The Demise of Academic Freedom in the US

Watchtower

Press TV (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns three extremely popular and effective college professors who were denied tenure and/or fired after being targeted by the Jewish Anti-Discrimination League (ADL) for their views on Palestine. Two of the professors targeted (Dr Norman Finkelstein) and Dr Joel Kovel) were accused by the ADL of being “self-hating Jews,” owing to their support for justice for Palestine. The third, Dr Joseph Massad, a Jordanian whose family fled Palestine in 1948, was accused of being an “anti-Semite” who made Jewish students uncomfortable.

None of the above accusations were ever supported by the facts. In each case, the school that employed them (DePaul, Brooklyn College and Columbia) failed to follow their own established processes. Instead they were more concerned about bad publicity interfering with their ability to fundraise.  .

In 2008 Massad, who Columbia improperly denied tenure, sought the assistance of the the ACLU for the clear violation of his First Amendment rights. With their support, he finally won tenure in 2009.

One of the most ominous aspects of these three cases is the clear monitoring/surveillance role the ADL* is playing in all US institutions of higher learning. In Finkelstein’s case, this monitoring entailed dispatching outside non-student agitators to disrupt his classes.


*The ADL has a long history of collaborating with the FBI to spy on progressive groups. In the mid-eighties they were involved in spying on a group I belonged to The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES): https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2000/12/27/12071.php

When Government Goes to War Against Us

Cointelpro 101: The Sabotage of Legitimate Dissent

By Andres Alegria, Prentis Hemphill, Anita Johnson and Claude Marks (2010)

Film Review

Cointelpro is the name given to the illegal counterinsurgency program FBI director J Edgar Hoover launched in the fifties and sixties against the civil rights movement, the American Indian Movement, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the Chicano/Mexicano rights movement, unions and different social justice movements. Its various tactics included illegal surveillance, wiretaps and break-ins, extrajudicial assassinations and plots to frame activists for crimes they didn’t commit.

The program had to be kept secret because it was illegal. The American public only learned about Cointelpro after antiwar activists broke into a Philadelphia office the FBI shared with the Selective Service in 1971. Intending to destroy draft registration documents, they accidentally stumbled across Cointelpro-related letters and memos and leaked them to the press.

Hoover’s War Against Black Empowerment

Cointelpro’s most high profile target was the civil rights and black liberation movement. Hoover openly wrote of his goal of “liquidating” the entire Black Panther leadership. Some Black Panther leaders were killed in cold blood. Chicago leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot in their sleep in 1969. The same year the FBI assassinated two Los Angeles Black Panther leaders at UCLA and two San Diego leaders while they were selling newspapers.

When Vietnam veteran Geronimo Pratt assumed leadership of the LA branch, the police (in cooperation with the FBI) tried to kill him via the armed assault and bombing of the LA Black Panther office. When this failed, they framed him on a murder charge, despite FBI surveillance records that placed him in Oakland at the time of the murder. Pratt spent twenty-seven years in prison before these records surfaced and exonerated him.

The Church Committee, a senate committed convened in the mid-seventies, identified more than two hundred criminal FBI attacks against Black Panther leaders, including murder, driving people insane and framing them on phony charges. No FBI operatives were ever prosecuted for these crimes, and more than a dozen black liberation activists (including Mumia Abu Jamal and Mike, Debbie and Janet Africa) remain in prison on trumped up charges.

The Reign of Terror at Pine Ridge

Following the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM) to demand enforcement of treaty rights, Hoover launched a reign of terror (1973-76) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. During this period, death squads killed or disappeared scores of residents who dared to challenge the corrupt tribal leadership. When reservation elders sought the protection of the AIM leadership, one them, Leonard Peltier, was wrongfully convicted of the double murder of two FBI agents. As in Pratt’s case, the FBI deliberately concealed evidence exonerating him. After nearly forty years, he, too, remains in prison.

Cointelpro Never Ended

Contrary to government claims, Cointelpro didn’t end in 1971 when it was exposed. In 1983, documents came to light revealing that the FBI had illegally infiltrated, spied and disrupted the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. The latter, a group I belonged to between 1982 and 1985, was a grassroots organization that campaigned against Reagan’s military support of El Salvador’s right wing dictatorship.

This documentary finishes by pointing out that many previously illegal Cointelpro activities – warrantless surveillance and wiretapping, clandestine break-ins and pre-emptive arrest for dissident political views – are now perfectly legal under the Patriot Act.