Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs Editor\Publisher
Issue #135 December 4, 2001
IN MEMORY OF JOHN O'CONNOR:
"THE FUN IS IN THE FIGHT"
To those of us who knew John O'Connor his humor, intelligence, and dedication to the cause of a safe environment, the family farm movement and progressive urban populism will be a legacy we shall not soon forget. His death at age 46 last Friday of an apparent heart attack while playing basketball at the Cambridge, Massachusetts YMCA will be deeply mourned by many activists.
"John was a great man, and the world is a better place because of his compassion, great love, and unyielding drive to help other people," his wife, Carolyn Mugar O'Connor, executive director of Farm Aid, told the Boston Globe's Tom Long.
As an environmental activist, developer, author and a recent candidate for Massachusetts Eighth Congressional District John's hallmarks as a tough competitor, but a warm and generous man with a zest for life, were probably best summarized by the motto he kept over his desk: "The fun is in the fight."
"Every single person John worked with --- from the president of Ireland to the kids he helped on the streets and in the schools back home --- knew that his passion was to leave the world a better place than he found it," Jim Braude, a former Cambridge city councilor and manager of his congressional campaign, told Long, "in that he clearly succeeded."
Farm Aid's Program Director Ted Quaday recalls "the staff at Farm Aid universally regarded John as a great friend. His enthusiasm for life and his dedication to environmental, consumer and family farm causes were infectious. During his regular visits to the Farm Aid office he always brought with him humorous insight into the politics of the day and the circumstances under which we all struggle. We often sought him out for advice on farm and political issues, and his contributions to our work were always valuable as we moved forward."
After graduating from Clark University, O'Connor joined Volunteers In Service to America, a government-funded organization dedicated to ending rural and urban poverty, where he helped organize a low-income Worcester neighborhood. In the next three decades he helped organize labor unions in the 1970s, founded the National Toxics Campaign in 1983, a grass-roots movement which lobbied for passage of the Superfund Cleanup Law, and fought against deregulation of Bay State utilities in the 1990s.
In 1991, he founded Greenworks, a company that helps "incubate" environmental start-up companies while assisting them in financial backing. It was Gravestar, where he served as the chairman of the company, that funded a $13 million, environmentally friendly overhaul of Porter Square. A trustee of Clark University, O'Connor also was a director of the Irish Famine Memorial Committee. Having authored two books on the environment, "Getting the Lead Out" and "Who Owns the Sun?," he was working on a book on farm and food policy.
In addition to his environmental and social activism John's personal life was also one based on commitment.
Doug Kysar of Ithaca, New York recalls in a note to John's wife Carolyn how his wife Vicki brought home a lot of stories about people that she met through Farm Aid. . . . "But one story that Vicki brought home from Farm Aid has always stuck in my mind, now more than ever. One day she came home to tell me that she'd met your husband. When I asked her to describe him, Vicki responded --- immediately --- that she had never met a man who more clearly loved and cherished his life-partner than John O'Connor. This was an adoration and a respect that was so deep it permeated John's life, visible within five minutes of meeting him. It is a tragedy that this type of love is so rare in the world, and even more of a tragedy that it has been cut short when it does exist."
John leaves his wife Carolyn and daughter Chloe of Cambridge, Massachusetts; his parents, Katherine and George F. O'Connor Jr. of Stratford, Connecticut; his sister, Emily Karolyi and her husband Sandor of Washington D.C., his brother Jeff and wife Amy of California, his brother James A. and wife Daria of Saugus, Massachusetts. He was predeceased by his brother Raymond J. O'Connor and his sister Katie O'Connor. He also leaves behind nieces and nephews, Mary O'Connor, Lexy, Kati, and Emily Karolyi, Kaitlin and Jimmy O'Connor, Jennifer and Peter Flaherty, Peter Mugar, John Mugar, and many godchildren.
A Funeral Mass will be held at St. Paul's Catholic Church, 29 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, Massachusetts on Wednesday, December 5 at 10 a.m. Visiting hours at St. Paul's on Tuesday, December 4 from 4-8 p.m. Relatives and friends are invited to attend. A Public Memorial Service for family and friends will be held on Thursday, December 6. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the John T. O'Connor Memorial Educational Fund, P.O. BOX 425983, Cambridge Massachusetts 02142-1012.
John, good friend, R.I.P.
"TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY" ACT UNDERMINES
U.S. CONGRESS CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY
On Thursday, December 6, 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on HR 3005, Fast Track/Trade Promotion Authority legislation. Farm, environmental, labor, consumer and church groups are urging their members to call their representatives with a message urging their representative to vote no on HR 3005, Fast Track/Trade Promotion Authority legislation.
The U.S. Constitution give Congress exclusive authority "to regulate commerce with foreign nations." Ordinarily, Congress examines each and every part of any international economic agreement the President negotiates. After debating the merits of the agreement, Congress amends as necessary and votes it up or down. "Fast Track" is jargon for an extraordinary delegation of Congressional authority to the President. It gives the President authority to negotiate trade agreements and provides special rules for considering those agreements. When an agreement negotiated under Fast Track is put before Congress, it must be voted up or down within 60 days.
Congress is not allowed to a make any amendments to such agreements, no matter how the terms of the final agreement affect U.S. citizens. Because Fast Track has gotten a bad reputation, President Bush has renamed it "Trade Promotion Authority." The President can negotiate trade agreements without Fast Track authority, but he then has to let Congress debate the agreement at length and possibly add amendments that would modify the agreement. Although hundreds of trade pacts were implemented since its inception in 1974, Fast Track has been used only five times.
Talking Points on Fast Track/Trade Promotion Authority:
A ) Fast Track gives too much priority to rushing through trade deals
quickly, when there's really no hurry. It gives too much power to the President,
without proper checks and balances. Hundreds of trade agreements have been
implemented without Fast Track trade authority.
B ) Congress and people of the United States must have a real voice in trade agreements. Congress must do more than vote a trade agreement up or down. Open public scrutiny is required.
C ) Trade agreements must include enforceable workers' rights and environmental standards as part of the core text. Corporate concerns and rights are part of the core text.
D ) No country's environmental laws and public health and safety standards should be undermined by any trade agreement.
E ) Safety net programs for small business and small and moderate agricultural producers should not be banned by trade agreements.
F ) The concerns and interests of all citizens and groups must be taken into, not just those of the wealthy and corporations.
Representative can be called at:
1-800-393-1082 (courtesy of the AFL-CIO) or
1-888-832-4246 (courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
NATIONAL FARMERS UNION URGES DEFEAT
OF "TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY"
(FAST TRACK) LEGISLATION
NATIONAL FARMERS UNION: National Farmers Union (NFU) joined Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, Dem.-Indiana., and others [Monday] in urging the defeat of presidential trade promotion authority, which the House of Representatives will consider Thursday. In a Capitol Hill news conference, NFU Vice President of Government Relations Tom Buis outlined reasons to defeat the "fast track" legislation sponsored by House Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas, Rep.-California The bill would limit Congress to voting up or down on trade pacts.
"Congress should maintain its constitutional authority and oversight responsibilities throughout the trade negotiating process," Buis said. "To do less will represent unilateral disarmament in the effort to achieve a level playing field for U.S. agriculture." During recent trade talks in Doha, Qatar, U.S. trade representatives agreed to include in the World Trade Organization (WTO) agenda anti-dumping protections and other measures that counter unfair trade practices and import surges from other countries.
"U.S. trade remedy laws have provided an underlying assurance to American farmers, workers and industries that if the U.S. pursues a trade liberalization agenda, it will also protect them from the effects of unfair foreign trade practices," Buis said. "The Administration has agreed to include these items in the WTO agenda, and if trade promotion authority is approved, may negotiate away the domestic trade laws that provide one of the few forms of leverage we have to counter the use of unfair trade practices by others."
The NFU Board of Directors also questioned the timing of the "fast track"
vote in letters last week to U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert,
Rep.-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, Dem-Missouri, "For
agricultural producers, the prospect of trade promotion authority raises
significant concerns about the United States’ commitment to maintaining a strong
and diverse domestic production agriculture sector," stated the letter, which
was signed by the 26-member Farmers Union board. . . .
BROAD PUBLIC INTEREST COALITION
URGES PASSAGE OF CHILD PROTECTIVE LEGISLATION
REGARDING CHEMICAL POISONS USED IN SCHOOLS
A broad coalition, led by members of Congress, called on the Education Conference Committee to include a provision, passed by the Senate in June, to protect children from chemical poisons used in schools at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Senator Edward Kennedy (Dem.-Massachuetts), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Rep. Robert Andrews (Dem.-New Jersey), a member of the Education Conference Committee, Rep. Rush Holt (Dem.-New Jersey), an original co-sponsor of the legislation, Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides, Gene Harrington, Government Affairs Director of the National Pest Management Association, Veronika Carella, parent activists from Maryland, and Lisa Schultz, mother of two sons who are sensitive to pesticides, voiced their support of the legislation.
The legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) of 2001, sponsored by Senator Robert Torricelli (Dem.-New Jersey), is included in the Senate's Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, S.1, which amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). There is no similar language in the House Education Bill.
SEPA grew out of a landmark agreement among groups representing parents, teachers, health professionals, environmentalists, pest management professionals and the chemical industry. It provides for the adoption of school pest management plans and notification and posting when certain chemical poison applications are used. After Senate passage, SEPA ran into opposition from House Agriculture Committee members in a July hearing, though the committee had previously refused to hold hearings on the legislation or participate in negotiations this Spring.
"We urge the Education Conference Committee to join with parents, educators,
doctors, and industry representatives to provide for a safe learning
environment," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides/National
Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), which represents the public
interest coalition. The legislation requires the adoption of integrated pest
management (IPM) practices that minimize
risk to children, utilize safer practices and provide safety information to parents and school staff when pesticides are used in the schools. Data show that IPM methods save schools money, according to supporters.
FARM LABOR LEGISLATION:
GROWERS, AFBF, COMMODITY GROUPS
SEEK TO BLOCK INCREASE IN FOREIGN WORKERS WAGES
FARMWORKER JUSTICE FUND INC.: In a letter dated November 20, 2001, many of the major agricultural employer organizations signed on to a request sent to every member of Congress for support of the growers' guestworker legislation. They support the broad legislation introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (S. 1161) and the narrower proposal (which also appears in the broader Craig bill) to change the formula for wages under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program, to lower them. The latter wage bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Cannon (H.R. 2467) and in the Senate by Sen. Zell Miller (S. 1442). The growers say, "enactment of such reforms is more urgent now than ever."
The employer groups included many national and state groups, such as National Council of Agricultural Employers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Apple Association, the Western Growers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, New York Farm Bureau, New England Apple Council, Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers Association, Michigan Plum Advisory Board, Illinois Nurserymen's Association.
Notably absent from the list is the North Carolina Growers Association, which is a business that brings in more H-2A workers than any other. NCGA's president, Stan Eury, probably thinks the Craig legislation is not anti-worker/pro-employer enough.
[Meanwhile], a coalition of 118 organizations sent a letter in support of
farmworkers and in opposition to these grower-supported bills. That letter,
dated October 26, is available at
In addition, several civil rights leaders sent a similar letter on November 13, 2001, to every member of Congress It was personally signed by Wade Henderson, Executive Director of LCCR; Karen K. Narasaki, Exec. Dir. of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium; Hilary O. Shelton, Washington Director of the NAACP; Antonia Hernandez, President and General Counsel of MALDEF; and Raul Yzaguirre, President of NCLR.
On August 2, 2001, Senator Edward Kennedy introduced S. 1313 and Rep. Howard
Berman introduced H.R. 2736, the "H-2A Reform and Agricultural Worker Adjustment
Act." These identical bills deserve widespread support from everyone who
believes that there must be fairness, balance and progress in the treatment of
migrant farmworkers. For a summary of these bills, go to:
TYSON, CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS INTERESTS
OPPOSE BETTER BARGAINING RIGHTS, PRICES
FOR CONTRACT GROWERS IN SENATE FARM BILL
SAMANTHA YOUNG, THE MORNING NEWS OF NORTHWEST ARKANSAS AND DONREY WASHINGTON BUREAU: Poultry growers and small farmers who sell their products to large processors are seeking to secure better bargaining rights and prices from Congress in a new farm bill. Lobbyists for the growers describe the endeavor as a battle against big agribusiness firms that control the market and the votes of some lawmakers. Agriculture corporations say they are being singled out to comply with new legal standards and regulations that will hamper business while "hurting rural America."
More than 80 agriculture groups are gearing up to challenge the Senate Agriculture Committee, where a majority of members effectively backed the corporations by killing a section of the farm bill containing legal protections for contract farmers. Almost 40 agriculture associations and businesses, including Tyson Foods, Inc., Monsanto Co., Cargill, Inc., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are lined up to ward off what they term "cumbersome and unnecessary rules."
"These conglomerates and industry giants are crying foul but the markets are imbalanced," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, Dem.-Minnesota. "It's time to give independent producers a fair shake. We just want a little bit more free enterprise in our free enterprise system."
Asked for comment, Tyson Foods forwarded a letter they and other corporations sent to senators urging them to oppose the competition measures. "We represent thousands of businesses and millions of workers in all 50 states whose earnings depend upon a strong, free and fair marketplace," the letter states. "We believe existing laws adequately ensure that such a marketplace continues." . . .
Arkansas Sens. Tim Hutchinson and Blanche Lincoln voted against the competition legislation, which would have given the Agriculture Department the authority to take corporations to court for unfair competitive practices. Observers said it would have weakened the hold companies have on their suppliers. Lincoln was one of two Southern Democrats to side with Hutchinson and other Republicans in opposing the competition measures. The vote invoked criticism from farm groups that the Arkansas lawmakers answered the call of the country's largest chicken company, Tyson Foods Inc., which is based in Springdale. Sen. Zell Miller, Dem.-Georgia., also voted against the provisions.
"How do I put this ... T-Y-S-O-N," said Chris Campany, campaign policy coordinator of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, which lobbied in favor of the competition section. "That's basically where they were coming from. Now they are on record on who they are willing to go to bat for," Campany said.
At the committee hearing, Wellstone cited Tyson's growing profits as a company that has dominated the poultry market. He charged the company's recent purchase of IBP is an example of the corporation's effort to drive out competition and consolidate the poultry and beef industries. Wellstone did not specifically name Hutchinson or Lincoln but said the competition provisions failed because "obviously some of these big fellows have got a lot of power in this committee." . . . .
The legislation also would have allowed farmers and poultry growers to join associations, collectively negotiate contracts with large agriculture businesses and share the documents with their attorneys. It also would have forbidden companies from limiting legal disputes with contractors to arbitrators, paving the way for contract farmers and poultry growers to take companies to court.
The Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform, a coalition of farm and
religious groups, says legal rights need to be codified by Congress because
growers and farmers now are forced to sign confidential contracts without
consulting a lawyer. As a consequence, farm groups say agribusinesses dictate
all terms and prices for what the farmers produce.
"As more and more industries shift toward contract production, these relations have becomes particularly abusive and I think poultry is an example of the abuses suffered," said Keith Etka, legislative coordinator for the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform. "The growers end up having no bargaining power and are often subject to pretty severe abuses in relationship with the company," Etka said. . . .
ETC GROUP REPORT:
"NEW ENCLOSURES: ALTERNATIVE MECHANISMS
TO ENHANCE CORPORATE MONOPOLY
AND BIOSERFDOM IN THE 21ST CENTURY"
Corporations are developing a variety of new mechanisms to secure monopoly control of biotech and other emerging technologies. A new report by ETC group (formerly RAFI) identifies new mechanisms --- ranging from remote sensing technologies, biological monopolies, and legal contracts --- that are being developed to strengthen corporate dominance over new technologies. According to ETC group, the political, practical and technical uncertainties surrounding intellectual property are increasingly unacceptable to industry --- and that is why companies are developing new tools for monopoly control --- what ETC group calls "New Enclosures."
The new 20-page ETC Communiqué (November/December 2001), entitled "New
Enclosures: Alternative Mechanisms to Enhance Corporate Monopoly and Bioserfdom
in the 21st Century" can be found, in full, on the ETC group website:
Patent Pandemonium: The recently concluded WTO Ministerial meeting in Doha underscores that intellectual property is becoming ever more politically contentious as growing segments of society recognize that monopoly patents are preventing poor people from gaining access to life-saving drugs and life-sustaining seeds. Compounding the political uncertainties, the transaction costs of winning and defending patents is enormous. U.S.-based companies alone spent more than $4 billion on patent litigation last year; it typically costs $1.5 million (per side) to litigate a patent, many start-up biotech companies are forced to budget as much for patent litigation as they are for research & development.
Biological Monopolies, Eye in the Sky, Contract Controls: The ETC group is not suggesting that patents are about to disappear as a strategy to win corporate monopoly. However, it is critically important to examine New Enclosure mechanisms --- ranging from earth observation satellites, to genetic encryption, to technology user agreements --- that will allow companies to identify and control germ plasm, territory and labor. ETC warns that New Enclosures threaten to erode the rights of farmers and workers, undermine national sovereignty and facilitate corporate consolidation. For example:
Earth observation satellites are being used to enforce proprietary rights and regulatory compliance. In Argentina, for example, satellite surveillance is already being used to monitor farmers' crops in an effort to halt tax evasion; satellite surveillance is also proposed to stop farmers from saving and exchanging proprietary seeds. Who needs Monsanto's "Gene Police" when government authorities are prepared to enforce corporate rules?
The best known examples of New Enclosure mechanisms are the controversial genetic use restriction technologies (i.e. Terminator and Traitor) that are designed to impose biological monopolies on seeds. ETC group also examines genetic encryption for livestock, and a gene barrier technology for crops that could someday be used to limit industry liability from GM crop contamination (that is, the flow of transgenes from genetically modified crops to crop relatives nearby).
ETC group also examines legal contracts such as technology user agreements and material transfer agreements that go beyond intellectual property as mechanisms to control germ plasm and technology, and to appropriate public research for private profit. With New Enclosure technologies, companies are positioned to dictate regulatory standards to governments that lack the capacity to monitor and assess control mechanisms. ETC group asks, how long before the terms and conditions for "biosafety" and "consumer confidence" will be dictated by industry standards --- not by government regulators?
Action needed: Intergovernmental bodies and civil society organizations must move beyond intellectual property to examine how new technologies are becoming strategic alternatives for strengthening corporate control. New Enclosures must be carefully monitored, analyzed and independently regulated at the national and international level. The United Nations General Assembly should establish a new "UN Center on Commerce and Technology," with the necessary resources to address not only corporate power and concentration, but new commercial and technological combinations.
The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is
an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC
group (pronounced Etcetera group) is dedicated to the advancement of cultural
and ecological diversity and human rights. Its new web site,
is under construction. All RAFI and ETC group's publications are available at: www.rafi.org
FORMER IBP BOARD CHAIRMAN PETERSON
BECOMES LARGE IOWA FARMLAND OWNER
JERRY PERKINS, DES MOINES REGISTER FARM EDITOR: Robert Peterson, the retired chairman of meatpacking giant IBP Inc., has big plans for the 10,000 acres of southern Iowa farmland he purchased this week. Peterson intends to grow corn and soybeans on the 10,000 acres that are part of the cattle-feeding operation Rio Timba and Rio Baca, said Peterson's real estate agent Robert Long on Friday.
Peterson, through the Virginia Peterson Trust, paid more than $9 million for the Rio Timba and Rio Baca cattle operation at a bankruptcy court auction in Kansas City on Thursday. Long, of Yellow Creek Realty of Milan, Missouri., represented Peterson in the transaction. Long said Peterson's purchase of 10,000-plus acres is the largest single farmland acquisition south of Interstate 80 in Iowa. "The fair market value of the land is about $6 million," Long said. The rest of the $9 million bid was for the 5,650 head of cattle on the land, farm machinery and cattle feed, he said.
Peterson wasted no time in having the operation, located in Ringgold and Decatur counties near Grand River, inspected. Jim McLean, who owned one-third of Rio Timba and Rio Baca until the cattle-feeding facilities declared bankruptcy August 31, said farm consultant Terry Kucera, who runs Peterson's farming operations, inspected the operations.
Rio Timba and Rio Baca sought protection from creditors after they were caught up in the bankruptcy of George Young, a cattle broker from Grant City, Missouri. Young, McLean and Duane Ramsey of Scott City, Kansas, each owned one-third interest in Rio Timba and Rio Baca. Young closed his cattle businesses August 10 and was forced into bankruptcy after banks and investors claimed he sold them cattle that didn't exist. Young's lawyer has said that Young sold 344,000 head of cattle worth $177 million but can account for only 28,800 head. . . .
Peterson retired in September after Tyson Foods Inc. purchased IBP for $4.4
billion. He couldn't be reached for comment.
ASHCROFT SEEKS TO REMOVE
FBI RESTRICTIONS ON SPYING
OF U.S. RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL GROUPS
DAVID JOHNSTON & DON VAN NATTA JR, THE NEW YORK TIMES : Attorney General John Ashcroft is considering a plan to relax restrictions on the F.B.I.'s spying on religious and political organizations in the United States, senior government officials said. The proposal would loosen one of the most fundamental restrictions on the conduct of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and would be another step by the Bush administration to modify civil-liberties protections as a means of defending the country against terrorists, the senior officials said.
The attorney general's surveillance guidelines were imposed on the F.B.I. in the 1970's after the death of J. Edgar Hoover and the disclosures that the F.B.I. had run a widespread domestic surveillance program, called Cointelpro, to monitor antiwar militants, the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., among others, while Mr. Hoover was director. Since then, the guidelines have defined the F.B.I.'s operational conduct in investigations of domestic and overseas groups that operate in the United States.
Some officials who oppose the change said the rules had largely kept the F.B.I. out of politically motivated investigations, protecting the bureau from embarrassment and lawsuits. But others, including senior Justice Department officials, said the rules were outmoded and geared to obsolete investigative methods and had at times hobbled F.B.I. counter terrorism efforts . . .
Senior career F.B.I. officials complained that they had not been consulted about the proposed change, a criticism they have expressed about other Bush administration counter-terrorism measures. When the Justice Department decided to use military tribunals to try accused terrorists, and to interview thousands of Muslim men in the United States, the officials said they were not consulted . . .
In a series of recent interviews, several senior career officials at the
F.B.I. said it would be a serious mistake to weaken the guidelines, and they
were upset that the department had not clearly described the proposed changes.
"People are furious right now very, very angry," one of them said. "They just
assume they know everything. When you don't consult with anybody, it sends the
message that you assume you know everything. And they don't know everything."
QUESTIONING "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW"
IN JOHN ASHCROFT'S AMERICA
ANTHONY LEWIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: On the basis of secret evidence, the government accuses a non-citizen of connections to terrorism, and holds him in prison for three years. Then a judge conducts a full trial and rejects the terrorism charges. He releases the prisoner. A year later government agents rearrest the man, hold him in solitary confinement and state as facts the terrorism charges that the judge found untrue. Could that happen in America? In John Ashcroft's America it has happened.
Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian, came to the United States in 1984 as a graduate student and stayed to teach at a university. The Immigration Service moved to deport him for overstaying his visa and asked an immigration judge, R. Kevin McHugh, to imprison him. Secret evidence, the government lawyers said, showed that Mr. Al-Najjar had raised funds for a terrorist organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In June 1997 Judge McHugh issued the detention order. Mr. Al-Najjar's lawyers went to federal court and challenged the use of secret evidence against him. The court held that he must at least be told enough about the evidence to have a fair chance of responding to it.
Judge McHugh then reopened the case in his immigration court. In a two-week trial the government's lead witness, an Immigration agent, admitted that there was no evidence of Mr. Al-Najjar contributing to a terrorist organization or ever advocating terrorism. At the end Judge McHugh found that there were no "bona fide reasons to conclude that [Mr. Al- Najjar] is a threat to national security." . . .
Last Saturday immigration agents arrested Mr. Al-Najjar again. The Justice Department issued a triumphant press release saying that the case "underscores the department's commitment to address terrorism by using all legal authorities available." Mr. Al-Najjar, it said, "had established ties to terrorist organizations." That flat, conclusory statement was in direct contradiction to the findings made by Judge McHugh after a full trial. And the department did not claim, this time, to be relying on undisclosed information. It said the detention was "not based on classified evidence."
It seems to me shocking that the United States Department of Justice should state as a fact something that a judge has found to be untrue. The whole press release had the ring not of law but of political propaganda. That is not the department of respected lawyers that I have known over many years.
Mr. Al-Najjar is not only back in prison, he is being treated with exceptional severity, indeed cruelty. He is in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. He is not allowed to make telephone calls, and he may not see his family. Only his lawyer is permitted to visit him. Because Mr. Al-Najjar is stateless and no country will accept him, he probably cannot be deported. So if the Justice Department view that he is a security risk prevails, in the teeth of the judge's finding, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Why is Attorney General Ashcroft using his office to punish this man so severely? At a time of national anxiety about Arabs and Muslims, Mr. Al-Najjar is a useful target: a Palestinian Muslim. More broadly, Mr. Ashcroft has claimed power to detain non-citizens even when immigration judges order them released. It could be, too, that Mr. Ashcroft wants to use this case to establish the right to use secret evidence against aliens. The practice had been all but abandoned by the Justice Department after several judges frowned on it and more than 100 members of the House co-sponsored legislation to prohibit it.
With all the extreme measures taken by the administration in recent days,
detaining hundreds of people, ordering thousands questioned, establishing
military tribunals, Mr. Ashcroft and President Bush have assured the country
that they will enforce the measures with care, and with concern for civil
liberties. Their motto is, "Trust us." The Al-Najjar case shows that there is no
basis for trust.
. . . AND HOW SOON WE FORGET ???
In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time nobody was left to speak up.
--- Martin Neimoeller
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newsletter can be found at the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project’s web site on
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AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER and "Between the Furrows."
THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed newsletter, now becomes
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In "Between the Furrows," besides a modern search engine, there is a wide
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