Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of U.S. military veteran and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern against John Kerry, in his capacity as the Secretary of State, and against officers at George Washington University.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia three years to the date of Mr. McGovern's brutal and false arrest at GWU during a speech of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Since arrest, the PCJF has uncovered that the Department of State issued a Be On The Lookout Alert ('BOLO Alert') for Mr. McGovern which described his “considerable amount of political activism, primarily anti-war,” displayed his picture and directed law enforcement that if the then-71-year-old Mr. McGovern was encountered, “USE CAUTION, stop” and question him and contact the Department of State Diplomatic Security Command Center.
Circumstances of arrest
The circumstances of McGovern's 2011 arrest were marked by stinging irony. Mr. McGovern was brutalized and arrested after peacefully and silently standing with his back to Hillary Clinton as she gave a policy speech condemning authoritarian governments who repress dissenters and internet freedom.
As Secretary Clinton was reading from her prepared remarks regarding Egypt’s dictatorship saying, “Then the government pulled the plug,” Mr. McGovern was forcibly and falsely arrested by GWU police officers, grabbed by the head and assaulted directly in front of her.
As Secretary Clinton continued undisturbed in her speech which was being live broadcast worldwide by the State Department and was stating, “the government ... did not want the world to watch,” Mr. McGovern was removed from public view with excessive and brutal force, taken to jail, and left bleeding with bruises and contusions. Mr. McGovern’s charges of disorderly conduct, for standing silently with his back turned, were ultimately dropped.
In addition to issuing the BOLO, the Department of State immediately opened an investigation into Mr. McGovern, including specifically his lawful, protected political beliefs, activities, statements and associations which it kept open for nearly seven months, despite all charges having been dropped against Mr. McGovern and despite having determined that Mr. McGovern was engaged in no criminal activity.
The State Department’s records focus on McGovern’s lawful political associations with Veterans for Peace and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, and his appearances on CNN and other media discussing his political views as well as his articles critical of U.S. military policy. This purely political investigation and issuance of a BOLO directive is in clear violation of his Fourth and First Amendment protections.
The BOLO Alert constitutes a standing directive that he be stopped and seized in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause that he is committing an offense. This is targeting Mr. McGovern for law enforcement action based on his lawful political and free speech activities.
Mr. McGovern, 74, is a veteran Army officer who also served as an analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency for 27 years. Mr. McGovern wrote for the President’s daily brief under Presidents Nixon and Ford. From 1981 to 1985, he personally briefed this publication in the morning one-on-one to Vice President George H. W. Bush, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and other senior officials of the administration of Ronald Reagan.
Upon retirement in early 1990, Mr. McGovern was awarded the Intelligence Commendation Award for his particularly commendable service and received a laudatory farewell letter from then-President George H. W. Bush.
Thirteen years later, Mr. McGovern co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity to expose that intelligence was being falsified by the U.S. government to justify war on Iraq.
Free Speech – a Fundamental Right or a Propaganda Tool?
Former Secretary Clinton and current Secretary of State Kerry routinely use their positions to admonish other selected governments about free speech rights and the importance of dissent. Both leaders have issued accolades for protesters in other countries who at times have even gone beyond peaceful dissent describing those protests as a fight for democracy and freedom.
Here at home, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has represented thousands of demonstrators in the United States who have been subject to mass arrest and brutality for engaging in lawful free speech activities. More than 7,000 people were arrested during the Occupy protests and as we uncovered as a result of the PCJF’s Freedom of Information Act work with Michael Moore, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had no hesitation to use their “anti-terrorism” authority against what they acknowledged were peaceful Occupy protesters including by collaborating with Wall Street and the banks.
The case of Ray McGovern is emblematic of a larger pattern in which the U.S. government criminalizes dissent at home even while U.S. government leaders tout our hard fought free speech rights as a political tool for foreign policy purposes.
Mr. McGovern's brutal arrest and his subsequent political targeting by the State Department stands in sharp contrast to the policy announcement that Secretary Clinton was delivering that day, which insisted that governments respect dissent and dissenters and their freedom of speech
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