Northern California peace organizations recently confronted Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Hart at the California National Guard headquarters in Sacramento in response to alarming revelations that the Guard illegally spied upon three anti-war groups at the State Capitol during a demonstration on Mother's Day.
In a feature in the San Jose Mercury News on July 3, the Guard confessed -- confirmed by Guard upper echelon e-mails -- that it had tracked at least one anti-war rally held on Mother's Day at the State Capitol that included Gold Star Families for Peace, Raging Grannies and Code Pink. In those e-mails, the Guard said its “folks” continued to “monitor” the rally, including parents of American soldiers killed in Iraq.
Over 30 members of the three peace organizations and others, after holding a protest in front of the Guard’s office, tried to talk to the Guard Commander, but were stopped at the front door by armed guards with their guns drawn. That’s when the activists and reporters confronted Hart, the Guard’s public affairs representative, who met them and reporters at the front door.
Hart denied again and again, in spite of being presented with evidence otherwise, that the Guard had ever spied on the peace activists, in response to persistent questions by George Main, president of the Sacramento Chapter of Veterans for Peace, other activists and reporters.
“We have never done any spying on individuals and never intend to,” said Hart. “We don’t gather information on individuals or groups.”
Tracking civilians’ constitutionally protected activities, such as protests, is illegal under the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the U.S. military from participating in domestic law enforcement.
“Isn’t this a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act?” asked Karen Bernal of Sacramento for Democracy.
“Information is gathered by the military and police agencies on a national level, but the Guard does not spy on individuals,” Hart replied, again denying the spying allegations.
Just before the peace groups confronted the Guard representative, Senator Joe Dunn (Democrat-Garden Valley) held a press conference announcing that he was seeking legislative subpoenas to gain access to the information on surveillance activities from the National Guard.
Dunn launched his investigation after the San Jose Mercury News reported on the creation of a new National Guard intelligence unit that has been given “broad authority” to set up new anti-terrorism projects in California. “If they continue in what I refer to as bunker mentality here, it simply confirms to us that our worst suspicions may in fact be true,” Dunn said in the Mercury News on July 7.
Dunn also charged that he was denied access to a Guard computer that had its hard drive erased. In response to reporters' questions about the investigation and the Senator’s lambasting of the Guard, Hart claimed, “We will be able to talk with the Senator and show him that we have not done anything illegal.”
The activists and reporters were not convinced by any of Hart’s responses, since it was clear that he was engaging in the classic technique of “plausible denial.” The activists, aided by Senator Dunn, will persist in their efforts to find out the truth about the Guard's spying activities.
On the same day, U.S. military authorities also opened an investigation into the creation of the special Guard unit designed to conduct domestic spying.
“The surveillance on Mother's Day is reprehensible, a clear violation of their civil rights and a possible violation of law,” said Main, a Vietnam-era veteran.
Natalie Wormelli of Code Pink emphasized that this Guard surveillance was not just about Code Pink or other peace activists, but about the Constitutional rights of everybody.
“If they are monitoring people like us who are not involved in criminal activities, they're violating state and federal law,” said Wormelli. “There has to be reasonable suspicion of criminal activities for them to monitor people. Furthermore, they cannot keep a data base on people engaged in Constitutionally protected activities or share that information with any other state of federal agencies.”
I felt that Hart’s denials of spying were an insult to the intelligence of all of the reporters and activists that gathered in front of the Guard offices. Everybody concerned about their Constitutional Rights should support the activists and the investigation by Senator Dunn to uncover the truth about the nature and extent of the Guard’s surveillance activities.
Courageous folks like the members of Veterans for Peace, Gold Star Mothers for Peace and Code Pink that demonstrated in front of the Guard office are the true patriots in our society today, in contrast to the cabal of neo-con war criminals that rule this country.
Dan Bacher is an outdoor writer, alternative journalist and satirical song writer from Sacramento, California. He is editor of the Central America Connection and contributes to numerous publications and websites, including Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, Because People Matter and the Sacramento News & Review. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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