Saturday, October 11, 2003

Greenpeace is a target of Ashcroft's prosecutors 

In Attorney General John Ashcroft's America, dissent will not be tolerated. Now his zealous prosecutors are dusting off obscure laws to use in their assault on civil liberties.

Some three miles off the Florida coast in April 2002, two Greenpeace activists were grabbed as they boarded a cargo ship to protest what they believed was an illegal shipment of mahogany from Brazil. The pair spent the weekend in custody. They got their day in court two months later and were sentenced to time served.

End of case? By no means. Now federal prosecutors in Miami are going after the whole Greenpeace organization and have obtained an indictment on the basis of an 1872 law that "forbids the unauthorized boarding of 'any vessel about to arrive at the place of her destination,''' according to The New York Times.

The law was intended to make it illegal for boarding house operators to board ships without authorization to lure sailors to their establishments. According to the Times, the last time a court ruled on the law was in 1890. The court said the law was "meant to prevent 'sailor-mongers' from luring crews to boarding houses 'by the help of intoxicants and the use of other means, often savoring of violence.'"

In court papers defending the indictment, prosecutors wrote, "The heart of Greenpeace's mission is the violation of the law."

Prosecutors, while admitting a conviction could have tax consequences for the non-profit Greenpeace and "a chilling effect on First Amendment rights," are even attempting to deny Greenpeace a jury trial.

The Times reported, "The potential loss of constitutional rights, prosecutors wrote, does not require a jury. They cited a misdemeanor domestic violence prosecution in which the defendant was denied a jury trial although he faced losing his license to carry a gun. In contrast to speculation about the impact of a conviction on Greenpeace's First Amendment rights, prosecutors wrote, the defendant in the gun case 'was not entitled to a jury trial even though he was definitely faced with loss of his Second Amendment rights.'"

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