Chuck Turner is going to jail today.
He isn’t going quietly, though, and his supporters turned out in droves last night at Northeastern University’s School of Law. Turner chose to spend his final evening of freedom addressing a sardine-packed lecture hall as part of a four-speaker panel entitled “Framing the Innocent: Crimes Under Color of Law at the Massachusetts US Attorney's Office.”
“My work has been my therapy to help me deal with a crazy world,” he said after receiving a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd. “We really need to take stock and ask ourselves what kind of a system we want—one of justice, or one of political expediency...”
Turner went on to read an open letter that documents his gut feelings and observations about his legal battle (click the photo gallery for a scan of the entire four page letter). The sting that has landed him in prison (incidentally, the same one that recently procured former Senator Dianne Wilkerson a three-and-a-half year sentence), is based on what he insists are bogus corruption charges as the result of an unwarranted FBI investigation.
While he makes myriad accusations in his letter, the crux of it all is his belief that by sponsoring a 2007 resolution (approved by the Boston City Council 13 to 0) which “instructed the MA Congressional delegation to initiate action within congress to withdraw our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the money being spent on these wars back to the US,” he rattled a few people who, in turn, decided to try shutting him up.
Turner confessed that, as an activist, the ‘good advice’ of his lawyers to keep his mouth shut after his arrest just didn’t jibe well with his natural instincts. His campaign to proclaim his innocence and refusal to accept the charges against him (or even look at the evidence the prosecution provided since he claims it’s all fabricated nonsense) was out of a concern to protect himself, “in the court of public opinion.”
If the mob gathered outside the Forsythe Street building Thursday night was any indication, the ‘court of public opinion’ sees Turner as an underdog hero: the entrance was clogged tight as he briefly addressed the media and, when he turned to go back inside, the crowd chanted his name continuously for several minutes.
On a broader scale, the forum sought to use Turner’s situation as an example of how our judicial system has strayed dangerously far from its constitutional origins.
The other speakers on hand, Attorney Robert Boyle, Suffolk University Law Professor Michael Avery, and Tarek Mehanna Support Committee organizer, Laila Murad, all offered scandalous tales about the ways in which the US Attorney’s office and the FBI have abused their respective positions of power to grossly distort the law and, in turn, dispense with civil rights.
Avery spoke first, using two famed trials he participated in as framework for his points: the mob-related murders of Edward “Teddy” Deegan in 1965 and Vincent “Jimmy” Limoli in 1985. In both cases it’s now well documented that special interests were protected while the FBI ran interference, US Attorneys lied on the stand (without punishment) and innocents did serious jail time.
“The government cannot put witnesses on the stand that they know full-well are lying, but the Department of Justice repeatedly defends this behavior, stating that FBI agents are allowed to work with cooperating witnesses that they know are not telling the truth,” Avery said. “The policy is really ‘the end justifies the means.'”
Boyle shared a wealth of knowledge about ways in which a series of FBI projects entitled COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was used to derail legitimate political movements in this country during the late 1960s and early ‘70s—everything from the Black Panthers (with whom Boyle has extensive experience, having worked on the release of Panther Dhoruba Bin-Wahad after 17 years of incarceration) to the Women’s Liberation Movement. He illustrated ways in which prosecution was used as political weaponry to inhibit the spread of valid ideas and perpetuate fear.
Boyle suggested that the reason we don’t hear about COINTELPRO any longer is because we’ve come to accept the same methodology under the guise of the Patriot Act.
This served as a perfect gateway for Laila Murad who documented in vivid detail the ongoing plight of Tarek Mehanna, a 27-year-old Muslim Egyptian-American currently incarcerated in Plymouth and considered by many to be a political prisoner. Mehanna was allegedly scrutinized by the FBI for a number of years and claims he was asked to become an informant. Murad explained Thursday night that when he refused, that’s when his real legal troubles began.
“The Patriot Act makes most of the COINTELPRO tactics legal,” Boyle concluded. “We should all be outraged at what’s happened to Councilman Turner. But we should all be equally outraged at what happens to Muslims in the name of the war on terrorism in this country every day.”
Before Thursday night’s program got underway, one of the student organizers behind the event explained that at the eleventh hour, Northeastern issued a message outlining ‘extra conditions’ that needed to be met before the forum could go forward, one of which being that an NEU police officer must be present and paid at an overtime rate. Another stipulation put unusually strict limitations on the size of the attending crowd. In the interest of seeing the event go forward, conditions were reluctantly met.
“We consider both of these measures to be illegitimate and their selective application to this forum discriminatory,” said a printed statement issued by the US Attorney Watch Organizing Committee.
For anyone interested, the group will be holding its next meeting Thursday, April 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston Street. All are welcome. For more information visit usattywatch.blogspot.com