Dear Attorney General Holder
I write on behalf of the American Friends Service committee out of deep concern regarding recent raids and grand jury investigations of persons in the United States who appeared to be exercising their constitutionally protected rights to dissent from US policies in the Middle East and South America. These recent actions in Chicago and Minneapolis, along with other actions by the Justice Department and by state and local police forces in different parts of the country, are ominous portents of renewed domestic stifling of dissent. They place a cloud over the public debate that is so vital in a democracy. Our citizens must be engaged in ongoing debate over this nation’s war policies, domestic priorities, national security doctrine, and role in the world. These FBI raids and the calling of a grand jury chill that critical engagement and debate.
The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization founded in 1917 to work for non-violent change toward peace and justice in the United States and around the world. We have direct experience over the course of our own history of having been targeted by the FBI for surveillance and infiltration, simply for working actively with many others for civil rights and an end to oppression, or to end destructive and costly wars abroad[i]. More recently Quakers and others have been the subject of an FBI Inspector General report[ii] which determined serious over-reaching by the FBI investigations where free speech rights have been exercised.
We live in an era of decreased privacy, extensive electronic monitoring, and enhanced capacity of government to spy on citizens and residents. We ask you to move quickly to restore balance in the conduct of agencies under your control, stepping back from intrusions into the lives of people and institutions whose speech and peaceful protest actions are so vital to our nation and its future.
As in previous periods in our history, arguments on the need for “national security” against threats from a possible “enemy within” can give political cover to the most egregious violations of human and civil rights. We need to learn from our past mistakes: the incarceration of citizens of Japanese ancestry or the harassment and blacklisting of many blameless citizens by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950’s. The recent raids and grand jury investigation are viewed by increasing numbers of people in this country as a government effort to stifle the right to dissent peacefully and to suppress those offering alternatives to US government policies. We ask the Department of Justice and the Administration to pull back from these repressive measures and heed the strong urging of citizen organizations and legal scholars to take vigorous action to defend, rather than diminish, our fundamental liberties.
You might be interested in the Attached Statement of the AFSC Executive Board in 1953. It speaks to our time, and reflects the constancy of our concern and the way we work in the world.
Yours in peace,
[i] The Police Threat to Political Liberty: Discoveries and Actions of the American Friends Service Committee Program on Government Surveillance and Citizens’ Rights; 1979. (Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 79-64537)
[ii] A Review of the FBI Investigation of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups, US-DOJ, Oversight and Review Division, Office of Inspector General, Department of Justice, September 2010