ACLU Challenges Defense Department Personnel Policy to Regard Lawful Protests As 'Low-Level Terrorism”

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mandy Simon, ACLU, 202.675.2312, media@dcaclu.org             
Rebecca Farmer, ACLU of Northern California, 415.621.2493, rfarmer@aclunc.org

ACLU Challenges Defense Department Personnel Policy to Regard Lawful Protests As 'Low-Level Terrorism”

WASHINGTON - Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as "low level terrorism." ACLU attorneys are calling the approach "an egregious insult to constitutional values" and have sent a letter to the Department of Defense demanding that the offending materials be changed and that the DoD send corrective information to all DoD employees who received the erroneous training.

"DoD employees cannot fully protect our nation and its values unless they understand that a core American value is the constitutional right to criticize our government through protest activities," said ACLU of Northern California attorney Ann Brick. "It is fundamentally wrong to equate activism with terrorism."

Among the multiple-choice questions included in its Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness training course, the DoD asks the following: "Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorist activity?" To answer correctly, the examinee must select "protests."

The ACLU sent a letter today to Gail McGinn, Acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, asking that the materials be corrected immediately. The ACLU points out that the misinterpretation of First Amendment freedoms is particularly disturbing when viewed in the context of a larger, long-term pattern of domestic security initiatives by the government that have attempted to treat lawful dissent as terrorism. Examples of this shameful pattern can be seen in the Pentagon's monitoring of at least 186 anti-military protests, the FBI's surveillance of potential protesters at the Republican National Convention, the Fresno County Sheriff Anti-Terrorism Unit'sinfiltration and surveillance of Peace Fresno, a community peace and social justice organization and the covert surveillance by the Maryland State Police of local peace and anti-death penalty groups.

"Teaching employees that dissent on issues of public concern is something to be feared, rather than respected, is a dangerously counterproductive use of scarce security resources, making us less safe and less democratic," said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent, who co-signed the letter with Brick.

The Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness training course is an annual training requirement for all DoD personnel that is fulfilled through web-based instruction.

To read the ACLU's letter to the DoD, go to: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/39820leg20090610.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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