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Re: Ariana Tanabe
by Ben Rosenfeld
Friday Nov 9th, 2012 10:20 AM
Regarding the posts that Ariana Tanabe cooperated with the government by testifying before a grand jury allegedly investigating fire-related incidents in Santa Cruz in 2008:

 

Re: Ariana Tanabe

 

I am not Ariana’s attorney, but I have knowledge that the characterization that she cooperated with a grand jury is misleading and unnecessarily divisive.  While testifying does not constitute resistance, it does not automatically constitute cooperation.  After Ariana and her attorney vigorously challenged a series of subpoenas over a four year period, she appeared before a grand jury and answered a limited set of questions which the government previewed to her attorney, rather than go to jail.  She did so because (a) she had no information regarding the incidents the government was investigating, and (b) she knew in advance the questions they would ask her.

I support grand jury resistance and commend protest communities for taking a hard line against grand jury use and abuse.  England, from whom we inherited the grand jury system, has abandoned its use, along with the rest of the Commonwealth, leaving the U.S. alone in its sick reliance on this totalitarian tool to probe people’s political and religious beliefs, practices, and associations, and to harass, chill, and disrupt activists and movements. The courts have leapt out of the way of the executive juggernaut and largely abdicated their responsibility to exercise meaningful judicial oversight.

Nevertheless, the issues are complex and the solutions scarce, as they often are in the face of powerful state repression.  Real support has to entail something more than lionizing those who resist and vilifying those who testify.  With all credit due to the people who have stood up to challenge recent grand jury abuse, it is important to acknowledge that no substantial community solidarity has coalesced in support of those subpoenaed in connection with the current Santa Cruz investigation. 

While testifying may be far from the preferred outcome, demanding, as some bloggers posting about Ariana seem to be doing, that every activist (or roommate or friend) who knows nothing go to jail on pain of being ostracized by the community, is not necessarily the best outcome for the community either – to say nothing of the security risks such reaction creates in potentially driving people into the government’s arms.  However ideal and virtuous the demand may be that every subpoenaed activist accept jail time if her legal options run out, it is also unrealistic.  People have different vulnerabilities and needs, and break at different points.  The goal should be to elevate people’s breaking points by providing meaningful, actual support rather than just attaching derisive labels to them if they testify.

To be sure, those sitting in jail for contempt deserve to know their sacrifices are not in vain, and that cooperators are not coddled.  But activist communities have reacted inconsistently toward people who have spoken to the authorities, depending on such factors as the context in which they spoke, what they said, their standing and popularity beforehand, and whether they debriefed afterward.  Activists intimidated into speaking to FBI agents at their door may be given a pass, while those who answered limited questions before a grand jury to avoid becoming another casualty, are sometimes demonized, even if they harmed no one.  Each case is different, and the issues are complex.

Activist communities will have to continue to wrestle with these conundrums amid these ongoing grand jury witch hunts, the incarceration of Kteeo, Matt D., and others, the speculation about Leah’s actions, and Ariana’s appearance.  There are no perfect options in the face of callous government abuse.  Communities may need to develop new principles and best practices which factor in these harsh realities.  And political clients may need to remind their lawyers they want to be represented politically, with solicitude for the welfare of their broader communities, and respect for their communities’ interest in information about otherwise secretive processes.  Lawyers can help to disclose information so as to minimize further harm and invasions of privacy, and also share useful information among each other as part of a joint defense in service of their clients.

I recognize that people may have legitimate questions and criticisms of these views.  I am not trying to indoctrinate anyone in my viewpoint.  For now, I just want to implore people to study the issues in their complexity, and to examine individual cases with journalistic exactitude, before branding their fellow activists as tainted and giving the government the satisfaction of watching activists devour one another alive.

Ben Rosenfeld, Attorney