Students send the CIA packing

By Martin Smith

URBANA, Ill.--Students and activists won a victory April 9 when they forced the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) into a last-minute cancellation of its recruitment session at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For a third year, members of the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN), Iraq Veterans Against the War and the International Socialist Organization joined forces to protest the CIA, but this is the first year that the agency canceled, after activists exposed the agency's dark history of assassinations, political sabotage and torture.

Outside the recruitment session door, one activist donned a black Grim Reaper cloak and stood with arms extended on a milk crate to greet potential recruits and remind them of the atrocities conducted at Abu Ghraib with CIA complicity. Another used a simple pillowcase as a hood and kneeled with arms clasped behind his back to show how prisoners are commonly treated at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay.

Other protesters passed out informational leaflets and challenged attendees to consider the lies told by the CIA, which claimed in its campus ad to be "looking for a diversity of people for the important job of keeping America safe."

Campus police showed up at the request of the CIA operative in attendance who, according to the officers, requested to have us removed. However, the policemen checked our campus IDs and then notified us that we could stay as long as we didn't impede traffic.

Five minutes later, after our continued vigilance, we were thrilled when we heard that the CIA would cancel the session, claiming that since the student newspaper had shown up and taken pictures for an article featuring our protest, security had been compromised. We suspect their true motive for canceling was their embarrassment over our collective message--"Say no to the CIA recruiting on our campuses!"

According to the International Red Cross, the CIA frequently used techniques against prisoners held in secret overseas detention centers or "black sites" that "constituted torture" in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Prisoners received cruel and degrading treatment, including beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, strip searches, starvation and scare tactics utilizing canines and waterboarding.

Some detainees then faced "rendition," the transferring of prisoners and outsourcing of torture to other countries where the CIA operates, especially those known for committing human rights violations, such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Many of these prisoners become "ghosts," detainees whom officials refuse to give information about the location or status of to either family members or lawyers on the grounds that their incarceration is needed for long-term interrogation.

Such barbaric deeds are a violation of international and U.S. constitutional law and crimes against humanity on par with the U.S.-run concentration camps of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War and the "gulags" of Soviet Russia. Among the prisoners are possibly hundreds of innocent people, whose only crime is to be Arab, Muslim and a person of color.

Moreover, such tactics by no means keep "America safe" but rather alienate local populations by their heavy-handed nature and provide a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.

CIA Director Leon Panetta has reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to continuing several Bush administration policies in the so-called war on terror. Panetta told reporters the U.S. will continue controversial CIA drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians. He also said that while CIA interrogators will have to abide by the Army Field Manual, Obama can still approve harsher techniques using wartime powers, and that the "CIA retains the authority to detain individuals on a short-term basis."

Activists and students should stand up to the CIA whenever they attempt to recruit on college campuses or in your community. With even a small number, you can shut down their recruitment meetings and score an important victory for peace and justice.

"I was pretty shocked when I found out that we managed to cancel the meeting," said CAN member Eric Heim. "To finally have a visible victory was a huge morale boost. The CIA needs to be opposed whenever and wherever it appears because it is nothing but an agent of empire that destroys democracy and helps establish U.S. hegemony across the globe through force and brutality."