the Counter Intelligence Program of the FBI) era that marked Black groups and leaders for destruction.

“This is a real and imminent threat,” Rev. Sharpton told The Final Call. “I heard Ashcroft testify at the Senate hearings (Dec. 6) where he told the Senate that in times of war they don’t even have to report to them. What they are doing is attempting to legalize COINTELPRO that the government has used on everyone from Dr. Martin Luther King to the Black Panther Party.

“They called Dr. King in the sixties subversive and a communist. Now all they have to do is call people a terrorist or say you are a friend of terrorists to use these laws on us,” he said.

The reverend was joined by Center for Constitutional Rights Director Ron Daniels; Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.); Nation of Islam General Counsel Arif Muhammad; civil rights attorney Lewis Meyers; Damu Smith of Black Voices for Peace; Hilary Shelton of the NAACP; and Laura Murphy of ACLU, among others.

“Anybody who speaks out and has significant constituency against the war will be dubbed as aiding and abetting terrorism and an enemy of the state,” said Mr. Daniels.”That means Ron Daniels, Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Jackson and it means Minister Louis Farrakhan.”

Mr. Daniels said the government’s plan is to investigate the finances, taxes and personal lives of the leaders and use their findings “as weapons to smear, destroy and discredit. We have to remember that the first person that the FBI went after was Marcus Garvey at the height of his power. This is a moment of extreme danger. For African people, it is also a moment of extraordinary challenges.”

“A democracy is not strengthened by violating its rules and fundamental pillars,” said Minister Benjamin F. Muhammad, who, as a member of the Wilmington 10, was wrongly imprisoned (1976-1980) after leading a Wilmington, N.C., demonstration. “If you start to remove the fundamental pillars of society, the society runs the risk of caving in on itself,” he said.

PATRIOT Act attacked

Over vigorous objections from activists and civil liberty groups, the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act was overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law on Oct. 26. The far-reaching legislation, experts say, diminishes privacy and political freedoms to unparalleled degrees. The legislation enhances the President’s executive ability to conduct surveillance, place new tools at the pleasure of prosecutors, and grants the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) authority in the detention of immigrants suspected of terrorism for indefinite periods.

“The president’s responsibility is to execute this war and prevent further terrorist attacks,” argued a spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Each of them (detainees) are represented by lawyers and the federal courts are open and I feel confident that many of them will be vindicated.”

Regarding civil liberties, the spokesman said the threat is not real and that some of these concerns are due to envy. “One of the reasons that people hate [the U.S.] and are waging war is because we have a love of liberty, but we have learned from our own failings in the past and in this war we are going to try to get the balance right.”

The law, however, does not appear to reflect his conclusion.

The enhanced surveillance powers found in the act include the ability to conduct covert searches, obtain sensitive personal records and track e-mail and Internet usage. Combined with the military tribunal order signed by Mr. Bush on Nov. 13, Black lawmakers contend that it allows the evasion of the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement. In addition, the execution of such powers allows for minimal judicial and congressional oversight.

Wiretaps without cause

Rep. Scott told The Final Call that the PATRIOT Act allows the government to wiretap citizens without probable cause and the military tribunal decision will subject people “to a process where you are not presumed innocent. You don’t have to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no need for a unanimous verdict, rules of evidence don’t apply and you’re tried without a judge or jury. Both will be subordinates of the one who accused you of being guilty to begin with.”

He also assured The Final Call that the tribunals could easily apply domestically “by the stroke of the pen. No congressional action, no nothing,” he said.

Activists point to the recent capture of John Walker who allegedly was a member of the Taliban, but nevertheless a U.S. citizen. Officials are currently debating whether he will be tried as a citizen, before a military tribunal or even tried at all.

“Listening in on lawyer client conversations probably troubles me almost more than anything else,” Brotherhood Crusade President Danny Bakewell of Los Angeles said, regarding a recent rule by Mr. Ashcroft permitting prosecutors to listen to conversations between attorneys and some incarcerated federal clients.

“Lawyers will be used as vehicles for entrapment and that can be very decimating to Black leadership,” he said.

On the floor of the U.S. Congress, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) argued that the PATRIOT Act, temporary though it may be, “is very dangerous ground” that may return the country to the “dark days of McCarthyism and Hooverism.”

A former Black Panther Party member who was by Chicago Police for assassination in 1969 when Panther members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were shot dead, Rep. Rush told The Final Call: “What I’m afraid of is that once this so-called war on terrorism is over and once [Osama] bin Laden has been captured or is no longer a threat, then I believe this nation will return to what they do best, and that is to focus on African- Americans, particularly young African-Americans.”

Black leaders are not the only ones in objection to the military tribunals authorized by Mr. Bush. More than 300 law professors from around the nation signed a letter in protest of the president’s actions, calling them “legally deficient, unnecessary and unwise.” The letter originated at Yale Law School. Former President Jimmy Carter said on Dec. 6, that the order threatens to undermine the United States reputation for justice and its ability to promote peace.

National Urban League President Hugh Price said America now faces a new crisis–whether the United States will continue to be a nation whose government adheres to the Constitution of the United States.

Task Force targets Black leaders

The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court for a broad ruling to authorize the use of secret evidence in some cases in which it is trying to detain or deport immigrants they believe to be in the country illegally. For national security issues, the government argues that it should share secret evidence only with immigration judges and not the immigrants or their lawyers. Secret evidence has been one of the hotly contested legal issues in recent years. Any prosecutor using it has never garnered a conviction. Since Sept. 11, experts say the immigration courts and the U.S. criminal courts operate in a much more secretive, one-sided way.

For civil rights attorney Lewis Meyers, who has represented the Nation of Islam, Operation PUSH, the NAACP, and a host of other Black groups, the recent arrest of Jewish Defense League leader Irving Rubin for a plot to blow up a mosque that was uncovered by a Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF) is foreboding.

These task forces are not new and were in existence even before the language of “terrorism and terrorists” became part of the American discussion, he said. Working under various names prior to emerging as JTTFs, these interagency task forces could include seven or eight agencies–FBI, CIA, the State Department, sometimes the Immigration and Naturalization Service, etc.

“These terrorist task forces have proven to be subterfuge for the continuation of the FBI’s counterintelligence program (that targeted Black groups) with all its sinister and illicit implications,” he said.

The JTTFs also included in each city a local law enforcement component, such as the police department. Basically, the people who worked were deputized as FBI agents to give them some federal authority to do what they wanted to do, attorney Meyers said.

He noted that a 100-man task force was assigned to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan since 1984 and still is in existence. JTTFs exist in many major cities and are intricately connected, he said.

Furthermore, the U.S. Government, since the early ’80s, has shifted it approach to attacking major Black leaders by trying to link them with international figures. This change in approach, the attorney said, was designed in order to get around restrictions implemented by the government to prevent the reckless activities of the FBI under Cointelpro, he said.

“The FBI and CIA felt that these connections would lessen the criticism by the Congress of domestic surveillance and counter intelligence activities against American citizens,” he said.

The re-emergence of the Nation of Islam as a major organization fighting for justice for Black and oppressed peoples from the American government was of particular concern, attorney Meyers said, and the government went to work immediately through their new model of attacking Black leaders.

He said a 1985 loan of $5 million from Libya to the Nation of Islam for business development publicly announced by Min. Farrakhan sent shock waves through the intelligence community. Atty. Meyers noted the CIA markings shortly thereafter when he was detained in Senegal for a day while traveling in 1986 to meet Min. Farrakhan in Africa during the Minister’s tour of nations on that continent.

Atty. Meyers said he learned that the CIA had put out false propaganda against the Minister, telling African leaders that he was a communist, the same kind of propaganda used against Dr. King, Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey and others, he said.

Learn from history

Nation of Islam General Counsel Arif Muhammad also reminded The Final Call of the U.S. Government’s history concerning attacks on legitimate Black leaders.

Atty. Muhammad said documents have been revealed that literally state that the government’s goal is to: Prevent Black groups, particularly nationalistic ones, from uniting; prevent “the rise of a Black messiah”; prevent Black leaders from gaining respectability and linking with international figures and countries; spew lies on leaders to provoke fighting and killing among Black groups, and even a plan to round up Blacks during a national emergency.

“Minister Farrakhan has been a consistent voice speaking out against anti-terror bills and their depriving American citizens of their freedom. However, the media have largely ignored his public statements,” attorney Muhammad said. “The Minister has also raised the concern as to whether or not this is, in fact, a war against Islam.

“The Nation of Islam is one of those groups targeted by Cointelpro and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. We believe it continues even unto today,” he said.

When the Joint Terrorist Task Force came into existence, the Nation of Islam was one of a few Black organizations still standing” from Cointelpro attacks, attorney Meyers explained, adding that he has evidence showing the government has either threatened or tried to bribe individuals to get them to falsely testify against Min. Farrakhan.

During a high profile criminal court case against the El Rukn street gang in Chicago, the government desperately tried to link Min. Farrakhan with the group’s activities and their travel to Libya, he said.

Both attorneys Meyers and Muhammad noted the current attack on the religion of Islam in the country and the words of the late President Nixon who warned that the enemy to democracy would not be Communism, but fundamentalist Islam.

Atty. Meyers said that while the government has ignored Min. Farrakhan’s offers to help the U.S. government to dialogue with countries that they are not too friendly with, “the government certainly is taking note of his ability to take his message of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility from the Million Man March and speak those words before millions in Iran, to dialogue with Saddam Hussein and his friendships in South Africa, Nigeria, and even Russia.”

“If you have been studying this, between Ashcroft’s directives, the president’s executive orders and the Congress’ legislations, the groundwork has already been set for COINTELPRO to be re-instituted,” said Atty. Alton H. Maddox, Jr., chairman of the United African Movement in New York. “It was designed to wipe out Black leadership and it did.”

Related news:

FBI targets religious groups (FCN, 04-23-2009)