Three Des Moines peace activists have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury next week as part of an investigation that the activists believe is being conducted by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Activists Brian Terrell, Patti McKee and Elton Davis say they have been ordered to testify in federal court Tuesday about something documents describe only as a "possible violation of federal law."
Authorities also have subpoenaed membership and meeting records involving the Drake University chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild, a 65-year-old legal organization that frequently has been involved in social activism and the defense of public protesters.
Government officials won't say what kind of crime the investigation involves.
But activists say the subpoenas were delivered by Jeff Warford, a Polk County sheriff's detective who reports on a day-to-day basis to the federal terror task force.
"We're just speculating on what this may be," Terrell, a member of the Catholic Peace Ministry and frequent war protester, said Wednesday.
"I think it's just part of the fact that more and more authorities are seeing dissent as criminal."
A sheriff's department spokesman referred all calls to the U.S. attorney's office.
Stephen Patrick O'Meara, U.S. attorney for the Des Moines-based southern district of Iowa, said government rules don't allow him to comment on the subject matter of any grand jury.
"We can't acknowledge that a matter is or is not under investigation," O'Meara said. "We can't acknowledge really any subject matter before the grand jury, whether it's in a general description or any specific testimony."
Local peace activists say they worry that the subpoenas are part of an effort to discourage protests against America's actions in Iraq.
Sally Frank, a Drake University law professor who several times has defended war protesters in court, said that "one can only assume that (the grand jury) is an attempt to put a chill on the peace movement in Iowa."
Heidi Boghosian, a spokeswoman for the New York office of the National Lawyers' Guild, said the subpoenas seek all records that would identify the officers of the Drake chapter in November 2003, the current location of any local offices, "as well as any meeting agenda or annual reports of this organization."
Frank, who is a local contact for the guild, said protesters believe that federal lawyers provided the Polk County attorney's office with a copy of an activist's e-mail intending to announce a series of anti-war events the weekend of Nov. 15-16.
On that weekend, protesters from across Iowa came to Des Moines for a conference called "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!"
Activists met at Drake that Saturday for workshops, and then about 70 of them protested Sunday outside the Iowa National Guard headquarters in Johnston.
A dozen people were arrested, including Davis. One woman was charged with assault. Terrell was present and was quoted in a newspaper article, although he was not arrested.
Frank acknowledged Wednesday that activists had been concerned for months about official scrutiny of their actions, and are seeking information on any other intercepted e-mail.
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