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Statement of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney on the Judi Bari bombing -- "Lessons for Today"

June 27, 2002

On Tuesday, June 11th, a California jury returned a verdict in the court case of two environmental activists who had sued FBI and Oakland Police Department officers. In 1990, Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney, Earth First! members who had fought the cutting of old growth redwood trees, were severely injured when a bomb detonated in their car. Rather than seeking the perpetrators of the bombing, possibly the authors of death threats to Bari, the FBI and Oakland Police Department blamed the bomb on the victims themselves. Bari and Cherney were subsequently accused, investigated, had their homes searched and were arrested. After their release for lack of evidence, Bari and Cherney filed suit against the OPD and FBI officers, claiming violations of their civil rights. After 11 years, the jury determined that 6 law enforcement officers, 3 each from OPD and FBI, violated their civil rights, and awarded Bari's estate (Bari died of breast cancer in 1997) $2.9 million, and Daryl Cherney $1.5 million.

While this case reminds our law enforcement agencies that they are not above the law, this case has historical and political significance that should give us pause. An essential component of the case against the FBI and OPD was their pre-bombing covert surveillance of Bari and Cherney. Further, their refusal to investigate other suspects and the speed with which Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney were accused implied that the FBI and OPD sought to smear them and the environmental community as violent criminals. This effort to discredit and disrupt the environmental organizing of Bari and Cherney is eerily reminiscent of the FBI's covert COINTELPRO.

Unchecked in their power, the FBI spied on citizens' organizations and acted to discredit their leaders, disrupt their activities, and encourage illegal forays among civil rights, anti-war, Native American, and religious and ethnic groups in the United States. Notable leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. were tarnished in the media, threatened with physical harm to themselves and their families, had their offices searched and ransacked, and were generally harassed by the very agencies chartered to protect the rights of Americans - the FBI and the CIA. Only after the death of autocratic FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the ensuing congressional investigations initiated by Senator Frank Church were the activities of the FBI curtailed and safeguards established to prevent political aggression against American citizens.

Unfortunately, yesterday's ruling proves that these nefarious activities of the FBI may never have stopped. Instead, the environmental movement was added to the list of 'subversive' organizations, and too was subjected to FBI espionage and disruption. In the process, someone got away with viciously bombing Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney.

Despite the fact that the FBI and the Oakland Police Department officers who violated Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney's constitutional rights have now been brought to justice, the FBI is returning to their old ways with renewed vigor. Following the revelations that the FBI and the CIA had knowledge of terrorists and terrorist organizations within our nation prior to the September 11th attacks, the response of the Justice Department was to give the FBI wider latitude to investigate and survey potential terrorists and political activity. While in the current environment these new regulations may appear useful to some, we must look into the future to consider the potential for abuse, and into the past to understand the abuses committed by the same agency we are again giving free reign with no accountability.

Though the court decision is commendable and undoubtedly a source of long-awaited joy for Cherney, Bari's family and the environmental community that has supported them, I fear that their victory, and the knowledge of governmental abuse it uncovered, will be lost in the rush to hand power to the FBI and CIA in the name of terrorism preparedness. That rush ignores the past, and ensures that the FBI will commit the same invasive abuses again. Instead, the constitutional abuses at the foundation of Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney's court case should serve as the backdrop to the ongoing debate on terrorism. If our rights are open to abuse by the government in the name of terrorism prevention, what sort of nation will we have protected?

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