Rob Kall: Good evening. It's been a busy day today. I spent the morning down in Philadelphia in a court room with OpEdNews.com reporter, Cheryl Biren-Wright and the AEC 6 - the six protesters who were arrested at the Army Experience Center a few weeks ago on September 12. It was an interesting morning.
We have tonight, coming on in a few minutes, Paul Hetznecker. Paul Hetznecker is a defense attorney who does a lot of work, pro bono, with people who have been involved in protests of different sorts who are engaged in fighting for civil rights.
He is working to defend Cheryl Biren-Wright and the six protesters and I had a chance to meet him today and he is, as I described in the diary announcing this radio show, he's a lion. He is an awesome guy who is about protecting our rights, protecting our constitutional rights in particular.
Paul: Well, I appreciate those comments. It's very kind of you Rob.
Rob: To start off with you're defending pro bono the six protesters who were arrested at the Army Experience Center and Cheryl Biren-Wright, the reporter who was arrested while taking photographs there.
Paul: That's correct.
Rob: There was a hearing today and I'm not sure just what to make out of that and what we can say and it would be great if you could give a little bit of a summary about how things look for them and where they're going.
But, I will say this, there has been a longstanding policy of the Philadelphia Police Department to have their Civil Affairs Division monitor, surveil, and conduct intelligence gathering with respect to protesters in the city.
And, this goes way back and it is not unique to Philadelphia. Police departments throughout the country during the 60s and 70s established what they called Red Squads back then which were intelligence gathering units that would show up at protests essentially to monitor the protest, to make sure that the protest didn't become violent and that was ostensibly their official mission.
But, their unofficial but more significant mission was really to gather political intelligence on the protesters and there is a longstanding tradition in many police departments of gathering this information and then sharing it with federal authorities and other intelligence agencies in order to essentially create a catalogue of protesters, a kind of intelligence gathering process that goes way back and has continued and has actually intensified over the last ten years since the protest in Seattle ten years ago.
And so there is this longstanding tradition of what has been phrased, and I think properly coined, a "war on dissent" in this country and that war has been intensified not only under President Bush, but it continues so even to this day.
Rob: Under Attorney General Holder would you say?
Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely. Certainly, Holder is a breath of fresh air compared to the previous administration, but the infrastructure of the surveillance and the intelligence gathering that exists within the federal government and coordinates with local police departments existed as I said even before Bush came into office. Certainly, it got much more insidious and much more, I think dangerous, in the efforts that were made post 9/11 and use of the Patriot Act and other efforts that have been well-documented with surveillance by the NSA and by the Pentagon and other agencies which were barred by law from conducting domestic surveillance. What we have seen is this has carried out throughout the course of the last ten years with a variety of tactics.
So, I make that comment only because I think it's important that when defending individuals in a protest situation not only are the examination of the charges and the sufficiency or lack thereof of the evidence an important part of any defense, it's also important to know what the underlying strategic plan of the police department has been with respect to protests and in conjunction with that the efforts to identify, catalogue or what has been phrased "political profiling" of those people they believe to be the center of whatever particular political demonstration is being conducted.
Rob: I was there and what I saw were police somewhere between 50 and 80 uniformed and non-uniformed police seriously attempting to intimidate and actually threatening the media with arrest if they stayed to cover arrests.
Paul: Right. And that's a very dangerous part of this whole development and I think what has been seen over the years and really started I think in real coordinated effort by local and federal agencies to criminalize dissent but also to marginalize those who are protesting and also kind of eliminate the press overview of their activity is the process or the tactics that you just mentioned - the intimidation, the threats of arrest, "you stay here," the seizing of cameras and video cameras when there is an event that is going on in an attempt to control, from their point of view, control the events that are going to unfold.