Greenpeace Prosecution

Another example of the Justice Department's out-of-control prosecution policy: A typical Greenpeace protest has resulted in a federal prosecution that, if successful, will have an extreme chilling effect on the right of all protest groups to aggressively exercise their First Amendment rights.

Here's the facts:

Three miles off the Florida coast in April of 2002, two Greenpeace activists clambered from an inflatable rubber speedboat onto a cargo ship. They were detained before they could unfurl a banner, spent the weekend in custody and two months later were sentenced to time served for boarding the ship without permission.

It was a routine act of civil disobedience until, 15 months after the incident, federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Greenpeace itself for authorizing the boarding. The group says the indictment represents a turning point in the history of American dissent.

Here's what it means:

Never before has our government criminally prosecuted an entire organization for the free speech activities of its supporters," said John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace in the United States.

...If we were to lose this trial, it would have chilling effect on Greenpeace and on other groups that exercise their First Amendment right aggressively. The federal government is using 9/11 to come down harder on an action like this, which was a good and dignified and peaceful action.

...."There is not only the suspicion but also perhaps the reality that the purpose of the prosecution is to inhibit First Amendment activities," said Bruce S. Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh who has studied the history of civil disobedience in America.

Trial is set for December.

We worry about this Administration's seemingly insatiable appetite for more prosecutorial powers. Think for a moment about the planned Patriot Act II, now being introduced through piecemeal legislation to avoid the negative Patriot Act label. The new death penalty provisions in the bill, provisions that Bush is still endorsing, allow for the death penalty for tragedies with no criminal intent to cause death. We wrote about this last month, and provided some examples we received from the ACLU about how the Act's new death penalty provisions could be used:

While the DOJ labels this provision as providing for the death penalty for terrorist “murders,” there is no language in the text that requires any showing by the government of an intent by the defendant to kill; it is sufficient that death results from the defendant’s actions.

Some of the ACLU's examples:

  • Protesters at Vieques Island, the military bombing range, cut a fence to trespass and a bomb explodes killing one of the protesters. The surviving protesters could face the death penalty.
  • Or if Greenpeace activists try to block an oil tanker from entering a port to protest the company's safety record and a crew member drowns while attempting to block the activists' boat, the activists could face the death penalty.

We fear where this Administration is heading next.

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