Article submitted to the Peace & Environment News, Ottawa, Canada.
The organizer's report
by Mark Stoddart (firstname.lastname@example.org)
OTTAWA - On Friday, August 1, at 11a.m. a small group of activists set up a banner in front of the U.S. embassy, which read "WHO BOMBED JUDI BARI?" and began handing out pamphlets. Within moments a panicked security guard was outside informing us that the sidewalk in front of the embassy was "private property." Deciding that we were there to inform, rather than to risk arrest, we moved just beyond the embassy's border, and there we stayed for an hour and a half, distributing information about Judi Bari and her lawsuit against the FBI. There was to be a crucial hearing that day. Judi's lawyers were asking the judge for a blanket ruling against all claims of immunity by the FBI in this case.
Judi Bari was an environmental and labour activist. She was one of the main organizers of "Redwood Summer" in 1990, a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience against the logging of the last of California's redwood forests. She was also an abortion clinic defender and is credited with the "feminizing of Earth First!". She was instrumental in the building of alliances between loggers and environmentalists in northern California. Then, in 1990, as Judi was driving through Oakland with fellow organizer Darryl Cherney, a motion-triggered bomb went off inside their car. While Darryl suffered only minor damage, Judi's pelvis was shattered, leaving her crippled until her death by breast cancer on March 2, 1997.
The FBI arrived within minutes and arrested them for possession of explosives, despite all evidence which said that they were the victims of an assassination attempt. After eight weeks of public accusations and demonization, the charges were dropped. Although Judi and Darryl provided the FBI with a list of suspects none was ever investigated, and the bomber remains both anonymous and free.
Because of the FBI's behaviour in this case, Judi and Darryl filed a lawsuit charging them, and the Oakland police, with false arrest and civil rights violations. They claimed that the FBI and police knew that they were innocent, and that the arrest was part of a plan to discredit Earth First! and to render Judi and Darryl useless as organizers. So far, the case has survived over six years of FBI attempts to have it thrown out of court. The evidence to back up these charges is contained in a 450-page brief filled with FBI and Oakland Police Department records, transcripts of sworn depositions by officers, and police photos of the bombed out car. Although Judi has passed on, the lawsuit is being carried forward.
A key piece of evidence is the FBI's claim that the bomb was being carried in the back seat and therefore Judi and Darryl had to know that it was there. One look at the photos of the car says that this is not true, that the bomb was in fact under the driver's seat. Besides the photo evidence, Judi's fiddle and Darryl's guitar were in the back seat, where the FBI claims the bomb was located, yet both were relatively undamaged. There is also the simple common sense question of why a "terrorist", especially one with two young daughters, would carry a live motion-triggered bomb in a moving car.
It is also worth noting that the FBI official in charge of Judi's case was Richard Held, a key agent in the COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram) operations of the 1970's which targetted the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party. As J. Edgar Hoover put it, COINTELPRO was designed to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize" activist groups. Although a senate committee found these activities to be in violation of the constitution when carried out against groups which have not violated federal laws or advocated violence, the evidence in this case seems to indicate that these types of operations are still going on, only by a different name.
Meanwhile, back at the embassy:
At 11:40 am two RCMP officers showed up. Apparently whenever someone goes to the American Embassy to protest without their prior knowledge, the police get rather nervous. They tried to take all of our names, but most people refused to comply. I asked for both of their names and badge numbers, and while the first obliged, the second refused until I had given my name. As far as I know this is illegal. A police officer is bound by law to present his name and badge number on demand, whereas the rest of us do not have to give our names unless we are under arrest.
We also learned that whenever a new protest group pops up (especially around parliament hill) a RCMP file is started. However, it really seemed to throw them off that we had no leaders, and were not a "group". I wonder if anyone minds that public funds were spent paying two RCMP officers to play security guard at the US Embassy and gather "intelligence" for over an hour over a group of seven non-violent activists?
Finally, we left earlier than expected (12:30pm) when a man showed up and started ranting about an alleged "CIA training school and crematorium" hidden within the Embassy.
It appears that the court hearing went well, though it was incomplete. The lawer for the FBI had failed to file his answer to the whole motion, and was ordered to do so by the following Friday. If the Judge then rules in Judi's favor, it seems inevitable that the FBI will appeal, a continuation of the stalling tactics they've been using since 1991.
It is important that such blatant violations as the Judi Bari bombing are challenged, not just for the sake of individual justice, but to ensure the safety and rights of all progressive activists. If you believe that the FBI are going beyond their jurisdiction in persecuting non-violent activists, and should be held accountable for their behaviour in the Judi Bari bombing case, please voice your concern. The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa can be reached at: 238-5335.
(Read the press release announcing the vigil.)
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