Framed by the FBI

Article excerpt

The $4.4 million damages award in June against FBI agents and Oakland police for violating the constitutional rights of environmental activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, wrongly accused of terrorism in 1990, represents more than the culmination of a twelve-year struggle for vindication. The case also highlights the risks of today's antiterrorism measures and offers lessons both daunting and encouraging about the years ahead.

In May 1990, an explosion tore through the car carrying Earth First! organizers Bari and Cherney. Bari suffered a fractured pelvis; Cherney, less serious injuries. They assumed the bombing was the work of antienvironmentalists, meant to disrupt planning for the Redwood Summer of civil disobedience against the logging of old-growth forest.

The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force jumped to quite a different conclusion. As soon as Bari and Cherney were identified, the FBI informed the local police and leaked to the press that the pair were terrorists. The authorities claimed that Bari must have made the bomb herself and that it had accidentally exploded while the two were carrying it to an unknown target. Bari was placed under arrest in her hospital bed. Police and FBI agents searched houses in Oakland where Bari and Cherney had stayed and questioned their fellow activists. Over the next two months, until the government announced it would not charge the two environmentalists, the local police and the FBI continued to call them terrorists.

Only after years of litigation did the truth emerge: The FBI, before the bombing, had been investigating Bari and Cherney because of their political activism. …