January 10, 2008
Originally designed as a Constitutional protection against unsubstantiated charges, the federal grand jury has long been recognized as an investigatory tool of the Justice Department and evolved into a mechanism of repression and abuse. At the request of a prosecutor, a grand jury can summon anyone to appear and testify for virtually any reason. Participation in, or even knowledge of, criminal activity is not necessary. A grand jury meets in secret, with only the grand jurors, the prosecutor and law enforcement present. A witness may not bring his or her attorney into the room. A witness may not object to questions on the ground that they are not relevant to any legitimate investigation. If a witness refuses to answer a question, even in a good faith belief that it is improper, he or she is subject to imprisonment for civil or criminal contempt.
Federal grand juries have long been used to gather information on legitimate political activities, including, since the 1930’s, the Puerto Rican independence movement. Changes in grand jury secrecy laws after 9/11 permit, in many circumstances, disclosure of information gathered by a grand jury to federal law enforcement, including the FBI, for use in their own intelligence gathering. We know from documents obtained from the FBI in the 1970’s and 1980’s that the agency had a decades-long program, known as the counterintelligence program, that was designed to “neutralize” the Puerto Rican Independence Movement and its supporters.
The subpoenas served on the three young Puerto Rican artists and community workers to appear before a federal grand jury in Brooklyn must be viewed in light the documented history of grand jury abuse. It is not a crime to demand that the United States government withdraw from Vieques, to advocate for Puerto Rican independence, or just to be active in your community. The National Lawyers Guild, New York City Chapter calls upon the United States Justice Department to withdraw the subpoenas and to cease all activities, including grand jury investigations, that repress and/or intimidate lawful political movements.
January 10, 2008
Bob Boyle 212-431-0229