Drake incident raises questions of American rights in Iowa

by Mark Pleiss

Remember that picture in The Des Moines Register last week ofthe shady figure with the camera hiding and taking pictures at ananti-war rally?

Looked like something out of an FBI gangster or governmentconspiracy movie. But that image came from Des Moines. The photocaption came thanks to a few inquisitive journalists who saw theman in the window, located the room and knocked on the door. But ofcourse the man didn’t answer.

So the journalists hid, springing a trap for the man in thewindow. Finally he came out, and was immediately interrogated. Itwas a Des Moines police officer taking photos “in case things gotout of hand.

Fishy, huh?

Shrapnel from the bombs falling in Iraq have just landed inIowa, 20 miles from Simpson College, to be exact.

The dust has just cleared from what was never jagged metal, butpolitical abuse of power. One of our country’s core values is thefreedom of personal beliefs. This is especially true inuniversities and colleges. Last week, Drake University, aninstitution within spitting distance of Simpson, was denied itsrights by the government at the threat of being questioned before agrand jury in a soundproof room without a lawyer, where virtuallyanything goes.

A group of organizations gathered with Drake law students toprotest the war in Iraq. With all the efforts, 21 people attendedthe rally. About 21 people attend Catholic mass here at Simpson.All 21 are crammed into a room the size of about three dorms. Butthis number of people was great enough to provoke a response fromthe government.

At first, the grand jury’s inquiry used the Patriot Act’s loosedefinition of terrorism to achieve its goal. But after speculationbegan, prosecutors said the investigation concerned a Novemberbreak-in at Camp Dodge.

Because of this break-in, four activists were subpoenaed. Campussecurity records, most importantly ones dealing with “any recordsof persons in charge or control of the meeting [peace rally] andany records of attendees of the meeting,” were ordered to be turnedover to federal authorities as well.

Plus, an order requiring the university to hand over membershipinformation for the conference’s host, the Drake chapter of theNational Lawyers Guild, was put out.

Seems like a lot of strange information for a little break in,no? In reality it was simple. The protestors needed to besilenced.

The subpoena led to a gag order forbidding anyone involved totalk about what was going on. This includes professors not beingable to talk about the subject to students and especially thepress. This sort of government intervention was common in the 60sand often successfully quieted students and organizations for fearof unfair federal prosecution.

But, luckily, the word got out. Drake didn’t flinch at the siteof pressure.

Media from around the world, peace organizations and theNational Lawyer’s Guild started to ask questions and demanded thegrand jury’s inquiry be deemed unconstitutional. And in the end,the subpoenas were dropped, the four activists didn’t need to standin front of the grand jury and the records of students andcommunity who attended the anti-war gathering never werereleased.

Scary, isn’t it? It couldn’t be more real.

Brian Terrell, one of the four who would have had to be in courtlast week, attended the “Witness to War: Eyewitness for Peace”lecture on Simpson’s campus last Wednesday.

“A university has to be a place of open opinions,” Terrell said.”They intended to stifle resistance, but instead were surprised byall the resistance they encountered at Drake. Because of all this,I’m more patriotic than ever. Americans simply won’t stand for it[the Drake situation].”

At the speech, Kathy Kelly, who had just returned from Iraq,talked about the war Terrell and others stared down a gun barrel toprotest, and the effects it has had on our soldiers and Iraqicivilians.

The lecture was moving, to say the least. When one hears thepersonal stories of those caught in the viewfinders of smart bombhi-lite tapes, pressure to go against the war becomes that muchmore reasonable. All of a sudden, when a former top US weaponsinspector says, “We were almost completely wrong,” a terrifyingnotion is raised. Drake exercised rights all Americans have, andare greatly justified in their belief, despite its unpopularity toour government.

It is our job as Americans, living in a democracy, to askquestions so our leaders can perform as honestly as possible. Thegovernment is to protect our ability to ask questions. Whathappened at Drake is a wake up call that things just aren’t right,and it is up to us, the youth with a strong vote and an inquisitivenature, to make sure that such things don’t keep happening.