We Support the Rights of the NATO 3

Chicago World Can't Wait | February 5, 2014

On Saturday February 1, about 20 people braved a snow storm to gather at a church in Evanston, Illinois, to hear Kevin Gosztola talk about the NATO 3 trial that he has been covering on Firedoglake.com. Sponsored by World Can’t Wait Chicago, 8th Day Center for Justice, Neighbors for Peace, and Occupy Evanston, the afternoon succeeded in raising funds and discussing some of issues posed by this important trial.

The trial began on January 21, 2014, but the three young men on trial were arrested in a raid on an apartment in Chicago just days before the NATO conference that was held in Chicago back in May 2012. They have been held on $1.5 million bond ever since. The three men came to Chicago weeks prior to the NATO conference from Florida, where they had been involved in the Occupy movement. They were targeted by 2 undercover Chicago police officers during those weeks and, a few days after the raid, they were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism under an Illinois terrorism statute passed shortly after 9/11 and other felonies.

As World Can’t Wait Chicago wrote recently, “This trial matters for several reasons. First, the Illinois terrorism statute is so vague it can be stretched almost indefinitely. Their lawyers have pointed out that the statute they are charged under uses a definition of terrorism that does not even require an element of force or violence and impinges on First Amendment rights of free speech. When mere words and/or peaceful demonstrations can be defined as acts of ‘terror,' everyone who understands that political protest and demonstrations are vital must speak out against such prosecution.”

Kevin shared with the audience many important revelations that have come out as secretly recorded conversations have been played in court and prosecution witnesses - mainly the two undercover cops - have given testimony and been cross examined by the defense. We now know, for instance, there was widespread suspicionless surveillance of activists in the months leading up to NATO, originally authorized by the Chicago Police Dept in February 2012. Kevin pointed out that in this case the undercover officers broke their own rules about what they could and couldn’t do in gathering intelligence. For instance, they were only supposed to report on any planned “criminal activity” they heard about, but the undercover cops’ own testimony has shown that they were collecting information on activists regardless of any “planned criminal activity.” The cops went to concerts, events, and protests, reporting names and information on activists, and in one situation they even ran license plates of cars parked at an event.

The defense lawyers are doing an excellent job of putting police conduct at the center of the case, so much so that the judge has admonished them not to try to make police (mis)conduct the focus of the trial. In fact, one commentator in the Chicago Sun-Times called the trial “the NATO 3 farce” and Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune criticized the prosecutor’s office for “confusing this sort of addled, inert bumbling [by defendants] with ‘terrorism.’"

However, as Kevin pointed out, it is troubling that the police in the weeks leading up to NATO and now the prosecutors conflate anarchism with “terrorism” and attempt to paint their operation as aimed only at “black block” activists, even though the undercover cops infiltrated Occupy Chicago and hung out at many venues that had nothing at all to do with anarchists, however that term is construed by the cops. And what can be just normal occurrences are suddenly painted as part of an alleged conspiracy. For instance, the mere fact that the defendants were driving around in downtown Chicago, apparently lost or perhaps looking for parking, was construed by the cops as “looking for targets.”

These revelations point to the need for everyone to understand our legal rights and be aware of how police, FBI and other agents will try to trick people. World Can’t Wait distributed a sheet at our Saturday event with links to important “know your rights” information from the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights and Revolution newspaper.

Another revelation that should concern all of us is the fact that the undercover police themselves made strong suggestions to the three defendants that they make Molotov cocktails. In fact, it appears that one of the undercover cops was the first one to make that suggestion. This operation is looking more and more like a classic case of police entrapment, and it is possible there may have been evidence tampering as well. For example, during the raid, four beer bottles were collected that allegedly had gasoline in them, but then they were emptied into a toilet by the police evidence technician.

Why would police break the minimal rules on what they could and couldn’t do in gathering intelligence? What was their real target and concern? In order to understand that, we need to remember why the NATO conference was held in Chicago and why thousands of people were willing to come out into the streets to protest, even after the sensationalized bust of these alleged “terrorists.”

NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization made up of heads of states and military commanders who come together to make decisions related to war…the country that heads it is the US., standing at the top of a worldwide empire. NATO is the umbrella military alliance waging war on Afghanistan, and it was responsible for the bombing of Libya. Its conference in Chicago was the first held in a major city in the US in decades, aimed at showing that Obama and his former top aide, Rahm Emanuel, now Mayor of Chicago, could keep a lid on protests. Yet despite all the threats and repression, many thousands came out to protest NATO’s crimes against humanity carried out in the war of terror. While NATO generals and heads of state plotted their crimes behind barricades, we took to the streets and honored the vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they threw their medals away and spoke in solidarity with the peoples they had once seen as enemies.

All that is why the police, or in a much larger context the ruling forces, break their own rules…they need to intimidate whole populations through repression in order to keep committing the crimes they are committing, lest growing numbers begin to dissent against those crimes, and yet they also boast that theirs is a “rule of law.” Isn’t this the gaping disparity that Edward Snowden saw in the massive NSA surveillance, which led him to reveal it to the world?

When repression is the only answer that the ruling forces have to people’s righteous opposition to their crimes, it highlights their illegitimacy. We must both oppose those ongoing crimes and fight this repression by standing up for those who come under the weight of the state’s repression, by pointing out to the masses of people why people are resisting to begin with, and finding the ways to resist these crimes through mass visual political protest.

Closing arguments are expected soon and the case could go to the jury by the end of this week (Feb. 7).