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Analysis: Greenpeace verdict a warning

By LES KJOS

MIAMI, May 21 (UPI) -- The dismissal of charges against Greenpeace in federal court this week was a victory for the aggressive environmental organization, but it also carried warnings.

The warnings included one from U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan, who said as he dismissed the case that as improbable as the law to prosecute them might be, it is out there and it can be enforced.

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The other is that the Bush administration apparently would like to see Greenpeace destroyed -- at least that's the way Greenpeace sees it.

"We will never give up the struggle to protect our forests, our air and oceans and to build a green and peaceful future," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

"America's tradition of free speech won a victory today, but our liberties are still not saved. The Bush administration and its allies seem bent on stifling our tradition of civil protest, a tradition that has made our country stronger throughout our history," Passacantando said.

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Greenpeace was charged with sending two members up a rope ladder over the side of the 965-foot Jade cargo ship about 6 miles off Miami April 12, 2002. The ship was carrying 70 tons of mahogany logs from the Brazilian rain forest.

Once aboard, the protesters unfurled a flag that read, "President Bush Stop Illegal Logging."

At the time, six activists were charged with misdemeanors. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to time served and fined as much as $$@$!500.

But prosecutors didn't stop there. For the first time in U.S. history, they charged the organization that conducted the protest.

Greenpeace was charged with violating a law passed in 1872 that targeted brothels by preventing what was then called "sailor mongering."

It banned them from boarding ships as they arrived in port to lure sailors to their places of business. It carries a punishment of probation and a $$@$!20,000 fine.

Greenpeace said the case is really about its disagreement with the White House's environmental policies.

Greenpeace attorneys challenged the charge, contending that arriving 6 miles out to sea was hardly the same as arriving in port.

Jordan agreed and dismissed charges before the jury had a chance to decide.

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But Jordan said the location of the ship was "fortuitous" for Greenpeace.

"Greenpeace is now on notice that this statute is out there. In case of future boardings, caveat emptor," he said.

Miami attorney Jane Moscowitz, representing Greenpeace, said, "It takes real courage for a judge to do that in this day and age."

A directed verdict in south Florida is a rare occurrence. One of the last times it happened was in 1999 when Judge Donald Middlebrooks dismissed a corruption case against port director Carmen Lunetta.

The "sailor mongering" law itself has only been used twice in the 132 years since it was past. Once was in the 1870s in New York and the other was in the 1890s in Oregon.

Moscowitz used her opening arguments in the case as a commercial against logging in the Amazon rain forest.

She said illegal logging is destroying the forest at the rate of "a tract the size of the Orange Bowl every 40 seconds."

Moscowitz said the harvesting was too profitable to pass up for many people since one big-leaf mahogany tree is worth $$@$!120,000.

The charges against the organization were seen by Greenpeace as an attempt to destroy it, and on a broader scale to limit protests.

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"The real importance of the case as we have been saying from the beginning is, it is the first time in the history of the United States that the government has prosecuted an organization for free-speech related activities, and in our view that is not an appropriate thing," said David Halperin, another attorney representing Greenpeace.

"For 230 years since the Boston Tea Party and through the civil rights movement, the government has arrested and sometimes prosecuted individuals who wanted to stand up for their beliefs and engage in public protest," Halperin told the Voice of America.

"But they never went after an organization, and the reason is that if you go after organizations, you may cripple the entire process of free speech and public protest," he said.

Greenpeace quoted Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., of warning that a successful prosecution would "have a chilling effect on free speech and activism of all kinds."

Former Vice President Al Gore called the case "highly disturbing."

"Nothing better illustrates the frivolous nature of this prosecution than the fact the judge threw the case out without even needing to hear from the defense," wrote David Bookbinder, Sierra Club legal director.

Bookbinder said environmental groups were deeply concerned. He called the case part of a pattern of federal pressure on public-interest groups.

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"Greenpeace is grateful to everyone who stood with us, from Al Gore and Julian Bond to the citizens of Miami and people around the world," Passacantando said.

(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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