PHILADELPHIA - June 14 - The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) today became plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenges the Pentagon’s failure to turn over information detailing secret surveillance of peace groups and private citizens.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, June 14, in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The suit seeks disclosure of all documents maintained by the Department of Defense (DOD) on the individual groups named in the suit. It alleges the Pentagon has ignored national Freedom of Information requests made earlier this year in the wake of evidence that it had been secretly conducting illegal surveillance of protest activities, antiwar organizations and some individuals whose only reported “wrong-doing” was “attending a peace rally.”
“Spying on citizens for merely executing their constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is chilling and marks a troubling trend for the United States,” states Joyce Miller, assistant general secretary for justice and human rights. “These actions violate the rule of law and strike a severe blow against our Constitution.
“If the government has avowed pacifists under surveillance, then no one is safe,” she adds.
The Service Committee, a Quaker organization, was at the forefront of combating illegal FBI surveillance tactics in the 1970s. At that time, under the Freedom of Information Act, AFSC secured hundreds of federal files detailing illegal government surveillance projects and intelligence documents targeting U.S. peace groups.
Late last year news reports detailed the existence of a secret DOD database related to “potential terrorist threats.” At least four of the events listed are believed to be activities coordinated or supported by the Service Committee, including handing out literature in front of military recruiting stations and holding protest rallies on the second anniversary of the Iraq war. Each was later deemed “not credible.”
“The Bush administration maintains that the threat of terrorism mandates a change in Government policy. However, we believe trampling the Bill of Rights and dismantling our Constitution will not erase the threat of terrorism,” Miller emphasized. “Conversely, eroding the Constitutional safeguards and destroying the principles of democracy on which our country was founded make us less safe and less secure.”
In addition to the Service Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace, as well as dozens of local groups in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania and California.
“The ACLU has long been one of the nation’s leading advocates for free speech and civil liberties,” Miller explains. “By challenging unconstitutional laws and practices, we keep our system of government and the rights of its citizens in balance.”
With national headquarters in Philadelphia, the American Friends Service Committee is internationally recognized for its humanitarian work and long history fighting for human rights and against injustice. The Service Committee is a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all Quakers for work to heal the wounds of war, especially efforts to feed starving children and help Europe rebuild during and after World Wars I and II.
“Our country is governed by the rule of law, not the politics of hysteria and fear,” Miller concludes. “This is the President’s second term of office. He has twice sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States. By spying on legitimate First Amendment activities he has not only broken the law, he has broken his word to the American people.”