Greenpeace, charged with the obscure crime of "sailor mongering" that was last prosecuted 114 years ago, goes on trial on Monday in the first U.S. criminal prosecution of an advocacy group for civil disobedience.
Sailor mongering was rife in the 19th century when brothels sent prostitutes laden with booze onto ships as they made their way to harbor. The idea was to get the sailors so drunk they could be whisked to shore and held in bondage, and a law was passed against it in 1872. It has only been used in a court of law twice, the last time in 1890.
U.S. prosecutors argue Greenpeace did something like that when two "climbers" clambered aboard the Jade to hang a sign demanding, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging."
Six Greenpeace activists were charged after the 2002 protest in choppy waters off Miami, pleaded guilty and sentenced to time served -- the weekend they spent in jail. But U.S. prosecutors were not satisfied, and 15 months later came up with a grand jury indictment of the entire organization for sailor mongering. [...] If convicted, Greenpeace could be placed on probation, and pay a $10,000 fine.
Not once since the Boston Tea Party have U.S. authorities criminally prosecuted a group for political expression.
When a federal judge ruled two weeks ago that the American Civil Liberties Union could finally reveal the existence of a lawsuit challenging the USA Patriot Act, the group issued a news release. But the next day, according to new documents released yesterday, the ACLU was forced to remove two paragraphs from the release posted on its Web site, after the Justice Department complained that the group had violated court secrecy rules. [...]
The dispute centered on two paragraphs. The first laid out the court's schedule for receiving legal briefs and noted the name of the New York-based judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero.
The second paragraph read: "The provision under challenge allows an FBI agent to write a letter demanding the disclosure of the name, screen names, addresses, e-mail header information, and other sensitive information held by 'electronic communication service providers.'"
Justice lawyers said that both paragraphs violated a secrecy order and that the ACLU should be required to seek an exemption to publicize the information, court records show. [...]
The ACLU first filed its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of such demands, known as national security letters, on April 6, but the secrecy rules of the Patriot Act required the challenge to be filed under seal. A ruling April 28 allowed the release of a heavily censored version of the complaint, but the ACLU is still forbidden from revealing many details of the case, including the identity of another plaintiff who has joined in the lawsuit. The law forbids targets of national security letters to disclose that they have received one.