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Ashcroft takes aim at supporters of the Palestinian struggle
Stop this witch-hunt!

By Nicole Colson | February 28, 2003 | Page 12

JOHN ASHCROFT'S witch-hunt against Arabs and Muslims hit a new low last week. His Justice Department filed 50 counts of racketeering, conspiracy and other charges against eight new victims. Their "crime"? Nothing more than supporting the resistance of Palestinians to Israel's brutal occupation.

The eight are accused of aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group that the U.S. State Department has labeled a "terrorist organization."

"The individuals named in this indictment play a substantial role in international terrorism--they are 'material supporters' of foreign terrorist organizations," Ashcroft crowed at a press conference. "We will bring justice to the full network of terror."

But there's nothing just about this witch-hunt. The main target of the new roundup is Sami Al-Arian, a computer science professor at the University of South Florida and well-known Palestinian rights activist.

Ashcroft alleges that he's the "mastermind" behind the North American operations of the PIJ. Al-Arian has been under investigation for years, yet the Justice Department has never before charged him with any crime.

Until 1995, it wasn't illegal to raise money for, support or be an active member of the PIJ. But once the organization was designated a terrorist group in 1995 by Bill Clinton, Al-Arian became a prime target. That year, the FBI raided his office and home, seizing documents. But no charges were brought against him.

In 1996, the University of South Florida also investigated the allegations and found no evidence to support the claim that he backed terrorist activities. In 2000, a judge addressed the charges yet again--and found that there was "no evidence" that either of the charitable organizations Al-Arian heads was connected to the PIJ.

But the Feds are back again with the same old claims. As Al-Arian's lawyer, Nicholas Matassini, told the New York Times, the indictment is "a work of fiction. He's a political prisoner, right now as we speak."

The Justice Department's indictment of Al-Arian and the others takes advantage of broad new powers granted under the USA PATRIOT Act, which allows the Feds to treat a charitable donation to a group connected with terrorism as the equivalent of planting a bomb.

But it's not hard to see the political motivation behind this prosecution. The arrests are not only part of the clampdown on Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. after September 11, they mark a new willingness of the Feds to specifically target Palestinians.

"There was a real debate inside the Department of Justice about his case," Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former antiterrorism chief, told Salon magazine last week. "There's been an incredible amount of pressure from Israel to move on it. They've been asking for a long time that we move against Islamic Jihad in the U.S., and that's what pushed Ashcroft to move."

The State Department's definition of what groups are "terrorist" is utter hypocrisy. The far-right Zionist group, the Jewish Defense League (JDL), for example, isn't classified as "terrorist"--even though in December 2001, two JDL leaders were caught plotting to set off pipe bombs at the office of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the King Fahd mosque in Los Angeles.

In other words, Washington has a double standard for "terrorism." If you support Washington's aims, you're a "freedom fighter." If you don't, then you're a "terrorist."

Ashcroft and his goons are using the witch-hunt of Arabs and Muslims as the opening wedge for a broader attack on all dissent. In his drive to replay the 1950s McCarthyite witch-hunts, Ashcroft even demanded the death penalty for a spy--former Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Patrick Regan, who was convicted last week for offering to sell U.S. intelligence to Iraq and China.

The last time the U.S. executed alleged spies was a half-century ago--when Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death for conspiring to steal U.S. atomic secrets to the ex-USSR.

It turned out that the Rosenbergs were innocent. But in the McCarthyite rush to judgement, innocence didn't matter much to the government.

Thankfully, a federal jury refused to sentence Regan to death. But the Bush administration is making it clear that it wants to squelch all dissent. That's why it's more urgent than ever to build the fight against Ashcroft's civil liberties wrecking ball.

As Sami Al-Arian told an audience last year, speaking out on behalf of Arab and Muslim detainees, "This is an orchestrated campaign by people who would like to settle political scores, and they found an opening after September 11. We need to organize and mobilize for a new civil rights movement."

The latest threat to Ashcroft's security

BERNADETTE DEVLIN McAliskey, the longtime opponent of British rule in Northern Ireland, was detained last week by immigration officials and denied entry into the U.S. Apparently, to John Ashcroft's gang, the 55-year-old McAliskey is a "national security" risk.

McAliskey's daughter Deirdre told journalist Laura Flanders that her mother had cleared U.S. immigration in Ireland. But when she got to Chicago's O'Hare airport, two INS officers ordered her to come with them.

During the argument that followed, one officer reportedly told McAliskey, "If you interrupt me one more time, I'm going to slam the cuffs on you and haul your ass to jail." The other, Deirdre said, "pulled his chair right up to mommy, and I heard him say, 'Don't make my boss angry. I saw him fire a shot at a guy last week, and he has the authority to shoot.'"

McAliskey was denied access to a lawyer and put back on a plane to Ireland. "I can't imagine what threat they could think she poses to U.S. security," Deirdre told Flanders, "Unless the threat is knowing too much and saying it too well."

Considering McAliskey's outspoken criticism of the "war on terror," that's probably accurate. Last year, she said, "It appears to me that the American definition of terrorism is violence perpetrated against Americans. And the American definition of law and order is violence perpetrated by Americans…The American war against terrorism is vengeful and will not yield the results the American government wants. It is only going to inflict violence on people who didn't do you any harm."

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