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How the FBI Targeted the Antiwar, Pro-Palestinian Movement

21. July 2002

By: Scott Cooper

BOSTON – Since last September 11, activists in Boston have built a clear and unequivocal anti-imperialist response to Bush`s so-called “war against terrorism,” with support for the Palestinian struggle at its center. There were weekly picketlines at the Israeli consulate during the spring, drawing hundreds at the height of the Israeli incursion into the West Bank. A militant demonstration on April 9 drew more than 2,000 people and brought the Intifada directly to the streets of Boston. And a protest on June 9 forced the organizers of the annual “Israel Day Celebration” to run for cover, changing the venue of the event and establishing a virtual “armed camp” to keep the Zionists from having to confront the truth about 54 years of occupation.

None of the strength of this work was lost on the U.S. government. At every action, local surveillance crews filmed demonstrators and their license plates. We knew that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his local cronies were looking for a way to attack the coalition we`ve built.

It came on the evening of May 30. Police in Cambridge stopped Jaoudat Abouazza, a 24-year-old Palestinian activist in our coalition, on the pretext of a minor traffic violation. By coincidence, two other Palestinians in the coalition were nearby and witnessed the incident. Without being read his rights, Jaoudat was handcuffed and brought to the Cambridge police station. Within hours, the FBI was on the scene, sniffing out links to “terrorism.”

On what evidence? Jaoudat, a Palestinian, had “suspicious” wires in his car (speaker wire used in his job as a stereo installer), and was in possession of leaflets calling for the legal, permitted June 9 protest in Boston.

Sending a message of repression

It couldn`t have been clearer: Jaoudat`s arrest was aimed at sending a message to the antiwar movement and local Arab groups and mosques with which the coalition had established strong ties. And in the post-September 11 environment of growing repression, it`s no surprise that the June 9 action had far fewer Arab participants than expected, and far fewer than came out on April 9. The FBI`s strategy of intimidation had worked, in part.

But why Jaoudat Abouazza in particular? It turns out that the car he was driving was improperly registered – a minor violation, but a good pretext. But the main reason was that he was front-and-center at demonstrations, carrying a bullhorn and draped in the Palestinian flag. His photograph appeared in The Boston Globe as one of the leaders of the April 9 march.

The case against Jaoudat unfolded first in Cambridge District Court with the vehicle charges. He was held over the weekend – and the FBI interrogated him seven times, waking him at 1:00 one morning for questioning. Although counsel represented Jaoudat, she was not made aware of any of these interrogations so that she could be present.

By the time of Jaoudat`s appearance in court on Monday, June 3, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had filed a “detainer,” requiring that he be held until the INS picked him up. He was moved to an INS detention facility early the next morning.

On June 12, when the INS failed to bring him to district court for a pre-trial hearing, the judge found Jaoudat in default for failure to appear and issued a warrant for his arrest. Jaoudat Abouazza found himself caught in the Catch-22 of the new Bush/Ashcroft assault on civil liberties, which includes expanded FBI powers of domestic surveillance. These new rules are designed to make it easier for the feds to target political dissent.

While in INS detention at a county jail some 90 minutes from Boston, prison guards threatened Jaoudat, punched him, threw him in solitary confinement, and called him “Taliban.” They made sure inmates in the general population heard this epithet. On June 9, FBI agents attempted to interrogate him about a leaflet put out by his defense committee, and asked him to confirm the names of the committee leaders. When he refused to cooperate, they threw him into an isolation cell, telling him that they could keep him there as long as they wanted.

Then, on Sunday, June 16, his jailers turned to torture.

Two defense committee members who visited Jaoudat later that day learned that earlier, prison guards forcibly took him from his cell and restrained him in a chair while a man in a surgical mask forced open his mouth and pulled four teeth – without anesthesia. They left a broken piece of tooth in his mouth, and Jaoudat was in considerable pain, swollen, bleeding, and unable to eat.

The next morning, prison officials demanded that Jaoudat sign a form in English that he could not understand. Guards again threw him into solitary confinement for requesting that his lawyer review the document, assumed to be a “request” for dental care.

When, in the days after, lawyers, a physician, and a dentist came to confirm what had happened, the jailers denied the dentist and doctor access for a direct physical examination, and even tried to ban two of his lawyers, including the executive director of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union, and their interpreter, from the jail.

Phony accusations by the feds

On June 27, Abouazza finally had a hearing before an INS administrative judge in Boston – after nearly a month in custody. Close to 100 supporters demonstrated outside the Federal Building and dozens went into the courtroom and the hall outside. Jaoudat was teleconferenced in from the prison.

Nelson Brill, Abouazza`s immigration attorney, requested that the judge set bond. The judge indicated that he would hold a bond hearing that day, but the INS prosecutor demanded that no bond be set and that the INS be allowed to hold Jaoudat indefinitely. After some discussion, the judge suddenly said, “I am going to suspend the bond issue until after the hearing, and we will hold the hearing now.”

The government presented its case, charging that Jaoudat had refused to answer FBI and INS questions during interrogations, and that Jaoudat had been denied entry into the United States, turned back to Canada, and then entered the United States “surreptitiously.” He also claimed that when the Cambridge police arrested Abouazza for a “stolen license plate,” he was found to have “a large quantity of electrical wire and electronic equipment in his trunk.” And he declared that Jaoudat was a “security risk.”

Brill put the lie to these charges. Jaoudat entered the country on a tourist bus, and all the passengers disembarked at the border, were searched, and provided papers. Because as a Canadian citizen he holds a legitimate Canadian passport, the immigration officers at the border let him enter without stamping his papers – the common practice for Canadians. It was the fifth time Jaoudat had entered the United States, all legally, since 1995.

Jaoudat`s refusal to “cooperate” in the interrogations was because his rights were being violated, given that his lawyer and an interpreter were not present. And as for the “stolen license plate,” Brill showed that Jaoudat had purchased the car from an acquaintance who told him he could drive the car for a week without worry. He was unaware of the requirement to reregister the car in his name within 24 hours. Brill also refuted the other district court charges.

After some questioning of Jaoudat by the judge, he retired for several minutes to consider his ruling. When he returned, he granted Abouazza “voluntary departure” – noting that if the FBI considered the detainee such a security risk there would have been an agent present to testify. He said that the INS had 30 days to appeal. After telling Jaoudat that he would be released within a few days, he asked that the camera pan the audience. Jaoudat could see a roomful of supporters waving, and he smiled and raised his hand in the peace sign.

Pressure campaign wins his release

The U.S. government wasn`t finished, though. The INS, while deciding not to appeal, defied the judge and dragged Abouazza`s detention out even longer. Finally, on July 10, our young Palestinian friend was flown to Montreal. He had been detained for 41 days – during which he never collaborated with the FBI in their efforts to learn more about the antiwar and pro-Palestinian movement in Boston.

It was the constant pressure of the Jaoudat Abouazza Defense Committee that forced the government to relinquish its prisoner – and the committee is not finished, either. Jaoudat`s primary care physician, a member of the committee and antiwar coalition, made extensive efforts to acquire prison documents regarding his medical and dental treatment while incarcerated. The prison`s supervising doctor refused to speak with her, and the little documentation provided is inconsistent with what was obvious to those who observed Jaoudat and heard his story. This information has been turned over to Amnesty International, which in a letter to the INS has demanded an investigation.

And in the wake of the Abouazza case, the INS appears to be targeting other local Arab activists. The Bush/Ashcroft “war on terrorism” is a war on civil liberties and human rights – as the Boston experience illustrates.

Source: The Organizer Newspaper