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National Lawyers Guild Calls "Terrorism Enhancements" Unneccessary, Excessive, And Chilling To Free Speech

New York. The National Lawyers Guild calls the terrorism sentencing enhancement issued to Daniel McGowan yesterday an unnecessary and excessive government tactic to discourage the exercise of free speech. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced McGowan to seven years in prison, calling one of the fires an act of terrorism because of a communication issued after the first that referred to potential legislation aimed at activists (which would indicate an attempt to influence the government). McGowan was one of four defendants who plead guilty with the understanding that they would not implicate others who took part in similar actions.

Ten activists plead guilty to committing property crimes--most of which were arsons--that carry average sentences ranging from 5-8 years in prison. The terrorism enhancement, Section 3A1.4 of federal Sentencing Guidelines, can add 20 years to each of the sentences laid out in the plea agreements. Formal sentencing began on May 22 and continued through today.

National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian says, "Is this what a terrorist is? Applying terrorism enhancement to property crimes where the perpetrators went out of their way to minimize the risk to human life makes little sense as a matter of law or common sense. Americans know the different between Daniel McGowan and Osama bin Laden, and this effort to subvert the fairness of the judicial system is an affront to the values they hold dear."
... Many of our members are criminal defense attorneys, and many have seen firsthand the chilling effect the government has on unpopular views, from the House Un-American Activities Committee to the present-day labeling by the FBI of environmental and animal rights activists as a top "domestic terrorism" priority. The use of a terrorism enhancement in this case effectively punishes an act of arson more harshly on the basis of the viewpoint that motivates it; as such, we believe that it is intended to crack down on environmental activism more generally, by raising the fear that any misstep could lead to prosecution as a terrorist."

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[Oregonian - opinion]

By: Bron Taylor
Bron Taylor is a professor at the University of Florida and president of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. He is author of "Ecological Resistance Movements; the Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism."

For nearly 20 years, I've studied radical environmental movements. Fifteen years ago, I met with a small group of them in a forest in Tennessee. One among that group now faces sentencing before a federal court in Oregon for crimes attributed to the Earth and Animal Liberation fronts.

In the forest that day, the assembled activists shared their deep feelings of grief about the rapid decline of the Earth's ecosystems and some of the reasons that triggered their activism. The man now facing sentencing described how, as a boy, he had killed a bird with a slingshot and subsequently had became overwhelmed with remorse. That day in Tennessee, surrounded by others who understood, his grief returned, and he wept.
A just sentencing ought to recognize that these defendants have good reason for their frustration and alarm. Scientists have amply demonstrated the imminent danger posed by the ongoing and escalating deterioration of the Earth's living systems. One need not approve of the crimes to recognize that a rational and compassionate urgency was a part of the motivation for them.

These are cases that cry for a judicious temperament that recognizes the moral complexity of the current cases in ways that the letter of the law might not. If terrorism is to be a meaningful term, able to represent society's harshest condemnation, it should be reserved for those who intend to maim or kill in the pursuit of their causes.

To the best of my knowlege, it is not a label that fits these defendants.

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