Earth First! / Judy Bari Trial – Landmark victory for Civil Liberties

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By MICHAEL SCHREIBER

In a landmark victory for civil liberties, on June 11, a jury determined that members of the FBI and the Oakland Police Department must pay $4.4 million in damages to Daryl Cherney and to the estate of the late Judi Bari, two organizers for Earth First! and its campaign to protect the old-growth forests.

The FBI and police defendants had been charged in the six-week lawsuit with fabricating and ignoring evidence about a 1990 car bomb attack, which nearly killed Bari, and attempting to frame her and Cherney for the bombing.

“The jury exonerated us,” Daryl Cherney exclaimed following the verdict. “They found the FBI to be the ones in violation of the law. The public needs to understand that the FBI can’t be trusted. Ten jurors got a good, hard look at the FBI, and they didn’t like what they saw.”

The outlook of the jury was made clear recently when one of the jurors, Mary Nunn, spoke to the press soon after U.S. District Judge Claudia White had lifted the three-week gag order she placed on the jury members. Nunn indicated that the jury was not fooled by the government’s shabby defense case-even though the police and FBI agents continued to twist the truth right up until the end of the trial.

“The FBI and Oakland [police] sat up there and lied about their investigation,” Nunn told the San Francisco Chronicle (July 3, 2002). “They messed up their investigation, and they had to lie again and again to try to cover up. I’m surprised that they seriously expected anyone would believe them.”

“Police tried to blame their mistakes on the FBI, but the FBI was trying to shove the blame right back,” Nunn said. “No one in law enforcement was willing to say ‘we made a mistake” and stand up and admit it.”

The case showed that despite FBI claims that since the late 1970s they had abided by “self-imposed guidelines” restricting their spy activities, the agency had snooped on Bari and Cherney as late as November 1991. The FBI even compiled a database of some 600 people that Bari and Cherney had called on the phone.

It was revealed, moreover, that the Oakland Police Department, through its shadowy red squad, worked hand in hand with the FBI to infiltrate and keep tabs on Bay Area political groups. A cop admitted on the stand that the spy unit had kept files on some 300 activist organizations, including 20 environmental groups like Earth First!

This case is especially important in light of recent actions by the Bush administration to further expedite the ability of the FBI to spy on and harass U.S. citizens.

Tony Serra, one of the attorneys for the Earth First! plaintiffs, explained that “the jury showed the rest of America that even in the face of brutal terrorism [referring to the Sept. 11 catastrophe in New York], we cannot discard the very civil liberties that make the country great. This verdict encourages people who have been wronged to step forward and not be fearful.”

Alicia Littletree, a paralegal working for the plaintiffs, agreed: “This case needs to be part of the context in the discussion about FBI powers. It shows that the FBI has been looking at activists and tampering with their protected activities. They’ve been doing it for decades, and we’ve got to put a stop to it. Don’t give the FBI more power to spy on people, because instead of fighting terrorism they go after activists.”

Meanwhile, much more work must be done if the circumstances behind the 1990 Judi Bari bombing are to be uncovered. Littletree, speaking on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” the day after the verdict came in, indicated that “we now have to move into a phase of … looking for the real perpetrators” of the bombing.

For more information, visit the lawsuit website at www.judibari.org.

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