WASHINGTON - December 15 – The Partnership for Civil Justice, a civil rights litigation firm, today filed a Freedom of Information Request on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild and the anti-war group the ANSWER Coalition after learning that the Department of Defense (DOD) is maintaining a database of identified “threats” that includes information on protests and political activists who oppose the war. Defense officials responded to reports of the database on Tuesday by saying that the Pentagon has a right to maintain information to help protect military installations. One of the database listings was a major anti-war protest on March 19, 2005 identified in the Pentagon’s records as taking place at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.
A confidential DOD document, according to NBC News, indicates in-depth domestic surveillance such as the specific monitoring of vehicles and specific individuals from one protest to another. The database lists 1,500 “suspicious incidents” around the country over a 10-month period, including four dozen anti-war meetings or protests.
The Partnership for Civil Justice has for years filed litigation challenging unlawful government tactics that infringe on the First Amendment rights of protesters, including peace activists and war opponents. “Free speech is now considered a threat by the Pentagon. The exposure of the “threat incident” database containing information on protests and political activists makes clear that the U.S. military is spying on civilians in the United States who oppose the war in Iraq and U.S. militarism. The Department of Defense’s assertion that it is keeping this list to protect military bases is belied by its collecting and maintaining information on the anti-war protest in downtown Los Angeles as well as activities on campuses and organizing meetings across the country. The “threat” that the Pentagon is protecting against is a powerful mass movement of opposition to the U.S. war drive,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard.
The FOIA request asks for information maintained by the Pentagon including in its Talon database system on protests and political activists. The request includes data and documents relating to the Hollywood and Vine demonstration, the ANSWER Coalition which organized the March 19, 2005 Los Angeles anti-war demonstration, and the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive bar association that has worked to defend the rights of protestors and to challenge illegal and unconstitutional police practices.
The Partnership’s litigation has successfully challenged illegal domestic spying and unconstitutional government policies designed to discourage lawful dissent. The Partnership for Civil Justice also on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, first exposed the use of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces against political dissenters, and revealed that the District of Columbia police department has been carrying out an illegal ongoing domestic spying operation in which officers are sent on long-term assignments to pose as political activists. PCJ’s First Amendment litigation has been featured on NOW with Bill Moyers and in the movie Unconstitutional.
Founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States, with more than 200 chapters. The Guild has a long history of representing individuals who the government has deemed a threat to national security. Guild members defended FBI-targeted individuals and helped expose illegal FBI and CIA surveillance, infiltration and disruption tactics (COINTELPRO) that the U.S. Senate “Church Commission” hearings detailed in 1975-76 and which led to enactment of the Freedom of Information Act and other specific limitations on federal investigative power.