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U.S. drops its demand for records from antiwar meeting
Feds back off drive to target activists

By Nicole Colson | February 20, 2004 | Page 2

FACED WITH mounting pressure, the U.S. government dropped subpoenas for the records of antiwar activists at an Iowa university. "Friends, the piece of news that I have is historic," Brian Terrell announced to a crowd of 150 cheering protesters gathered at the federal building in Des Moines, Iowa, February 10. "The subpoenas against the four of us were dropped today."

Terrell was one of four antiwar activists subpoenaed by federal officials in early February after participating in "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!" a November 15 antiwar forum held at Drake University. In a throwback to Nixon-era spying on the antiwar movement, prosecutors got a court to order Drake to turn over all records of the conference.

Incredibly, they also tried to force the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild to turn over membership records going back to 2002--and slapped Drake University employees with a gag order over the case. While the National Lawyers Guild vowed to refuse to turn over any records, the subpoenas provoked outrage among antiwar and civil liberties activists across the country.

This angry response forced the government to drop the subpoenas and the gag order last week. Stephen Patrick O'Meara, the U.S. attorney in Des Moines, hinted that his investigation was focused on one person among a group of 12 activists who met at the conference to plan civil disobedience--by entering the perimeter at Iowa's Camp Dodge National Guard headquarters. In reality, the investigation was more likely a broad "fishing expedition."

"What we've had here for the last week in Des Moines is an intense effort to stifle dissent," Drake law professor Sally Frank told the February 10 rally. Even during the February 10 protest, activists had to endure yet another intrusion by the police.

As Frank and others placed tape and cloth over their mouths in a symbolic display, two Des Moines police detectives videotaped the protest from a hotel room across from the federal building. The detectives told the Des Moines Register that they were told to monitor the event "in case someone caused problems."

We have to continue to build the fight against the trampling of our civil liberties. But as Michael Avery, president of the National Lawyers Guild, said in a statement: "The government was forced to back down in this case, and it shows that people can and should stand up to the government when it is abusing its powers."

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