The U.S. Attorney’s office in Des Moines announced this afternoon that it was withdrawing the grand jury subpoenas issued to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Drake University and some peace activists. Because grand juries proceedings are secret, we still don’t know what they were trying to accomplish.
Last Wednesday the U.S. Attorney’s office in Des Moines issued subpoenas demanding a breathtaking amount of information relating to a November 15 antiwar conference at Drake University and a demonstration at the Iowa National Guard Headquarters in Johnston the next day. Twelve protestors were arrested and charged with misdemeanors.
Four individual peace activists were summoned before the grand jury.
[Another] subpoena ask[ed] Drake University for all records relating to the November 15 conference, as well as information about leaders of the Drake University chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the location of Guild offices and any annual reports since 2002 [including membership rolls]. In addition, it asks for "all records of Drake University campus security reflecting any observations made of the November 15, 2003 meeting, including any records of persons in charge or control of the meeting, and any records of attendees of the meeting."
Thursday they slapped a gag order on the University to prevent its employees from discussing the subpoenas.
Rumors flew all weekend. Many assumed that this was some kind of Patriot Act action aimed at intimidating legal dissent. Members of the Iowa congressional delegation expressed concern.
"I don't like the smell of it," said Sen. Tom Harkin, adding that he did not know details of the investigation. "It reminds me too much of Vietnam when war protesters were rounded up, when grand juries were convened to investigate people who were protesting the war."
Rep. Leonard Boswell, a Des Moines Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he understands the need for secrecy when dealing with matters of national security.
"However, I am increasingly concerned about Attorney General John Ashcroft's disregard for explaining the actions of the Justice Department to the public,"
Monday the U.S. Attorney’s office began to back off.
Federal officials Monday said a grand jury inquiry involving four peace activists and Drake University is not part of an anti-terrorism investigation.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Patrick O'Meara said late Monday that the investigation focuses on unlawful entry onto military property at Camp Dodge on Nov. 16, and whether plans were laid for that at a conference the day before at Drake.
Suggestions that the investigation is related to the Patriot Act "are not accurate," O'Meara said. ,"
The official story is that it was about a trespassing incident. They just wanted to know if there had been a conspiracy to trespass. For that they needed boxes of records, a half dozen people to appear in person, and a gag order over an entire university. For that they sent out a Sheriff’s Deputy who identified himself as a member of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to deliver the subpoenas.
From the sound of things, the Iowa groups are not going to let this die down. They want to know what this was all about. So do I.